Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nonprofit Storytelling and The Maltese Falcon

An interesting question came up after my presentation on content marketing to the Central West Coast Chapter FPRA. We’d just finished talking about the importance of storytelling, particularly for nonprofits. Many of the members of this chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association work for nonprofits. One of them mentioned that her nonprofit has so many stories; her biggest challenge is choosing which to tell. One of our CCM storytellers, copywriter David Chesnick, happened to be sitting at her table and offered a thoughtful reply.

Chesnick is a film buff. 
He reminded us that The Maltese Falcon was actually made three times. The first two projects are remembered only by cinephiles like David. It is only Jon Huston’s 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s private eye story, with that unforgettable cast of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet, that became a hit. In fact, it is one of the most beloved classic films of all time.
His point? It isn’t which stories to tell; it’s how you tell them. All of your stories are worth sharing. They come from the experiences of real people who’ve faced real challenges, taken real (or even imagined) journeys, made discoveries and overcame adversity.
A few days later, Chesnick told me why, according to film historians, Huston’s film did so well. It was because his version, unlike the previous two, stayed true to the book. Huston took a very simple approach, telling the story the way it was originally written. The take-away from this for modern day storytellers – the best way to engage is not with hype or “brochure-eez” lingo, but by sharing stories just the way they’ve happened.
Further to this point, there shouldn’t be just one way to tell them, so think about all the options you have. Some are features; others are sidebars or briefs. If you find yourself asking that “which stories should I tell” question, it can only mean that you lack the infrastructure to tell your stories. Perhaps you’ve backed yourself into a corner with a rigid newsletter format or a website that isn’t up to your standards. Your focus should be redirected to building a stronger platform that will enable you to tell all of those stories. The sooner you do it, the sooner you will be engaging all of your communities more effectively.

It’s simple. Just be brave, tell stories and build communities.

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