Op-ed: Storytelling Is Your Most Useful Hidden Talent
BY Carter Gibson
April 26 2013 4:19 AM ET
My parents outed me to the world when I was 15. Living at home for the next couple of years wasn’t pretty. No matter what me and my family did to work through it - screaming, crying, attempting to reason, running away, ignoring the problem - we weren’t able to connect with each other.
It looked bleak for a while, but one day my dad sat me down and told me how his father was never there to support him. He narrated a day in his life during college as an egg packer, unable to call for help and barely getting by. As we spoke, something strange happened—we connected. Later, I realized we connected because he told me a story. He didn’t spout facts at me; he didn’t accuse me of something. Instead, he let me interpret his experience as I saw fit. After seeing how effective a simple story could be, I realized that if I could tell my story that well to them, maybe, just maybe, I could fix my relationship with my parents. It worked.
Sure, my personal story came from a shitty experience, but I use it every day of my life to frame an argument for equality, increase activism, and drive people to a cause. It’s my supposition that most members of the LGBT community have an experience like it that they can use to do just that.
Storytelling is a skill that we need to utilize more often. Stories, not data, appeal to people’s sense of reason and compassion. It’s the story behind a photograph that gets it put in museums, not necessarily “perfect” composition. The most successful advertisements use a story to sell a product—not a spec sheet. They give context to situations by providing a personal use-case, forcing critical thinking, and more easily starting the dialogue necessary to advance your cause.
I started that dialogue on Google+ about two years ago and I’ve seen firsthand how powerful storytelling can be. I wasn’t a content sharer—I was a content creator. My adventures through life supplemented small posts that I would write. Those who followed me were rewarded with more bits and pieces of who I was, which in turn gave more and more weight to the causes I was passionate about. I cultivated a community of 900,000 followers not from the most up-to-date news beats, but from how well they could relate to my experiences.
The experience of gaining a large audience so quickly was a compelling one. I watched as content-sharers fell by wayside, unable to relate to their audience. No matter how many “powerful” facts they shared, there wasn’t enough engagement to sustain their relevancy. After fixing the coming out debacle and creating an audience through storytelling, I got to thinking about how I could change the world. Having worked at the Ad Council, I knew that nonprofits had amazing causes to support but had trouble messaging their call-to-action. This problem was the genesis of my new nonprofit The LittleBigFund.
The LittleBigFund is, at its core, a storyteller. We work with three nonprofit organizations a month, spreading their stories online, promoting their cause, and ultimately delivering assets to use in the future. As we’re telling these stories, people donate small amounts of money to form a big fund. They then vote on which nonprofit they feel would use the fund the best. At the end of the month, the organization whose story resonated the most with the donors receives the entire fund. The donors feel like they made a huge impact with a small action and we continue to gather stories from the organization who received the fund thus giving donors tangible results.
As The LittleBigFund starts being an advocate for other nonprofits, I hope that more people begin to realize they can be awesome change-makers just by taking a moment to frame their arguments within their experiences. We have a special opportunity belonging to the LGBT community and using the power of shared experience to appeal to a wide set of individuals. We need to realize that we’re already amazing storytellers and that we shouldn’t let a keyboard scare us away from making a difference.
The LittleBigFund has started taking nominations for nonprofits to support. We officially launch in June, with plans to take on LGBT causes. We know that you have organizations that you’re passionate about helping so be sure to let us know.
CARTER GIBSON is the founder of The LittleBigFund.