Tag Archives: true collaboration

Story – It’s Your Secret Sauce

If you’re a foodie like me, you probably have a secret recipe for every occasion that gets people talking. For summer, my grilling ritual is never without a special marinade. Any meat or vegetable gets soaked overnight to absorb the herbs and spices for a tender and savory finish. Works every time!

I wrapped up my summer with a speaking engagement at Forefront HQ where they hosted the 2017 cohort of the YNPN Chicago Leadership Institute. I touched on the importance of integrating storytelling with finance. Prior to my talk, Forefront’s Chief Operating Officer Andreason L. Brown gave a presentation that clarified the difference between financial management and financial leadership. His final talking point provided the perfect setup for my opening:  Are organizational decision making and finance integrated in your nonprofit?

Effective leadership uses a strategic approach to coordinating the decision making process across all managements functions. It requires seeing the organization through a wider lens and understanding more deeply how mission guides every single activity.

It is common practice to start with developing a strategy. Barkada Circle® takes one extra step up. We begin by marinating stakeholders in story.

Immersive Storytelling: Prepping for Strategy

Having participated in several nonprofit board and staff meetings, I’ve observed how many come to the table and advocate for their own agenda. The plan tends to be a watered down list of actions that hopes to appease everyone without getting to a real solution.

At Barkada Circle®, we realize that an organization’s goals and objectives have to be rooted in its identity which is best defined through the foundational narrative. This comes to life during a comprehensive visioning process where stakeholders share their stories that make their personal connections to the mission become vivid for each other. They begin to see their common experiences, aspirations and hopes for the cause.

What began as individual agendas eventually converge into one agenda–ready for effective strategic planning with everyone on the same page.

Sustaining What Works

When we share stories within our organization on a regular basis, we begin to see patterns that tell us what’s working. We also discover gaps that need to be addressed and solved. Storytelling is intrinsic in every organizational function. In finance, particularly, story gives context and meaning to the numbers. Only then will data become valuable for decision making.

Storytelling sparks essential conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have with our staff, manager, co-worker and volunteers. Engaging in real dialogue that changes the way we see other people and ourselves can create opportunities for taking the human dynamics to a whole new level.

What is transformational is also what sustains us.

Your mission is a work of art.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about a blog entry by Seth Godin — renowned author, public speaker and entrepreneur — how he values imagination and what it can do for organizations moving forward in this age of uncertainty. Recently Seth also had a conversation with Krista Tippett which was recorded on American Public Media for Krista’s program called On Being. In their dialog, Seth pointed out that “rather than merely tolerating change, we are all called now to rise to it. We are invited and stretched in whatever we do to be artists — to create in ways that matter to other people.”

One of the questions that Krista asked Seth was, “Who is today’s artist?” According to Seth, today’s artist solves a problem in an interesting and innovative way — in a way that matters to a specific group of people. The age of trying to appeal to everyone (ultimately to no one) and doing mass marketing is over. Success is now driven by making real positive impact on what Seth calls a tribe — individuals with shared values and beliefs. If you can connect people in a tribe and amplify their values and beliefs so they can make more connections on their own, then you’re on your way to achieving real impact and success with your art.

So what does it take to connect people in a tribe? What do they readily share? What keeps them engaged? Stories encapsulate the tribe’s history and their mission, what led them on that specific path, their vision for change, and the relationships between the members and their emotional ties to what their community stands for. It all begins with something personal, something that awakens the human spirit — a tapestry that unfolds into a shared narrative.

One Chicago nonprofit, A Silver Lining Foundation, is dedicated to the fight against cancer by ensuring that underserved individuals affected by cancer have access to information and treatment options, regardless of their socio-economic situation. The organization was founded by Dr. Sandy Goldberg of NBC Chicago after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. For Dr. Sandy, hers is more than a tribe, it’s a family. Here is Dr. Sandy’s story, in her own words.

