Since sharing a story is likely to trigger a story in the mind of our listener, it behooves us to be intentional about the stories we choose to share. Here’s an example of how Sharon Francis, director of the MiraCit Development Corporation in Columbus, Ohio, is planning for a meeting with an important philanthropist, businessman, and Columbus native:
Sharon would like the donor to support MiraCit’s redevelopment of a shopping center. She plans to share a story that will remind him of his own accomplishments, commitment to community, and phenomenal success—and to spark both a sense of pride and a desire to be part of the solution. Sharon chose to share an authentic story featuring a protagonist with whom the prospective donor could empathize and events to which he could relate.
MiraCit Development Corporation started with a Chicago Transit bus driver, Mr. Edgar Posey, who, 40 years ago, moved to Columbus with no clue of what lay ahead. This former “people mover,” who is now the chairman of MiraCit, entered the ministry and, some time afterward, founded Living Faith Apostolic Church. Although Pastor Posey had only five members for the first three years, he remained committed to his call. The church eventually grew to over 200, and then built a new building in the heart of a community that was rapidly in decline. Soon after, the pastor and congregation were challenged with a vision to rebuild the neighborhood surrounding them, much like that given to Nehemiah, the biblical figure.
Having no idea about or expertise on how to begin, we sought guidance and support from the city and county, and started working, renovating one HUD home at a time, and then building new homes and subdivisions, including Hegemon Crest, site of the first Urban Festival of Homes, and Green View Estates, the City’s first “green” community. To date, we have developed over 300 new homes and senior apartments, a K-12 charter school, and a daycare center. We’re in the process of renovating a shopping plaza and opening a full-service grocery store.
As a result, we have seen dramatically reduced crime, increased homeownership, the creation of new jobs and businesses, and a rekindled sense of community pride—all because a pastor and neighborhood folks were willing to step out on faith, reinvest in their community, and, along with development partners committed to this vision, accomplish what seemed to be impossible. (MiraCit, by the way, is short for “Miracle City.”)
A builder partner recently told me, “The only thing that could mute what has already been done in your community is to do nothing further.” MiraCit has a mandate to take this vision to the next level, to create a vibrant commercial and retail gateway for the community. Being a man of vision yourself, we need your development expertise to help make it happen!
Can you imagine the impact of a mini-Town Center in an urban community? It will completely transform our neighborhood, similar to what you’ve done nearby. We really would appreciate if you would consider being a part of this unprecedented vision to rebuild, restructure, and revitalize our community—a vision and dream that started with one, and now includes all.
Note that Sharon invites the donor to join her on, and to empathize with, the journey of Pastor Posey. Her prompt, “Can you imagine…?” is pivotal: It rhetorically transports the donor into the new and improved situation. Once there, he is open to imagining his part in the solution.
Following Sharon’s example, ask yourself three questions prior to choosing a story that invites your listener to be a part of the solution:
- If you are asking your audience to do something, how might they have to feel in order to take that action?
- Might you have a story you can share about a time when you, or someone connected with your organization, felt similarly? How else might you empathize with your audience?
- From whose point of view can you tell the story, so that your listener most closely relates to the challenges and successes you present?
What story can you share?