Philanthropy Lesson #004: “Tell Tales”

Philanthropy is a field dominated by facts and figures.  Donors and advisors alike, understandably keen to show that they are making significant strides in the areas of their choice, are increasingly focused upon the clear and careful evaluation of their work. 

This is a welcome development; yet it is important that it does not come at the expense of an intangible but no less important part of the philanthropy world, that of storytelling.

Storytelling is one of the most valuable aspects of philanthropy.  Before the first cheque of grant money is given, there must be a strategy; before the strategy is drawn up, there must be a vision of a successful story that will be enabled by that cheque. 

An example: in an item that tops our week’s Press Highlights, George Soros has just awarded $100million to Human Rights Watch, the largest-ever sum that this organisation has received.  And whilst Mr. Soros was undoubtedly drawn to the charity’s efficiency, the chances are that he was also taken with its compelling narrative of the world that it was working to bring about.

Some months ago, The BBC World Service ran a piece on their website on this very subject, noting that their listeners were as interested in their “soft” stories – i.e., those with an element of human interest – as their “hard” stories, which had a tougher, somewhat worthier edge.  Indeed, it’s notable that some of the most successful organisations we have encountered – like, say, Atlantic Philanthropies – are those who can not only crunch the numbers but also provide vivid illustrations of their work.  That’s why efforts such as those by The Daily Tell should be applauded; a website which takes time every few days to highlight the success stories in charitable giving.  Long may they, and many others in the philanthropic sector, continue telling tales.


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