The ROI (Return on Investment) of Storytelling

Strollers w pink LBFF Local 372 shirts 10-26-13

Photo of the Bixby Knolls Strollers
taken by Rex Pritchard

Inspired by the story of one of their own members who is a 10-year breast cancer survivor, members of Long Beach (CA) Firefighters Local 372 took action to support Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. What they did seemed relatively straightforward: print 500 pink t-shirts, distribute them to department members and community groups, and take group pictures to post on social media. The result, however, was profound.

Though Long Beach firefighters have a decades-long history of supporting community events and charitable organizations, Local 372 President Rex Pritchard was taken aback by the breadth and intensity of the reaction to the t-shirt distribution. He reported that dozens of individuals, including department members who previously never had disclosed their experiences, took the opportunity to share their stories about themselves, friends, and/or family members who had battled breast cancer. Although the firefighters thought that they simply were giving away t-shirts and increasing awareness about the cause, they actually gave a very precious gift: an opportunity for people to share their personal and life-altering stories, and an audience that really listened to what they had to say.

This show of support is a great example of how to connect with the community in a very positive, personal, and powerful way. Here are some of the lessons learned:

  1. Everyone has a story to share.
  2. Stories sometimes come from surprising places and people, including friends or colleagues who you thought you knew very well.
  3. Storytelling connects people on a human level in a very personal way, creating a strong emotional bond that allows all parties to see each other differently.
  4. You give a gift that money cannot buy when you really listen to someone’s story about a profound personal experience.
  5. Stories connect people with others who have had similar experiences, helping them realize that they are not alone.
  6. Because storytelling puts faces to names and makes causes real, people are inspired to take action to eradicate dreaded diseases like cancer.

There are lots of ways that you can invite people to share their stories – no t-shirt giveaways required! Why not try one? You’ll discover that you won’t be able to put a value on the return on your investment of time. And like the Long Beach firefighters, you also will strengthen the bond with your community.

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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