“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
“What’s In It For Me” Stories by Patricia Bouteneff
The success of a project depends a great deal upon building trust with its main stakeholders. The more you demonstrate integrity – to your workers, your funders, your supervisors – the more they will buy into and support your work. For that, they’re all going to want to know why you are doing what you are doing.
Enter the “What’s in it For Me” story. That narrative will help your audience determine whether you are there for the right or wrong reason, and whether they can trust you and get behind your work. This kind of story is especially useful in fundraising and other situations in which you need to build trust quickly, or times when you need to reassure someone that you are playing fairly.
These types of stories communicate why you are here; their aim is to replace suspicion with trust. People want to know both how they can expect to benefit, but also whether you have an ulterior motive yourself. These stories reassure your audience that you don’t have a hidden agenda and, most importantly, that you’ll both get a fair deal from whatever situation or goal that you are proposing.
To tell your story you’ll need to think through objectively (a) what you want to accomplish, and (b) your intentions for doing so. Are your intentions self-centered? Are you comfortable sharing them with others? Do they impact the whole in a healthy way or do they feed a hidden agenda of your own? Remember, you can have an agenda, but you have to be transparent about it. If you think back to a time when you have been manipulated by someone, you’ll know how that destroys trust. That’s why it is important both to make sure you aren’t manipulating someone and that you don’t even give an appearance of doing so.
Recognize that if you do not provide an authentic explanation of your intentions early in the process, people will tend to create “hidden agendas” for you. To counter that tendency, you need to tell them what’s in it for you even before you tell them how they themselves will benefit. If you focus entirely on explaining what your audience has to gain, you give the appearance of someone hiding your own potential benefit. Your message comes to seem insincere or even deceitful and people’s trust in your message evaporates. Tell them how you walked away from your six-figure job to earn your M.Div. at seminary and now make $30K as a pastor. Let the passion in your eyes and the in the way you tell your story convince them that the joy of helping your homeless neighbors is truly why you are asking for money for a soup kitchen.
If your goals are indeed selfish, that’s all right. People don’t tend to mind that as long as they don’t feel exploited. People will expect you to be looking out for yourself, as long as that’s not all you’re doing. So your “What’s In It For Me” story should disclose enough about your motivations so that your audience can distinguish between a healthy ambition and dishonest exploitation.
On her website, leadership guru Annette Simmons tells the story of a businessman who often recounted why he likes being rich. He immigrated to America from Lebanon at the age of 13, with no ability to speak English and without a cent in his pocket. He found work as a busboy and learned a little more English every day. He admired the people he saw who had nice clothes, big cars, and contented families, and he wondered whether he could ever earn all that for himself. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. With a gleam in his eye, he remained upfront about now having “new and improved” dreams. When his customers, financiers, and potential partners would hear his pitch after listening to his story, they felt like they knew who he was and why he was there. Although his goals were selfish, they were understandable – and they would lead to a healthy work ethic and successful results. Since he hid nothing, his story made him, and his project, trustworthy.
So remember, when you tell a story that focuses on the reasons for a project, make sure to acknowledge that you do have personal goals: otherwise you risk losing your credibility as a truth-teller. People want to believe you, but you have to help them out. Even if your goals are utterly altruistic, you can’t assume that your audience is going to believe that. You will have to tell them a story that supports that solidly. Winning people’s hearts is key, and doing so by being honest with yourself and with them spells success for your project, and for your conscience too.
Storytelling for Church Leaders sources
- Blunt, Ray: “Leaders and Stories: Growing the Next Generation, Conveying Values, and Shaping Character,” on Org (http://govleaders.org/stories.htm)
- Cavanaugh-Simmons, Christine, “Self-authoring the Who I Am Story” (http://ccs-consultinginc.com/who-am-i/self-authoring-the-who-am-i-story/)
- Hopko, Fr Thomas, “Speaking the Truth in Love: Compelling Commentary on Christian Belief and Behavior.” Podcast for Ancient Faith Radio (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/bishops_part_1_prophetic_priestly_and_pastoral)
- Jackson, Keith: “Business Storytelling: Using Stories to Inspire,” on com http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/BusinessStoryTelling.htm
- Linden, Russ: “Story Power,” on Governing: The States and Localities (http://www.governing.com/columns/mgmt-insights/Story-Power.html)
- Llopis, Glenn: “Hidden Agendas Disrupt Business Growth and Leadership,” on com (http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2011/11/07/objectives-define-intentions-why-leaders-must-reveal-their-hidden-agendas/)
- Ramsdell, Catherine: “Storytelling, Narration, and the ‘Who I Am’ Story,” on WritingSpaces.com http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/ramsdell–storytelling-narration.pdf
- Schwabel, Dan: “How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool,” on Forbes.com (http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2012/08/13/how-to-use-storytelling-as-a-leadership-tool/)
- Simmons, Annette: “The Six Stories You Need to Know How to Tell,” on com (http://annettesimmons.com/wp-content/files_mf/1294790921StoryFactorChap1.pdf)
- Stevenson, Doug: “Storytelling – A Leadership Development Tool,” on Story Theater International ( http://storytelling-in-business.com/files/Storytelling-leadership-development-tool.pdf)
- Thompson, Jessica: “Manipulation techniques used by manipulative people” on JessicaThompsonWrites.com (http://jessicathompsonwrites.com/manipulation-techniques-used-manipulative-people/)
- Zax, David: “6 Rules for Great Storytelling, From A Moth-Approved Master of the Form” on com (http://www.fastcompany.com/3052152/how-i-get-it-done/6-rules-for-great-storytelling-from-a-moth-approved-master-of-the-form?cid=ps002rosnr)