Storytelling. It’s the center of everything.

Photo by eyeliam

Guest post by Jason Konopinski. Jason is a freelance copywriter and editor. An advocate of social good and strong storytelling, he works with small-to-medium sized corporate and agency clients to produce rock-solid audience responsive content. He is currently seeking a full-time agency role as a copywriter and digital content creator.

My grandfather told the most incredible stories about life in Poland through two World Wars. He spoke only Polish – a language that I can understand though my speaking vocabulary is somewhat limited after years of disuse. A butcher until the very day that he died, he taught me how to make kielbasa and break down poultry and beef into the primals. He’d talk about how he was involved in the underground resistance movement, smuggling black market goods at the risk of great personal injury. The tales were fantastic, but it was how he told them that was often far more remarkable than the details themselves. Those years in the underground made him intensely private, so those times with Dziadzia were always cherished.

There’s an emotional engine of change behind every great story. It’s what keeps us turning the pages, identifying with characters and actors whose perspectives and experience resonate with us. The challenge for non-profit organizations is how to rediscover that emotional engine to transform passive donors into champions for the mission of your cause. Radical empathy is a powerful motivator – and it’s central to the philosophy of brand storytelling, and especially critical for NPOs who rely on member support and contributions to continue working on their mission.

Now, I’ve a confession to make: I don’t work in the NPO space professionally, but I’ve been a donor for a number of organizations over the years. Most recently, I’ve served as the media & publicity chair for the Relay for Life of Hanover. Like any volunteer organization, we struggle with busy schedules, getting media to pay attention to team fundraising efforts, and competition with other community organizations scrambling for the same limited pool of resources. Despite a slumping economy, our event has exceeded its fundraising goal year over year. Our best recruiting successes happen at Relay.

When people ask me Why I Relay, I have a story to share. My wife has lost six aunts and uncles to various forms of cancer, including breast, lung, pancreatic and brain. I relay in honor and memory of them. It makes the purpose of the event real and relatable to those unfamiliar with the mission of the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. Every photograph of a loved one, a candle lit in remembrance, the iconic HOPE display – these symbols for Relay for Life tell a story in their own right. They help people connect with the brand, the organization and the mission at a purely emotional level, a connection that maps the change from impersonal supporter to enthusiastic advocate. They are the intangible and underutilized emotional assets that power and drive the cause.

Our efforts to meet fundraising objectives and meet recruitment numbers should never eclipse the real reason that we Relay: to aid research, offer patient outreach and increase awareness for community-based care and support in our own communities. An emphasis on visual storytelling motifs and vehicles allows us to put the participants and the individual teams at the very center of the Relay experience from pre-event fundraising through post-event wrap-up.