Get a little closer, dont be shy: The impact of personal storytelling

2 Feb

“Our stories are our currency” Gina Rudan-Genuine Insights

The art of storytelling is something all leaders need to master.   Storytelling is informational and persuasive, and it helps us build relationships. When we use it, we tell the stories of our  clients, or the communities that we serve, but I have often thought: What impact would telling my own story about the  path to social change have on a person (or people)? Would it open up doors to donors who share similar paths, would it make a “decision maker” understand you or your cause a bit better because they see the personal connection between you and the work that you do.   I like hearing other “socialchange people” talk about their path to work that they do.

I elude to the importance of storytelling in leadership work that I do, but I don’t think I practice it very often.   So, I decided to do it here.

Snapshots of Social Change

It was personal

It started early.  Sitting on a lawn chair at the age of five watching my mother go on strike as a communications worker, I would hold up her signs asking cars and trucks (woohoo-semi truck drivers!) to honk if they supported the strike.  It was a thrill, but as the strike extended it became a mission.   My mom had to work so that we could eat.   Eventually, the strike would end and my mom would return back to work.   But every 3-5 years, the fight would flare up again and I would be right there, ready to do my part for change to occur.

To read more, click on the title above.

Fast forward to college,  the petri dish for many people to figure out what they stand for.   Among the rallies and the protests, the act that stands out most for me   is participating as a piece of performance art.  For four hours, I laid on a white slab, chained to the  Statue of Liberty, to illustrate my commitment to a woman’s right to choose.  While it was not the “in your face” actions of others, it was my form of pushing for change.

It was academic

I am a black woman who graduated from college and law school.

I went to law school to help people.  While I started law school thinking that I would help the world one case at a time, I helped people get their public benefits and I helped women get their temporary protective orders.

But it wasn’t enough for me to see change so incremental.  I  wanted to make grand sweeping change, the type that occurs in the halls of Congress.  I was excited to see the change that can happen in this city that has such tremendous impact.    I thought “Washington DC” is  where it all happens.   I have to come to find out that this is not entirely true.

And it IS professional

At my first job in a non profit in Washington DC, I was given the opportunity to learn  about leadership and social change through the work that I did (working on public policy for women’s econonic empowerment) and the people that I met (grassroots and state leaders).  Those first jobs leave such an impression, right? Here are some of the impressions that have stayed with me:

  • Leaders can be built, they are not just born
  • Change can occur both from the top filtering down and  from the bottom bubbling up to the top
  • Building the capacity of organizations means building the capacity of their individuals
  • Corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship are not just buzzwords, but business models that can work.
  • If you want change to occur you need to use an “inside and the outside strategy”

Throughout my career, I have brought together hundreds of people to share what they know, to network with others, to learn skills that will build their capacity, and to go out into the world to make it a better place.   I have felt frustrations being in the non-profit sector–the lack of resources, the lack of professional development, the very slow pace at which true change occurs.  But , I stay with it.  I want to continue to play in the social change world because it is my calling, where I want to be.  I will always be connected to it.

I think that we who work for social change need to tell our stories more often.  It makes us more than 1 or 2 dimensional beings, it gives insights into why we do what we do.   I encourage all of us to do it more often.

Well that is my story, want to share yours?


Thank you Gina Rudan (@ginarudan on twitter) for 2 of the 3 resources.

For the importance of storytelling in blogging

For the importance of  storytelling in fundraising

For the importance of storytelling in relationship building


2 Responses to “Get a little closer, dont be shy: The impact of personal storytelling”

  1. Jeff Machado March 11, 2010 at 5:42 am #

    You’ve really touched on something special here. I feel like it’s the people who have taken time to find their story that are able to make the most impact on the world.

    We have all had a struggle and hopefully have come out better from it.

    It’s amazing the type of resistance that can come up though when we start to share our stories. I’m going to challenge myself to start doing this more as part of my personal mastery (great term btw!)

  2. socialchangediva March 13, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    Jeff- Thank you for that. You know I think we are told that to market ourselves, we have to market our clients, tell their successes, but what about our own? If you are doing something that you are committed to I want to know how did you get there? What helped you, what hurt you? What made you who you are today.

    Personal mastery is a term from Peter Senge and it is definitely an ownership word that i think resonates with how i feel about people learning. I am done developing you. If you want it, i am here. That is my operating philosophy.


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