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Example from the Land of Storytelling

Here’s a summarized version of the STORY for The Abbey Theatre in Ireland.

They’re an amazing organization, with an incredibly rich history, a glitch five years ago that has been dramatically reversed, a terrific Senior Team and more.

I believe The Abby would tell you that one of the most important things we’ve done as their COACH has been to help them tell their story! Obviously, as a theatre/artistic/performance group … The Abbey and its leadership understand the whole idea of ‘STORY.’ The challenge was that the story they were telling (and not telling) wasn’t working.

Hope the following helps you better understand the whole idea of STORY and its power:


    THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF IRELAND! For over 100 years have been staging and reflecting Irish life and culture. Deeply engaged in the Easter Rising in 1916 (founding of the country!) … and will be again on the 100th Anniversary in 2016. Major challenges in 2004, leadership, financial, etc. Big-time turnaround. Superstar Artistic Director. Super-smart CFO. ‘Brilliant’ new Senior Team. New financial controls. New Message and Marketing. Now in position to scale and grow the IMPACT of The Abbey in Dublin, Ireland, the United States and around the world.
    Again, THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF IRELAND! Staging and reflecting Irish life and culture. Connecting TALENT and AUDIENCES!
    Everyone on the Senior Team (and actually the Board as well) has their own personal story as it relates to Ireland, the Theatre and The Abbey. Each can now tell that in a powerful way.
    FOUNDED before there was a country! Manifesto written in 1899. Yeats, with the help of two amazing women benefactors, founded The Abbey in 1904. Abbey central to the Easter Rising in 1916. Abbey full of legendary artists and writers including James Joyce, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw and now Tom Murphy, Bryan Freel and Mark O’Rowe. Now impacting almost 100,000 people from 62 countries enjoying shows at The Abbey; five world premieres; etc.
    The government plays a huge role in funding the Arts in Ireland. Part of the ‘Numbers’ Story is that this money goes to help sponsor and underwrite performances to allow the people of Ireland access to theatre and artistic work. The ‘Math’ Story also includes ‘tightening of the belt’ (redundancy), packaging up the actual ‘cost’ of performances and tours and much more. [E.g., the actual (average) ‘gap‘ for each performance is approximately
    €1,016.] (Cost – Ticket Sales = Gap)
    The ‘Cause’ Story has now grown from simply being THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF IRELAND and doing what The Abbey has always done … and to becoming a leader and prime-time player in the resurgence of Ireland’s economy! Business and political leadership in Ireland have determined that Arts and Culture are two of the country’s greatest assets.The Abbey needs to be positioned as a vital part of the country’s message.The ‘Case’ Story centers around The Abbey’s responsibility to:

    • Develop Playwrights
    • Mark History
    • Create Dialogue
    The Abbey has an entirely new FUNDING MODEL built around TODAY. TOMORROW. FOREVER. It is a top-down model that relies heavily on shoulder-to-shoulder visits with The Abbey’s very best Qualified Prospects and Potential Investors. The model is designed to help The Abbey with Current Operations (Today), Priorities & Projects over the next six years (Tomorrow) and Legacy/Planned Gifts (Forever).
    There is a very specific ACTION PLAN around both IMPACT and INCOME. In the ‘blue’ IMPACT … that Plan includes encouraging and developing playwrights, particularly more women playwrights; expanding The Abbey’s reach and influence to the school children of Ireland; reaching out to the Irish Diaspora around the world, and much more.The ‘green’INCOME Plan/Story includes very specific fundraising goals for the Yeats Performance Fund (1,016 Euros, 100/300/400+ Members); 25/50 Members in the Annie Horniman Circle (10,300 Euros); 50-100 Members in Lennox Robinson Society (Legacy Gifts), etc. The FUNDING PLAN Story also includes a bold and aggressive outreach to the United States.
    Simple story. Yeats was the original fundraiser. The Theatre was built on fundraising … literally. It’s in The Abbey DNA. The performer IS also the business storyteller. First gift from Annie Horniman for 10,300 lbs sterling. Yeats then did three whistle stop funding tours in the U.S. where the Irish Americans BUILT the Theatre and brand known today.Yeats sat with people in New York just as The Abbey is doing today … continuing the tradition. Fiach is Yeats and the person The Abbey is sitting with is Annie.2nd Story. No real culture of philanthropy in Ireland until very recently. No real fundraising or development for The Abbey until very, very recently. Government has been and continues to be the #1 investor/benefactor. The Abbey has not gone out and ASKED. The Abbey is now out SHARING THE STORY … and PRESENTING THE OPPORTUNITY.

