Communications | Aug 27, 2010 | 6 Comments

[telling stories]

[the best part of my job]

As it says on my About page, stories are at the heart of nonprofit communications, but even in technical and business materials, there are stories to motivate your constituents in exactly the right way. The best part of my job is telling stories, from “a day in the life of a network administrator” to the saga of a mother who overcame substance abuse and was reunited with her children.

Years ago, someone asked me what I would do with my writing skills if I didn’t have to earn a living.

I responded that I would collect and write people’s life stories. At the time, I was working on the life story of a woman who had escaped from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. She and her family became “boat people.” A version of that story was published in a local paper and in the Catholic Charities newsletter. Obviously, she and her family had extraordinary experiences and their saga left a deep impression on me.

But my dad taught me that anyone’s life can be interesting.

There aren’t any “ordinary people” or “ordinary lives.” My dad spent much of his spare time in coffee shops around Oakland, asking questions of strangers, friends, and strangers who became friends. He talked to millionaires and homeless people, cops and ex-cons, truck drivers and salesmen, immigrants from every corner of the world, and anybody else who had time for a cup of coffee. I was constantly surprised at the things he heard, especially the hard roads people had traveled and the courage they showed along the way.

I inherited his love of stories.

And I do think they have an important role in business. I jotted down a few examples; maybe you can add some more ideas in the comments section.

In my work today, this is where I find the highest value and interest: communicating how a product, service, or charitable act has really affected how people think, work, and live.

Bonus read: One of the best posts I’ve read this summer is about how to integrate stories into social media marketing. Please check it out.

I’m curious: how do you incorporate story-telling in your work?

Photo credit: Chris Cactus, as featured on his blog, RudeCactus. His work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


This post really touches me. Storytelling is as old as humanity. Maybe it’s a huge part of what makes us truly human. Thanks for sharing!!


Also – the most important lesson of story telling it that one is TRULY listening to others around them!! Glad you’re listening!


Cathy Boggs


I think your observations on the value of stories are “right on”.
One of my most interesting recent experiences was participating in an autobiography writing class. It was fascinating to hear each other’s life stories. I was amazed at how similar our core values and experiences growing up were – despite he fact we had lived in different areas of the world and in quite different circumstances.
Maybe more sharing of individual stories could help global understanding???


Claire Wagner Reply:

That seems so true – the more we can do to see each other as fellow human beings, the better. During my days at Catholic Charities, I listened to many stories of extreme hardship and also of bad choices and regrets. I had to listen without judgment and it was a good lesson for me. I learned from these people, and the wonderful staff, to treat the poor and vulnerable as human beings worthy of respect just like “the rest of us.” Of course, my parents gave me a good start on that!


Carolyn Boggs


“There aren’t any “ordinary people” or “ordinary lives.”” – great wisdom. I bet your dad is a pretty cool guy. It’s 7am and I am inspired to go out into the world and listed to people and hear their stories. Thanks Claire!


Claire Wagner Reply:

Thank YOU, Joey. I hope you have an extraordinary week listening, learning, and sharing these stories.


Joey McGirr


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