50th Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Andy Goodman

This profile is part of an occasional series highlighting speakers at SECF's 50th Annual Meeting! Register by July 1 and save $100!

SECF's 50th Annual Meeting will mark the close of one chapter and the beginning of the next -- part of an ongoing story of philanthropy in the South, its growth and evolution, and its power to transform lives and communities.

Within that large, overarching story are many others, being written every day by foundations and the people who lead them. Yet people and organizations can easily get caught up in the day-to-day, unable to appreciate the powerful, long-running narratives they help write through their work. Too often, these stories go untold.

Andy Goodman, who will take the main stage during the second day of the Annual Meeting, has devoted his career to changing that. As the co-founder and director of The Goodman Center, and author of Storytelling as Best Practice, he argues that stories are integral to organizational success.

"Storytelling is the single most powerful communications tool available to us, period. It is the process of using stories to communicate to people a meaning about how we live in this world," he told the Communication's Network's Change Agent magazine recently. "I really do believe that it is the most important means of communication we have, the most important tool we have for extracting meaning from daily events and for guiding our lives."

Goodman is careful to point out that "storytelling" is not just a buzzword, but a distinct way of communicating that goes beyond simply conveying information. A story, he argues, needs to have the hallmarks of a classic fiction narrative: a protagonist who faces adversity, overcomes challenges, and changes the status quo.

"If you're going to tell stories about what you do, you've got to start with somebody who wants to do something, who runs into challenges along the way and has to deal with those challenges and take people on a journey so that they're emotionally engaged, and care, and get involved and are interested in what you do," he says.

Even those who work in the world of hard data and analytics need to use stories to succeed, he wrote last year.

"The hard truth is that we human beings walk around with a bunch of stories in our heads about the way the world works, and everything that happens to us gets filtered through those stories," Goodman wrote. "If we are presented with data that doesn't correlate with one of those stories, we will reject the data."

At a recent event in Buffalo, New York, Goodman outlined the types of stories organizations should aim to tell: the Why Story, the How We Started Story, the Emblematic Success Story, the Core Values Story, the Striving to Improve Story and the Where Are We Going Story. Everyone within an organization, he says, should be able to tell these stories when needed.

"You want to send your people out with a quiver full of arrows," he told his audience. "Depending on who they're talking to, they can pull out the right story for the right person at the right time."


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