Re-Write Your Destiny in Business and in Life

Jim Loehr is one of my favorite authors. He began his career working with high-profile athletes in tennis and moved to other sports. He now runs the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, where he now focuses on executives and leaders.

His book, The Power of Full Engagement is required reading in our little organization. The entire message is on the cover: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

His more recent, groundbreaking book, The Power of Story, talks about the way we tell STORIES about ourselves, to ourselves – and how we can change those STORIES to transform our business and our personal lives.

“Your story is your life.” Jim Loehr makes this point early and often. While much of the book is geared towards our personal stories … every idea, nugget and point has amazing relevance to all of our organizations as well.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It can change the way you think, operate and even fund.

Three teasers:

  • The 3 RULES of STORYTELLING. (Page 137)
    • PURPOSE.
    • TRUTH.
    • ACTION.
    Great summary of The Power of Engagement, ENERGY, focus, etc. (Page 153)
  • FALSE ASSUMPTIONS turned into stories.Loehr says that much of the material of our life and organization stories are based on assumptions – many of which are not true. (Page 68)

This could be one of the most impactful books you can read for your own PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT, your ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOMENT and your INCOME DEVELOPMENT!

Order this book fast. Download it on your Kindle. Do whatever you’ve got to do to understand The Power of Story.

Empower Volunteers. Engage Investors.

Great stories empower your volunteers to connect with other prospective investors.

Here’s a simple test: Ask any of your Volunteer Leaders or Board Members (or even key staff) if they would rather:


No one wants to ‘ask the friends for money.’

But ‘share a story?’ Can’t tell you how many board members we’ve worked with who’ve said, “Oh, I can do that!”

On the flip side …

Prospective investors are LOOKING FOR a GREAT STORY.

I thought you would enjoy these THOUGHTS from a philanthropist about the IMPORTANCE of a GOOD STORY:

“I also know firsthand what a donor experiences when being approached.

The very first thing I want to hear is a GOOD STORY. Why are you the one cause or organization I should give my time and money towards?

I hear lots of moving stories. Essentially I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that you are the most capable to make the dream come true.”

Get out of your office and start sharing your story … your story that’s SO GREAT that it inspires listeners to “take a leap of faith!

Storytelling & the Power of Story

I was in Ireland, doing some FOR IMPACT TRAINING. Wonderful, incredible people.

A country and economy that is growing, booming. And, For Impact Organizations that have powerful ‘Causes’ and ‘Cases!’

During breaks, at lunch and after the training, I stood in the front with a flipchart and tried to help people with the MESSAGE part of our For Impact sales process. As always, their message was too much, too complicated, too many words. However, when I asked each to simply TELL ME THEIR STORY … the ‘WORDS’ jumped out!

HUGE lesson for all of us:


3 Big Ideas:

  • STORYBOARDING. It’s a Walt Disney animation term… but it works perfectly for us. Actually laying out the ‘STORY’ is a way to Prepare and Practice your Presentation!
    • HOW do you begin?
    • HOW do you talk about the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW?
    • WHO do you talk about? (Their Story)

    P.S. The story doesn’t always start with “In 1842, Father Sorin and six brothers came to a snowy lake which was actually two lakes…” (Notre Dame).

  • STORYTELLING!!!! Here I was, in Ireland, the land of incredible “storytellers” … what a great place to think about the POWER of STORYTELLING. It’s about AUTHENTICITY. It’s about VISUALIZATION and IMAGINATION. And it’s about PASSION, EMOTION and ENTHUSIASM. It’s POWERFUL stuff!
  • SHARING THE STORY. Nick and I have been using this idea for a long time. It’s so much easier for you and your Board and anyone connected with your For Impact Organization to SHARE THE STORY and PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY … than it is to go and ‘ask for money!!!’ THE POWER OF STORY helps with the Open, Dialogue, Conversation, and much more. Building, telling, sharing your STORY is ALL you need
    to do. And I mean that pretty literally.

