Spreading the good word of storytelling

April 12, 2010

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    Carlos Bergfeld/&lt;a href=&quot;http://home.techsoup.org/pages/default.aspx&quot; target=&quot;_blank&quot;&gt;TechSoup&lt;/a&gt;  </span>
    Mercy Corps Senior Writer Roger Burks begins his part of the "Creating a Culture of Storytelling" session, presented at the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Carlos Bergfeld/<a href="http://home.techsoup.org/pages/default.aspx" target="_blank">TechSoup</a>

I spend most of each workday for Mercy Corps either writing or editing stories. This past weekend, I got to teach a class on why stories matter for all of us.

Yesterday I got back from three days at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), an annual event organized by the Nonprofit Technology Network. The conference brought together more than 1,000 people from across the country — even a few folks from outside the United States — who have devoted their careers to finding and creating technology that helps nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions. Technology that helps us all serve our clients, tackle tough social challenges and try to make the world a better place.

The NTC is a really inspiring event full of truly remarkable people — folks from just about every size and kind of nonprofit organization you could imagine. Many have even founded their own organizations or invented some pretty amazing things. At the NTC, every conversation holds the potential for a shared discovery or new innovation.

It's an event that I always look forward to attending. Every time I've gone, I've filled my notebook with all kinds of ideas and my head with exciting possibilities. This was my third year at the NTC, and my second year leading a session.

And that's another thing I really like about the NTC: the opportunity to share knowledge and lessons with like-minded colleagues. My session this year was called "Creating a Culture of Storytelling," and I had the privilege of sharing the podium with two articulate and committed colleagues: Michaela Hackner from Forum One Communications and Jay Davis from Equality California.

We presented to a room full of idealists who wanted to learn more about using stories to inform the public of important social issues, the needs of their clients and how people can help. Every seat was full and some were sitting on the floor — it looked like maybe a couple hundred people came for our talk. It was humbling and invigorating at the same time.

For most of my part of the presentation, I talked about the way we present our work to Mercy Corps supporters around the world: through stories. I discussed how storytelling can not only motivate supporters to action, but also empower staff and clients through recognition and dignity. I showed how stories are the simplest, yet most powerful, kind of communications that nonprofit organizations can use.

Because, when you think about it, how do we all remember and organize the breadth and depth of our experiences? Through stories. From a very early age, we tell stories. We share our world through stories.

We are made from stories, and stories define us all.

After several questions from the audience and a few quick interactions at the podium, the session was over. But, over the next couple days, the conversations continued with dozens of people. And, like I said, ideas and innovations followed.

I am extremely fortunate to work for Mercy Corps, a place that allows for such creativity and voice for everyone it reaches: from staff to supporters to clients. I am lucky to be able to share the stories I hear and experience.

And most of all right now, I feel blessed to be part of a community of like-minded individuals who not only want to change the world, but develop and share tools so that others can do the same.