Ever hear of a revolution that started with a PowerPoint presentation? Yeah, me neither.
Nor – for better or for worse – have I ever known facts to drive momentum for civic change. While facts are indispensable (after all, if what you’re doing goes against the facts, you might what to reconsider what you’re doing), when someone says, “give me the facts,” or “I’m only concerned with the facts,” or “I base my decision on facts,” don’t give them the facts – tell them a story instead!
Denny Civic Solutions has been working with the Campaign for What Works to convince Pennsylvania State Legislators to change the name of the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Human Services. Pennsylvania is the last state to still carry the stigma of “welfare” in the name of a department that spends 98% of its funds on human services.
Yet while we had all the facts down – only state to have welfare, 98% goes to human services, changing the name wouldn’t cost taxpayers money, etc. – it was the personal stories that connected most and moved many legislators.
Take for example the story of Kayla, whose mother was incarcerated. Her mom struggled, and continues to struggle, with a terrible drug addiction. Kayla’s grandparents raised her and her brother. When her WWII-veteran, retired steel worker grandfather died of a heart attack, her grandma was left to go out and get a job while raising two teenagers. During that period, the family turned to human services to help them make ends meet and break the cycle of incarceration. Nowadays, Kayla is a recent college graduate, working, paying taxes, and advocating for others in need of human services.
Then there are Mr. and Mrs. K, both in their nineties and married for 75 years. Mr. K worked all his life to provide for his family, while Mrs. K stayed home caring for the children. They’ve had a beautiful life together raising their kids, volunteering in their church, caring for each other, and working hard to provide for their family. Yet in recent years they found themselves facing a heartbreaking prospect – with one needing the level of care typically provided in nursing homes, it looked like they would have to live separately for the first time in over six decades. But they found hope after turning to services, human services, through the Department of Welfare that have kept them together in their home. Mr. and Mrs. K aren’t welfare recipients; they are a wonderful elderly couple living a wonderful life with a little help.
Click here to find a one pager from the Campaign for What Worksthat tells their story and those of three more Pennsylvania citizens in need of services.
Further Reading: To learn more about the power of storytelling, I recommend Andy Goodman from the Andy Goodman Center . Andy has taught many organizations how to tell not just a story, but THEIR story.
Another powerful resource is a book entitled The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change. The authors, Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, offer seven points for making a story stick. You can check out their work by clicking here.