Sharing the Story

I got a note from one of the most wonderful women in the world … who, with her team, is running one of the most incredible women’s “shelters” in the United States.

United Way had asked her to speak at different corporations. Here’s her quote:

“I can bring them to tears in less than five minutes. I’m like a Hallmark card, only thing is my stories are all true and happened in their hometown.”


Five minutes. True. Happened in their hometown.


“I never give presentations.”

“I do tell stories.”

“STORY after STORY after (linked) to STORY.”

I’m definitely a Tom Peters ‘groupie’. I picked up his book, The Little BIG Things, in the Tampa airport.

As always, his 163 nuggets are thoughtful and provocative.

I opened the book up to #25 You Are Your Story!

“He/she who has the best/most compelling/most resonate STORY wins: In life! In business! In front of the jury! In front of the congregation!”

I would simply add: IN FRONT OF THE PROSPECT!



Discover Your Best Story

I was with an organization (to remain nameless) that had a super simple message but a really bad story. In talking with the group it was instantly apparent that their great message was trumped by a really bad story.

While the organization had a powerful, simple message on paper, the story I heard from several staff and board members was one about a long history of:

  • ‘not fundraising’
  • ‘yeah buts’
  • program stigmas
“We are still very much a little charity that deals with something most people are uncomfortable talking about. Donors aren’t used to giving to us and they think we have all the money we need.”

I heard this again and again.

Many organizations run into this problem. When I say someone has a really bad story, I mean their 30,000’ (high altitude) NARRATIVE is not representing their transcendent PURPOSE, their VISION, ‘BHAGs,’ their audacity. (To be very clear: I speak of the gravitas that you already possess. I’m not encouraging you to make something up for messaging purposes.)

So …

Let me tell you a different story about the same organization … all true.

  • This ‘little charity’ generates $15M/year through several funding streams – including fundraising.
  • It impacts over 8,000 families each year and completely changes … even SAVES the lives of scores of children who have been subjected to some of the worst atrocities imaginable.
  • People come from all over the world to work with this team of inspired and innovative leaders, counselors and program managers.

This organization needed to embrace the power of story … of their GREAT story. Your story is what you are. YOU tell your story. It can be ‘Eeyyore-ish’ or awesome.

Write down, in bullet-point-form, the things that get you REALLY FIRED UP about your organization. Connect the dots (literally) and you have the start of a pretty good story.

We did this exercise with the organization mentioned above. THEY were the ones to generate the compelling storylines above!

The process illustrates how they already owned both stories. We didn’t come in from the outside, for instance, and try to write a new story. To be the best STORYTELLER, you obviously need to be AUTHENTIC! You need to ‘own’ your story.

This is huge.

Story creates reality.

“We become what we think about.”
-Earl Nightingale


Sit down with your team to DISCOVER your BEST stories. Let us know if you need more help. In our teleseminars and training we:

  • Share examples of stories used at organizations that ENGAGE people and help GET TO THE ASK.
  • Address common challenges to funding, action and engagement – your STORY makes a big difference.
  • Give you several actionable tools use can use to DISCOVER your story and make it AWESOME.

Is Your Story Awesome?

The story you use to maximize funding …

The story that brings rock star talent to your doorstep and fully engages your team …

The story that you tell yourself every day to stay focused and fulfilled …


Story adds passion, purpose and urgency to your message, plan and everyday actions.

  • Is your story about needing more money? Or changing lives?
  • Do you have a good story that helps get to the ask?
  • Do you have a story that engages your board as passionate champions and advocates?


“We fail to realize that everything we say is a story — nothing more, nothing less.”

“Stories impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our experiences … Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them.”

“Your life is your story. Your story is your life.”

- From The Power of Story, by Jim Loehr


You have control over the story. That’s the WOW!

Take time to think about:

  • The flawed stories we tell ourselves. “She can’t make a gift of that size because she just made a big gift to the museum.” Stop making decisions for prospects.
  • Our funding stories. Do you need money for your annual fund? (Yawn. Who cares?) Or are you tying your story to your IMPACT?
  • Our organizational story. The story of “Braveheart” trumps the “Little Engine that Could.”
  • The Story of the SECTOR! The Story of our Raison d’être! Are we ‘not for profit’ or FOR IMPACT?

