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Why your association needs storytelling

Jeremy Fuchs
August 18, 2020
Why your association needs storytelling

The pandemic has changed the way businesses and associations operate. No more in-person events. No more face-to-face meetings. 

But in the absence of face-to-face meetings, in the absence of that irreplaceable one-on-one time, you can develop something essential to your association’s success: Your story.

Who are you? What does your association do? It’s not just a matter of a simple, declarative sentence. No, who you are is your story. And your story is what drives people to want to work with you and join your organization. This is not just your About Us page. It’s the language that runs through everything you do.

Think about the organizations and associations you join and are a part of. Sure, there’s some connection bringing you there in the first place—a common interest or goal. That’s what opens the door. What allows you to walk through is the story you’re told.

It can be so difficult to focus on storytelling. It can be even tougher to do that when things go awry, like they are now, when the only thing that is important is staying afloat. When you’re cutting everything else, it can seem unwise to invest in storytelling.

But in this time of uncertainty, providing a certainty is necessary. Giving your members and prospective ones a reason to latch on is more important than anything. Telling the story of who you are, why you are and why it matters is a necessity, because it’s a differentiator and product booster.

Storytelling moves the needle. In one study at Stanford University, students were asked to give a speech with three statistics and one story. Just 5% of the listeners remembered the stat; 63% remembered the stories.

Now, more than ever, you need to be memorable. When you can’t build relationships in person the way you used to, you need a compelling story that leaves people wanting more—and ready to take action.

But telling a story that matters isn’t easy. It’s why major companies shell out major money for consultants to help craft these stories. That’s not always an option. And it doesn’t have to be. (Plus, a lot of focus-grouped stories tend to feel forced.)

This is what comes down to: Thinking and listening.

I know—it sounds simple. But two easy exercises can make your brand story come alive. It should be easy for a reason—if it’s hard to formulate your why, then there’s some deeper searching to be done. 

So for the first exercise take a few moments and jot down: 

  1. Why did your association first get formed
  2. What was the organization hoping to accomplish? 
  3. What was the eureka moment to launching the association? 
  4. After joining the team, how did you tell the first person about what your organization does?

It’s incredibly important to get back to the roots. Because so often, the core idea of your association is tied to why it was started in the first place. That is where the passion comes from. And that’s what you want to convey to the world.

Second exercise: Gather a few of your team members. Ask them: 

  1. Why did they join the association staff? 
  2. What values and ideals did they cling to? 
  3. Why were they excited to join? 
  4. Why are they still excited to show up for work?

Now, repeat the process with a few trusted, long-time members to get on-the-ground insight about what attracts them to the association. 

The emotions and reasons that start to come up again and again — that’s your story. It’s not so much about cleverness or turn of phrase; it’s about feeling. When you can convey what you feel about your association to the world, then people will come to you. 

This story—whatever it ends up being for your organization—needs to flow through your entire content and marketing efforts. It’s in every blog post, every social post, every written communication. This is the story that matters most.

Storytelling was always important. But since the pandemic, it is harder to get in front of people and for them to see your passion. This new way of operating provides a chance to reset and remember your why.

When you infuse that in everything you do, the story is a powerful unifying force that attracts people to your association and keeps them engaged.

We all need something to cling to. We all need something that moors us to the ground in rocky waters. We need that now, more than ever. That’s the power of storytelling. To be grounded to something that engages us, motivates us and sustains us.

Imagine adding that sort of force to your organization. Imagine adding something that’s sustaining, not just now, but through any downturn. 

Quality storytelling doesn’t have to be left to the big companies. It’s accessible to all—and has the same power to supercharge your association.

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Jeremy Fuchs

Jeremy Fuchs is a writer, editor, reporter and content strategist, who writes about sports and tech and everything in between. He likes sushi and Diet Coke a little too much and thinks and dreams in stories.

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