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What is your association's story?

Throw out your mission statement, vision statement, all that nonsense. Just tell your story. That's what all the boilerplate is supposed to convey anyway, right?

"You're in the business of storytelling far more than you're in the business of fact telling," said Peter Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including his latest, Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results, in his keynote presentation at the closing general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo.

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The story should be simple. It should be emotional. And every product and service your association offers should be evaluated for how it supports that story. The ones that don't aren't worth doing.

Sheahan delivered a stronger message than opening general session speaker Tina Brown—he had clearly studied associations and their challenges, even citing some recent Associations Now articles—but they both extolled the power of storytelling.

Brown talked about The Daily Beast's annual Women in the World Summit. The subtitle of the event is "Stories + Solutions." The stories shared at the summit were so powerful that The Daily Beast—a news website, remember—created a nonprofit foundation because people who heard women speak at the event wanted to know how to support them. The presentations at the live event are streamed on the web, and the stories are told in article form on The Daily Beast and in Newsweek.

The story is what ties all of it together, and the combo of Women in the World with The Daily Beast is no different from a nonprofit with a publishing arm. For any association, its programs should all support the same story:

  • The live event builds passion and excitement about the story;
  • Research builds knowledge that makes the story tangible;
  • Publications spread the story far and wide;
  • Advocacy puts the story in the minds of influencers;
  • Development raises money that can help shape the story;
  • Membership builds the pool of people who can put the story into action;
  • And so on and so on.

Humans make decisions based on emotions, not logic. Sheahan hammered this home, and Brown's case supported it. Yesterday's Ignite! sessions were a series of five-minute stories, and the atmosphere in those sessions was electric. If you walk away from #asae11 with one lesson (or want to know what you missed), let it be this: If you're not telling your association's story, chances are no one is listening.

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