Story … if you ‘get it’ … is a BIG deal. DISCOVER your story and make it AWESOME.

Selling Is Not Telling … Unless It’s A Story!

If you’re a follower of For Impact, you’ve heard me say (probably a hundred times),
“You’re in SALES … get over it!”

The concept of ‘story’ is a huge element of the SALES process.

Selling is not about a PITCH (on an elevator)! It’s not a spiel. It’s not memorized.

It’s about a dialogue.


We used to call this IMPACT POINTS and TALKING POINTS. It was the idea of “reaching into your quiver of arrows” and selecting the right response. You could also think of it as reaching into your collection of STORIES.


One of my favorite axioms around selling is that:

Spewing, vomiting or unleashing a bunch of ‘words’ is not how you SELL!

Now … however, I always add this line … ‘UNLESS it’s a STORY!’

‘Telling’ a story is, without question, the most meaningful way to communicate any MESSAGE!

Stories inspire … empower … bring people together.


Tell Me Your Story

Here’s a great example straight out of a For Impact training session.

During breaks, at lunch and after the training, I stood in the front with a flipchart and tried to help people with the MESSAGE part of our For Impact sales process.

As always, their message was too much, too complicated, too many words. However, when I asked each to simply TELL ME THEIR STORY … the ‘WORDS’ JUMPED OUT!

HUGE lesson for all of us: Design the STORY! Tell the STORY! SHARE THE STORY!

Stories are magic!

If I say, “Tell me about your organization,” I typically hear a bunch of blah, blah, blah about services, methodology, numbers, plans. (Yawn.) It’s not ‘engaging!’

But if I say, “TELL ME YOUR STORY,” the reply is completely different. It’s heartfelt … and ENGAGES me!!

Stories are about AUTHENTICITY … PASSION … EMOTION and ENTHUSIASM! Stories also involve VISUALIZATION … IMAGINATION. They engage the listener!

As we continued through the training, there was a lot of ‘talk’ about the whole idea of ORAL storytelling. (Campfires, passed along from generation to generation, songs, etc.)

That led to some discussion about the story as the WRITTEN WORD. Playwrights, authors, poets, etc.

I would add one more way to tell a story: VISUALLY.


Don’t ‘tell me about your organization’ … TELL ME YOUR STORY!

Great Reads on Storytelling

Some powerful RESOURCES to help you around the concept of STORYTELLING:

  • The Power of Story by Jim Loehr.
    Already mentioned a few times. A must read. Loehr has always been one of my favorite thinkers/writers. This has become one of my ‘favorite’ books! His other book, The Power of Full Engagement, is required reading for our team.
  • “The Four Truths of the Storyteller”
    An article in Harvard Business Review by Peter Guber, leader in the entertainment/experience world. (December 2007) This line alone ought to get you to read this article. “Although the MIND may be part of your target, the HEART is the bull’s-eye.”Also by Gruber …
  • Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, AND Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.
    Good stuff. Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment. Guber talks about ‘STORYTELLING’ as a “Professional Discipline.” Oh yeah. Quick quotes: 

    • “Stories are tools.”
    • “Stories need to be interactive.”
    • “Stories need a purpose.”

    (Thus, “Purposeful Storytelling.”)

For even more from Gruber …

  • You can read a powerful Q & A with Guber by Mike Hoffman in INC. magazine on the “Power of Effective Communicators.” (March 1, 2011)
  • Around the Corporate Campfire by Evelyn Clark.
    Subtitle says it all: How Great Leaders Use Stories to Inspire Success.
  • “Using Great Storytelling To Grow Your Business”
    A great article by Kaihan Krippendorff. (FAST COMPANY, March 5, 2012) Here’s the shorthand:

    • Use lots of LOTS… Language of the Senses. When you tell a story, share the see, smell, feel, taste and hear.
    • Build on your Story Spine. This comes from the Actors Institute, which suggests using a five-step structure called the Story Spine: Reality is introduced, conflict arrives, there’s a struggle, the conflict is resolved, new reality exists.
  • Storytelling by Fog, Budtz and Yakaboylu.
    This is more about storytelling as it relates to BRANDING … but there is still some great stuff! For example, the four elements of storytelling:

