There is no shortage of large companies — including firms like Procter & Gamble and BMW — that use storytelling to advance their corporate cause, but recently I encountered a case of a smaller organization that had added storytelling to its repertoire after reading my book What’s Your Story?: Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People, and Brands.
I was reading through reviews of the book on Amazon.com — which, by the way, is not a recommended exercise for the overly sensitive or faint of heart — when I came across a review by Steve Monahan, the founder of MealsFurPets.com (now Paws for Disabilities). He described reading the book and latching on to the possibility of using storytelling to further his unique cause.
Paws for Disabilities’ mission is to help the disabled lead fuller lives. They accomplish this by donating service dogs to children with disabilities such as autism, hearing, social difficulties, diabetes, seizures and mobility restrictions. Explaining his conversion to storytelling, Monahan wrote, “Telling who we are, what we do and why in a story format versus our old way has made a positive 200 percent change in our donations. We made our first page on our Web site a brief story. It captures who we are quickly and simply.”
Monahan chose an interesting and effective way to tell the story of his organization. He did it by telling his own story.
If you go to the Web site (MealsFurPets.com), you can read his explanation of how he got involved in this cause by clicking on the phrase “Our Story” on the left side of the screen. It begins as follows:
“Ours is the story of a young boy who, growing up, loved Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and all animals. Steve had a wonderful family and a successful business career. However in 2004, he was diagnosed with a rare heart infection. He was given nine months to live. A rare and difficult heart operation, however, saved his life. After recovery, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to helping children in need and animals.
“In December 2006, he launched Meals Fur Pets to feed the companion animals of the poor and disabled. The organization has drop-off sites where people and major retailers donate pet food weekly. Donations are collected and distributed directly to the poor and through charities such as Meals on Wheels, Papa’s Pantry, Must Ministries and local church pantries. They also provide spaying and neutering and pay for life-saving surgeries for cats and dogs. They collaborate with shelters, veterinary doctors and rescue groups. The organization also publishes a monthly magazine.
“In 2008, they launched phase two introducing PawsforDisabilities.org. Paws for Disabilities’ mission is to help the disabled lead fuller lives. They donate service dogs to children with disabilities.”
Simply by telling his story — beginning with a love of pets, moving on to a near-death experience and finally linking his story to the fate of pets and the disabled — Monahan managed to establish a context for giving that caused donations to double.
Storytelling can be easier if you have a large advertising, marketing or public relations budget, but Monahan has proven a good story doesn’t need to have dollars thrown at it to make it effective.