Experience live other compelling stories of local nonprofits at WHAT’S YOUR READ, Barkada Circle’s storytelling jam session in March: http://barkadacircle.com/jam-session

Always imagine change because security is an illusion.

The only blog that I subscribe to is that of Seth Godin. Wikipedia describes him as an American entrepreneur, author, and public speaker who has written fourteen bestselling books on topics including the post-industrial revolution, how ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and changing everything. Seth Godin introduced the concept of “permission marketing.”

What is Permission Marketing? We’re all familiar with traditional advertising on television, radio and now the internet. According to Seth, these are classified as “interruption marketing” which tries to grab the customer’s attention while they are doing something they prefer. The same goes for pop up ads on the internet. An example of Permission Marketing is asking someone if you can include them on your list for receiving your e-newsletters. It’s mostly used by online marketers as well as some who do direct marketing and send a catalog or brochure in response to a request. The point is engaging a customer by providing them something they are anticipating. The transaction becomes personal and relevant. With Permission Marketing, you’re going beyond having a transaction with your customer. Instead, you’re having a meaningful relationship with them.

Seth’s blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual. His post on Saturday, Feb 2 talked about a paracosm which Seth defined as an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Growing up, I remember creating imaginary worlds with my brother and cousins. Our toys were stashed in my father’s office in the home of my childhood. It was the only room with enough storage for our stuff. We would drag the toys out into the living room and take over the entire first floor. There was a rock garden below the stairway, and this added another dimension of possibilities for our afternoons spent in the fairy kingdom, the village of the future or the lost city under the sea.

Seth also wrote in his post that “whether you’re a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.” This is used widely by managers and teams at established organizations when they try to come up with new strategies to keep moving their organizations forward. However, more often than not, their behaviors reflect that of a rigid institution when challenged to envision the future without the key components that made them successful in the first place. They feel they have to remain loyal to what Seth calls “their founding precepts.”

Is it really about loyalty? Or is it about feeling insecure about abandoning what has always been perceived as the pillars of the organization? Could it be about fear of not having a safety net? Seth gives the example of the publishing industry. Imagine a world without books published on paper. To a major player in that industry ten or fifteen years ago, not having printed books was inconceivable. But as you all know, a new business model has since emerged which changed the entire world of books.

At this point, my question is — What does your paracosm look like? Who are the major players? What do they care about? What must you take away from your current reality? What can be added? What emotional responses ensue? Why is it important to imagine this world where new challenges and new opportunities converge?

My message has always been consistent. An organization must have a compelling story behind its mission to stay relevant and valuable to the community. What is also consistent throughout our lives is change. And in order to stay relevant to the lives of the people in our community — the people we serve, the volunteers, the board members, the advocates, the donors, the people who care about the work you do — in order for your organization to continue doing the work that matters to them, you must always anticipate change and imagine its impact on your organization and your community. Change must always be part of your story. If you’re able to re-invent your story and live it, you will be able to empower your organization to remain at the helm directing your future and the future of the community you serve.

Nonprofit Boards and Storytelling

Have you ever considered a whatsyourread_bkgdstorytelling approach to your strategy meetings?

Better yet, will your board be open to a facilitated session where they are able to share their own stories about how their path led them to your organization, why they joined the board, why they stay, they’re personal challenges, and individually what they see on the horizon?

A story takes us from where we are to where we want to go. And it does that with clarity and meaning. Stories weave facts and emotions, tangibles and invisibles — what can be proven and empirical truths that are beyond measure — into a layered whole that we, as human beings can understand. Our stories reveal how we are more alike than different through the joys, fears, frustrations and hopes we all share. Only then can we connect with each other in every aspect of being human and do the work that matters to deliver on our mission.

Before strategic planning, should come storytelling. It is the marinade that prepares us for open dialog and true collaboration.

Join us on March 7, 2013 for What’s Your Read, Barkada Circle’s Storytelling Jam Session.