Anything but 'meh'
I wrote a piece for Third Sector Magazine recently. It is all about storytelling. Here is a slightly longer version of it:
The last thing you want anybody to feel is nothing. We’ve all seen charity marketing that we have very quickly forgotten. Let’s face it, we’ve all created it too; we’ve all contributed to the noise.
At Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference this week, I met Ravinol Chambers from Be Inspired Films. He advises organisations on how to make great films. He told me: ‘people don’t share videos, they share feelings’. Obvious when you think about it. The reason why you share a video, or article, or photo, or GIF, is because it made you feel something; happy, sad, excited, angry, nostalgic or any number of other emotions. You want someone else to experience those feelings too. Watch; feel; share.
The advice is clear: emotion is vital; it triggers a response. Shares and likes are good, but the ultimate aim is an action such as a donation or a commitment to volunteer. After all, that helps us to achieve our purposes.
Two years ago, my mother-in-law was taken by breast cancer. It was a long and brave fight - the words you usually hear - but it was frustratingly bureaucratic too and occasionally very fraught. Things might have turned out differently. We’ll never know. For my beautiful wife and wonderful brother-in-law it was utterly consuming and it left us all with scars. Two years on we are still healing.
The feelings come in waves and waves and waves. Tidal waves, breakers, ripples and, from the very deepest and darkest waters, the Tsunami; rare but brutal. A wave hit me at the conference, not a tsunami, but one that caught me unawares, I couldn’t stop it flooding over me, in the end I just let it.
I was in a workshop, at a fundraising conference, in a room full of people I’d never met before. I didn’t look around the room, I couldn’t see through the tears, but I suspect I wasn’t the only one who had been moved. The trigger was a short film, One More Minute, by Child Bereavement UK. As I watched it I couldn’t stop thinking about my wife and how very precious it would have been for her to have one more minute with her Mum, sixty seconds to tell her one more thing. Seeing my wife in so much pain, is the most painful thing that's ever happened to me. That short film brought it all flooding back, it hurt so very much; love hurts.
One More Minute has been incredibly successful for Child Bereavement UK, it has transformed the scale and impact of what they do. Not only did it prompt thousands of people to share their videos, to ‘share a feeling’, it triggered them to talk about their own feelings too, there are hundreds of #OneMoreMinute videos and comments on Instagram and Facebook; each of which have also been shared and shared again. What would you say if you had one more minute with someone you’ve lost?
I work for The Glacier Trust, a charity that supports vulnerable Himalayan communities in Nepal. It's a cause that can evoke a wide range of emotions. Every time I visit our projects I experience them all, sadness, anger, frustration; but also joy, hope and excitement. I am trying my hardest to convey those emotions in my work, I don’t want people to feel nothing when I tell them about our work. I don’t want them to watch it and go 'meh'. Anything but ‘meh.’
Knowing what to do is one thing, doing it well is another. So I find myself asking how can I take the feelings I have experienced and turn them into stories that generate those same feelings in others? Any author or scriptwriter will tell you that if you manage to do that and you combine it with a good plot, you’ve got a bestseller on your hands. Maybe that’s where we need to focus our energies? In the detailed study of the great works of fiction? A quest to discover the secret formula.
Dear boss, please can I take a three year sabbatical to study the complete works of Shakespeare? If they say no, you can, at least, read this article on why humans need stories.
We are learning why it is important to generate emotion, now we need to know how to actually do it. But we don’t need to do it alone, we can’t. Fortunately, there are thousands of film and literature graduates out there, they are trained in this stuff; seek them out. You might already have one in your organisation.
Remember too, there are also geniuses; people who have a talent like instinct for great storytelling. There could be one lurking in the most mundane corner of your organisation - Harper Lee was an airline reservation agent when she wrote To kill a Mockingbird.