Learning How to Listen and Respond to Our Communities


We all know that storytelling is an essential part of creating involvement with donors and volunteers. But what about the stories of the donors and volunteers themselves? What do they have to say about your organization? How have you changed their lives? Are you messaging in a way that actually connects with them?

It can be easy to get so caught up in the logistic of messaging that we lose touch with the people we are trying to connect to. An often overlooked aspect of storytelling is learning how to listen. Not simply by looking at the statistics of what messages get the most like on Facebook or retweets on Twitter, but really taking the time to hear what our constituents are telling us.

But you might ask…

How do we find out what people are saying?

Of course paying attention to social media is important, and seeking out testimonials and success stories is essential, but one company has taken the art of listening to a whole new level.

StoryCorps is a company that has taken the idea of an intimate, one-on-one conversation and provided the tools for people everywhere to digitally immortalize these conversations. With nothing more than a smart phone and a list of questions it is now possible to walk into a room and record someones story in it’s entirety for the purposes of sharing, keeping, and passing on through the years.

StoryCorps creator Dave Isay knows what a good tool this can be for nonprofits. “Every organization is trying to tell the truth about whatever issue they’re so passionate about and dedicated to,” he says. So why not use this new type of storytelling to benefit your cause?

Why is listening so important?

Consider the vast amount of information that we are inundated with from the moment we wake up. From every side and at every moment there are a thousand things vying for our attention, so, when someone takes the time to really honestly listen to what we are saying, it’s special.

Listening to someone is a way of showing them that you respect who they are and value them enough to tune out everything else and care about them and their story. As nonprofit’s, this becomes even more necessary because we are asking people to trust and invest in us, which requires respect and loyalty. How can we ask our donors and volunteers to be dedicated to our organizations if we can’t even take the time to listen to their stories?

How can StoryCorps help?

First, before using StoryCorps to record someone, you need to make sure that you don’t have an agenda or preconceived idea about how the interview is going to go. StoryCorps was created to allow for genuine, organic conversation that naturally produces something amazing. Don’t try to force emotion or content where it simply doesn’t exist. Just let the story speak for itself and allow yourself to listen intently to what os being said.

Second, you have to make sure there is a good reason for using StoryCorps. Don’t record every meeting you have or every lunch date you go on, but if there is someone you know that wants to tell their story, let StoryCorps help you preserve it. Being in the philanthropy community means we have an extra responsibility to makes sure the greatest amount of good is going to  the person we are recording. Listening to people isn’t about finding ways to use their experiences as messaging strategies, but rather letting their narrative be the message. Don’t exploit people for their stories, engage with people so that their stories matter as much to you as they do to them.

In a TED talk about StoryCorps, Dave Isay summed up the benefits of listening by saying, “Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

 About the author: Olivia is a senior at the University of Iowa pursuing a degree in journalism and mass communication as well as a certificate in writing. She is interested in how effective writing can benefit non-profit causes as well as traditional media. In her free time she enjoys reading, and photography, and has a passion for travel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s