Numbers matter. Numbers that can go into charts and into annual reports, that indicate success or failure, that can help us benchmark and set goals. 10,000 children fed each year, 80% program funding, 100 education scholarships—you get the idea. These statistics are important, but they don’t really tell the whole story …
Seth Godin, marketing guru, said it best: “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” To illustrate Godin’s point, let’s take a look at the education crisis in Malawi.
- 119 to 1 – the average classroom size in Malawi
- 99 to 1 – the student to teacher ratio in Malawi
- 38 to 1 – the ratio of students to the number of available desks in a classroom in Malawi
- 30% – the percentage of primary school students accepted into a high school in Malawi
Sadai, the oldest child in a family of seven from a poor village in Malawi, had an aptitude for math. Noticing his potential, Sadai’s teacher helped him to earn a scholarship to attend high school, something that would have been cost-prohibitive without support. Sadai worked hard, defied the odds, and became a first-generation high school and college graduate. Because of the opportunity he was given, Sadai chooses to give back by tutoring youth from his village so they too can escape the grip of the terrible poverty in Malawi.
Now, close your eyes and think about what you just read. What details stand out to you? Do you recall the numbers? Can you picture Sadai overcoming the odds? Stories have the ability to move us to action in ways that statistics cannot. Numbers help to validate the narrative.
To further give credence to this idea, consider the research of Dr. Paul Slovic. Slovic identified the importance of telling stories through his groundbreaking research on the concept of “compassion fade”.1 Slovic found that when it comes to eliciting compassion, a single individual with a face and a name typically evokes a stronger response than a group. Numerous studies have demonstrated the identifiable victim effect: people are much more willing to aid one identified individual than to help numerous unidentified or statistical victims. Dr. Slovic’s research found that compassion fade begins as early as with the second endangered life. The takeaway? As numbers increase, less attention will be directed towards those in need and there will be less feeling of attachment.
How should we tell stories?
- The narratives should be more than just examples, they should tell a story and feature a hero, conflict, choice, and a resolution. They need to be emotional, and to create a vision of “what can be.”
- If you tell a good story, it will inspire action. So, don’t forget to ask! Make your call to action clear, visible, and always make sure your links work.
- Do some research. Find the story in your organization. There is more than one inspiring narrative, I promise. With some digging, you will find it.
- Show the impact on real people and use visual language and strong action verbs to do it. Make sure to have the statistics available to support the stories, but don’t lead with them.
Whether you are a business, a ministry, or a nonprofit organization, telling real stories about real people helps to build affinity between you and your audience. Providing concrete statistics to support your stories will help to build confidence and trust!
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