    • THE MESSAGE!!!
    • CONFLICT (Problem/Solution in Our World)
    • CHARACTERS (Who is involved? Share your own story on the visit, etc.)
    • PLOT
  • The Way of the Storyteller by Ruth Sawyer.
    Just one of those classics about STORYTELLING. Originally published in 1942. (Believe it or not, before I was born!) Just another way to look at STORIES.
  • Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler.
    Not the most ‘exciting’ book I’ve read but still has some good nuggets in it around the subtitle: TOOLS for Talking When Stakes Are High. It’s about trying to discover how to communicate best when it matters the most. Foreword by Stephen Covey.
  • A Whole New Mind (Storytelling) by Daniel Pink
    A brilliant thinker and author who clarifies and simplifies big concepts.
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee.
  • The Dream Society by Rolf Jensen.

Finally, if you just want to have some fun, pick up

  • Story People by Brian Andreas.
    He is an ARTIST who just makes me laugh and think. I love his work.Here’s one of my favorite lines:“I like geography best,” he said, “because your mountains and rivers know the secret.”And I love: “Pay no attention to boundaries.”

The Power of Story

Everything you do should be built around a STORY!

As often happens, Nick and I came at this whole STORY thing independently during our ongoing work, coaching and training. It happened several years ago. We were at Eagle Creek kicking around some ideas for upcoming Board and Custom Training when we realized that we had both been putting increasing emphasis on the whole idea of STORY.

STORYLINES. STORYBOARDS. STORYTELLING. We agreed that the Power of Story transcended just about everything.

The POWER of STORYTELLING is a given. It goes back, literally, to the beginning of humankind! STORIES are, without question, the most meaningful way to communicate any (and I mean ANY) MESSAGE!

It’s so much easier for you and your Board and anyone connected with your For Impact organization to SHARE THE STORY and PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY … than it is to go and ‘ask for money!!!’

STORY helps with the Open, Dialogue, Conversation, and much more. Building, telling, sharing your STORY is ALL you need to do. And I mean that pretty literally.

In our For Impact world, ‘SHARE THE STORY’ is about:

    • STORIES … here’s the ‘short list:’
(Founding. Problem/Solution. Etc.)The IMPERATIVE STORY
(Change, Save, Impact Lives/Solve/Movement)The VISION STORY.
(Purpose. 30,000’. “Where do we want to be in 1,000 days?”)

(Part of Flow/Open. 3 Bullets.)

(100 Years Old. Founded before the Country. 1st whatever.)

(The Gap. Income & Expenses. Revenue Streams. Transformational.)

(Again, Problem/Solution. Impact.)

(Business Model. Funding Model.)

(The HOW we will get there. The ‘Blue’ Plan and the ‘Green’ Plan.)

(Authentic. Haven’t been out asking, etc.)




What are YOUR stories?

Nick’s Note: Return on Energy

Here is a simple idea you can use to frame your thinking around your funding plan:


This seems to be especially big for organizations trapped in a transaction-based system of special events (life-sucking, volunteer-draining) with often and incredibly low RETURN ON ENERGY.

If that describes your organization, then think about this rhetorical question: What would happen if you did away with one event. Then, you focused all that energy (time, urgency, people, resources) on building a great relationships with one or two prospects that could invest $1 million in your vision?


  • Special Events As Fundraisers Stink- they’re not special.
  • Major Gifts: Raise the most money at the least cost.
  • 97/3: 97% of the money/investments comes from 3% of your family … focus on
    the 3%


I was with a school in Albuquerque. The bulk of the funding strategy revolved around special events … in fact, they were running FIVE events. The board was drained. It made a commitment to CHANGE the way it FUNDED the VISION. In only one week, the board generated more than $80,000 to fund student scholarships by working only a few key phone relationships. To really see the ‘WOW’ you need to know that they these events were consuming hundreds of volunteer hours and netting an average of $30K – $50K each (with a funding cost as high as 70 cents to raise a dollar – yikes).

To me, this is a wonderful example of stopping to think about the RETURN ON ENERGY, making a commitment to change and enjoying IMMEDIATE RESULTS.

Final Note:

This applies to EVERYTHING you’re doing. Take a moment today to think about your RETURN ON ENERGY.