Vulnerability is a sensitive topic for good reasons. But what if nonprofits embraced it but for how they communicate? In the article, I want to share the benefits of vulnerability and how you can harness it for your nonprofit storytelling.
What is vulnerability
According to Webster's dictionary, vulnerability is the state of being susceptible to wounds or external injuries. However, this definition only partially encompasses the complexities of human relationships. Therefore, we prefer Brené Brown's description, "allowing people to see you deeply."
Her broader definition includes the risk of vulnerability and what one must do to be vulnerable. Exposing oneself in light of scary outcomes aligns with our viewpoint of storytelling, which we borrowed from Annette Simmons. Annette writes that storytelling shares a significant emotional experience (S.E.E.). From this framework, the storyteller opens the door of connection.
In her TedTalk, Brene Brown said, "For connection to happen, we need to allow ourselves to be really seen, deeply seen."
So, vulnerability allows people to see you deeply and starts by sharing a significant emotional experience. Moving forward, we will use this as our definition of vulnerability.
What are the benefits of vulnerability in storytelling?
The are various benefits of vulnerability, such as a strong sense of worthiness. But, for this article, our focus benefit is connection. Connection is fundamental to being human. We are hardwired for connection. Additionally, Jesus says it is not good for humankind to be alone in Genesis 2 of the Bible.
Because the connection is essential for humans, it's also vital to businesses, including your nonprofit. Without connection, why does anyone care about it? Without connection, why would your donors give?
Since vulnerability allows people to see us deeply, there's an opportunity to build deep connections with your supporters as partners in your change work.
Storytelling possesses all the tools to be vulnerable and build deep relationships.
How to apply vulnerability in your storytelling
Embracing vulnerability as a viable communication method is the starting place for your nonprofit. Kudos to you and your organization if you're already doing this. If you still need to, figure out why. There may be a false belief about vulnerability in storytelling. Your leadership may not see it relevant to your mission or know how it's measurable.
For tips on overcoming these concerns, check out our article, The 3 Biggest Concerns of Personal Storytelling.
Once your nonprofit embraces vulnerability storytelling, you can seek stories internally or externally to share. Remember, the purpose of these stories is to build connection and trust with communities. Revealing our vulnerabilities creates trust, also the condition from which vulnerability grows. It's a two-way street.
The stories you select are determined by (1) how you want your donors and community to feel and (2) the experience of the person telling the story.
#BairTip: Make sure the person on camera telling their story has a strong desire, motivation, and uniqueness. These three elements deepen your audience's experience after engaging with the story.
Examples of vulnerability in storytelling
An example of vulnerability in storytelling is in our work for the Environmental Initiative Awards. Some of the stories are very personal, while others aren't. Our team at BairStories helps shape narratives that lack human qualities so that they resonate.
This was the case when we told the story of reducing medical Styrofoam waste. On the surface, this seems bland. But, we worked with Geoffrey Emerson (in the film below) to lead with vulnerability.
He shared his significant, emotional experience about buying groceries during COVID. He was annoyed by all the plastic and felt guilty contributing to the waste in the landfills. We started with vulnerability to build a connection to give viewers a reason to care about Geoffrey recycling Styrofoam initiative.
Another example of vulnerability storytelling is the film Brooklyn. This film is told through the lens of parents Darchel and Jacob Mohler about the loss of their daughter due to gun violence.
Vulnerability in a romantic relationship is a gift, not a given. Yet, in nonprofit donor relationships, it's a given. Nonprofits are asking folks to provide something of value to them. Because of this, there needs to be trust.
The more your nonprofit practice vulnerability, even owning its mistakes, the richer the relationships you'll have with your supporters. The more you share vulnerable stories surrounding your values and your impact, the more opportunities you're offering your community to be in a deeper relationship with you.