Insights into nonprofit leadership & governance

The Importance and Power of Storytelling

December 19, 2019  

By Peter C. Chatel

BoardWalk Consulting co-sponsors an annual Nonprofit Leadership Conference in Atlanta each fall, attended by nonprofit Board chairs, CEOs and foundation, corporate and nonprofit executives. This year’s event, held at Atlanta Botanical Garden, attracted 200 leaders for the 8th annual conference, themed Strengthen Your Story, Strengthen Your Support. The event was co-sponsored by BoardWalk Consulting, SunTrust Bank and Pritchard & Jerdan.

Andy Goodman of The Goodman Center delivered an engaging and inspiring keynote based on the timeless truth that, “Stories have the ability to change the way we think and behave.” Check out Andy Goodman at

Here are three key take-aways from the Conference:
  1. Every nonprofit should be able to tell six kinds of compelling stories:
    • “Why we do what we do” stories
    • Emblematic success stories
    • Striving to improve stories
    • “How we started” stories
    • Core Values stories
    • “Where are we going” stories
    • What Makes a Great Story? A great story is structured in terms of “the hero’s journey,” and includes a protagonist, a goal, a barrier (better yet several barriers) between the protagonist and the goal, then resolution.

  2. Every nonprofit leader should have story to tell, with three main elements:
    • Story of Self – Why as a leader am I called to do what I do?
    • Story of Us – Why is my cause your cause?
    • Story of Now – Why is inaction no longer an option?
  3. There is a formula for developing your own story of self
      Here are questions that can help you develop your own story of self. Your “story of self” can reflect a particular moment, experience or set of events that forged the values which led you to your organization in particular or to public interest work in general. To develop your story, consider these four areas in particular:

    • Family of Origin
      What made your parents the people they became?
      Did their choices influence your own, and if so, how?
      Do you remember “family stories,” perhaps told so often you got tired of hearing them.
      Why did they tell these stories and not others?
      What did they teach you?
      How did they make you feel?
    • Education/Work History
      Think about classes you have taken, projects you have led, jobs you have held, or other work that you have done that connects with your values.
      Why did you choose them at the time?
      How did they make you feel?
      What did they make you think about?
    • Moments of Hope, Moments of Pain
      Most people who want to do meaningful work have stories of pain which taught them that the world needs changing, as well as stories of hope which persuaded them of the possibility for change. There may have been times when you felt excluded, put down or powerless, as well as time when you felt courageous, recognized and inspired. Think about those specific moments of “Challenge” as well as moments of “hope”.
    • Mentors and Influences
      Was there someone who introduced you to your organization or who encouraged you to become active in your field? Why do you think that they did this? What was the role, if any, of community of faith?
      Whom have you admired?
      Who do you credit the most with you involvement now in your work?
      What about their involvement in your life made a difference?
      Why do you think it was important to them to do so?

What’s your organization’s story? What’s your personal story of self? We’d love to hear it, and may share it with the readers of smorgasBoard.

Also, if you missed this year’s Nonprofit Leadership Conference and want to be on the list for next year’s conference in October, let us know.

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