Stories can capture the heart of a person like a number or statistic never can. Even mind-boggling statistics are just that – incapable of being fully processed and affecting us into action. Human experience on the other hand, touches us deeply and creates empathy that we are unable to ignore.
On Thursday, I listened to Jessica Jackley (co-founder of Kiva and founder of Profounder) and Jennifer Aaker (Stanford Business School Professor and author of The Dragonfly Effect) talk about the power of storytelling. It was at a Philanthropy and Civil Society event at Stanford University that was supposed to be on social media, but focused on something much more enlightening: the power of people's stories.
Many people are talking right now about the importance of metrics in measuring nonprofit impact. Metrics quantify activity and changes that are seen as a result of a program, service, or policy. While there is a place for metrics and quantifiable successes, I believe it can’t be the only way we assess change.
While some questions are amenable to a single numerical answer, many are nuanced and require skill in listening, capturing, synthesizing and communicating in creative qualitative ways. The latter begins through asking thoughtful questions and consequently by listening to peoples’ stories.
There are two reasons that we must consider the questions we ask about impact and how we gather information to answer those questions, whether through collecting numerical data or capturing stories.