The Future of Nonprofit Storytelling – Joe Lambert Interview

Sara Choe
Sara Choe

Today we interview Joe Lambert, founder of the Center of Digital Storytelling out in SF. He’s one of our panelists at the Nonprofit Technology Conference this year too. Here he shares his thoughts on the future of nonprofit storytelling.

What is the future of nonprofit storytelling? How is it going to change?
I recently found myself reading Robert Fuller’s Somebodies, Nobodies and the Politics of Dignity, a book about hierarchy and what he calls “rankism”, and the explicit and implicit ways we all abuse our large and small privilege and power as people, more or less without exception.

I believe non-profits will have to continue to look at our assumptions of service, at our assumptions of benefit, and find stories that re-contextualize perceptions about who is helping whom. I like the phrase, “if your helping me liberate myself is not about your own liberation, then I do not need your help.” A very post-colonial sentiment, and the fact that patronization is still an issue with many processes of non-profit service, one that our stories as non-profit leaders, and and non-profit workers, still needs to explore.

How can nonprofits find the right medium/channels to share their stories?
My main tip is that deep and powerful stories require solemnity and reverence to absorb. Most contexts of media do not invite serious engagement about the issues that we are trying to tackle as non-profit professionals. One of the reasons documentaries, non-fiction books, and in-depth personal reflections are powerful is they force us to stay in the story long enough for the issues to be worked through and absorbed.

New media skimming, with messages that we think are appropriately bite sized, may not actually be doing much more than making us feel generally connected to the idea. I no longer believe they are what motivates engagement. You cannot Facebook your way into social change.

Of course, if you are already in the community, and have been engaged by the issue from whatever level, they are fantastic as information sources and mobilization strategies, and do lead to successful motivation to take a given step. I generally believe superficial memes invariably create superficial commitments, and powerful stories come from much work.

Joe Lambert is the founder of the Center of Digital Storytelling. For 17 years, he has traveled the world helping little groups of people make little stories. Joe loves story work with people because he thinks every human has some piece of gold inside themselves that is capable of changing the world.

Catch Cara Jones on storytelling trends, the first part of our three part storytelling series.

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