Does Your Mission Have a Compelling Voice?

“I was born in prison. My mother had just been sentenced to 7 years. And by the time I was a freshman in high school, I was already addicted to crystal meth. People would look at me with disgust, my family in particular.” 

“Life was hard for me growing up. I had no dad to look up to. I had no role model. My older brother was in and out of prison. I didn’t know what to do, so I started gang banging.”

What images come to mind about the characters making these statements?

2014-02-21 09.01.11Recently, the Not-For-Profit Network of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a storytelling workshop delivered by Barkada Circle. Does Your Mission Have a Compelling Voice? gave participants the opportunity to delve into the challenges they face in creating stories that engage their audience, especially potential donors. The overarching question was: “How do we determine who should be telling the story of our mission?”

The conversation centered around two videos about one organization’s mission. Fresh Lifelines for Youth is a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of violence, crime and incarceration of teens. One video was created in 2007 and the second in 2012. Both videos were done professionally. They tell the same story with overlapping characters, but they differ in how the story is told.

The first video begins with putting the teens in a negative light. The statements at the start of this blog entry are direct quotes from this video. Does this draw the audience into the narrative? It then introduces the adult staff describing the programs and their successes.fly1_cast

It’s clear that in this video, the organization is the voice and the hero because they are presented as the one with the ability to make change happen for the youth. “We have the answers and our programs work.” On the other hand, the youth are helpless and have lost all hope. What strikes me the most is that staffers are identified with their names and titles, but the video begins and ends with nameless teens. We are not given the opportunity to get to know them.

In its retelling, the story introduces the teens in a positive light so they appear to a wider audience as relatable characters. Then, in their own voice, they share their personal histories. We see them interacting and having real conversations with staff as they progress through the programs. We hear them contemplating their options and the consequences of their choices. We hear their aspirations. Their collective voice reflects the success of the programs.fly2_cast

In this version of the story, I am struck by the deeper insights shared by staff based on what they’ve learned from interacting with the teens. In my view, the adult staffers are clearly represented as the supportive structure that raises up the youth to be perceived by the audience as, in the words of Christa Gannon, Founder & Executive Director, “strong, resilient, and possess a spark of goodness that the rest of the world needs to see.”

Who is the new voice–the one with the power to move the story forward? Who now embodies the true meaning of the mission and its impact?

For more information about Fresh Lifelines for Youth, go to http://flyprogram.org. To find out more about the programs and upcoming events of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce Not-For-Profit Network, please contact Kara Carpenter, Programs Assistant, at (630) 544-3360 or visit the chamber’s website at www.naperville.net.

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