Stories have power and the stories shaping our incredible Catalyst organizations have the power to change the world. That’s why storytelling is central to our work in the Catalyst Program.
As part of the six-month experience, we ask every Catalyst leader to carefully consider the effectiveness of their communications. We start with their personal journeys as leaders, explore their organizational narratives and include transformational examples that are molded together into a clear presentation—oftentimes these talks are delivered on the final day of the Catalyst summit when participants “Take their Stand.”
We are intentional about the elements in each “Stand.” At the beginning of the process, each Catalyst works with coaches to help them uncover and define their personal “why.” Why are they connected to their work? What drives them to solve the problems they’re tackling? After defining their personal motivations, Catalysts begin to clarify and hone how they talk about the Human Action Model at work in their organization. What problem does their organization exist to solve? What is their vision of a better future? And what is uniquely special about their organization that will help move us there? Finally, including how their organization works on the ground to help people transform their lives is essential. The combination of these elements helps the audience connect the story to the opportunity to take action and address an urgent challenge.
Once the narrative is defined, refined, and rehearsed, each Catalyst has an opportunity to share their Stand at an event with peers and the broader Stand Together community. It’s one of the most pivotal and memorable evenings in the entire program. For many nonprofit leaders, it’s their first time presenting their personal story and organizational vision in public. And when they get down from the stage, those Catalysts never view storytelling the same way again.
At a recent Catalyst gathering we connected with six leaders and asked them to briefly reflect on their experience as a Catalyst, the process of crafting a Stand, and how this new or improved capability might affect their work going forward. Here’s what they said:
These conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Daquan Oliver, CEO, WeThrive
“Before, I would spend very little time talking about a vision of a better future. Now, when I’m in pitch mode, I’m thinking, ‘Let me make sure I paint a picture of what it could be.’ Our deck shows kids feeling happy, building companies, earning real revenue—and you can literally see it in addition to the ways I’m talking about it. Then, with that excitement, I can bridge into, ‘Here’s how we get there today.’”
Kassy Alia Ray, CEO, Serve & Connect
“I think the process of both reflecting on my personal ‘why’ and also the organizational ‘why’ just revealed such a clarity around the tension we’ve been dancing with for a long time. It really helped to solidify that what we are doing is really seeking a paradigm shift. We are trying to show that there’s a different path forward, one that addresses the real issues at hand but in a way that is collaborative, that’s people-driven and people-based, and really creates mutually beneficial solutions.”
Bo Ghiradelli, CEO, Sky’s the Limit
“The opportunity to hone the story of our organization’s work is one that I haven’t made space for before. I wish I’d done it sooner, frankly, but I was glad that STF had us work on something like that. It triggered other ideas around some of our messaging, like, ‘How’s the world better when we’re successful?”
Chuck Mingo, Founder, Courageous Love
“Everyone on our team needs to be able to tell this story, and so this process is one that we want to replicate. I think about the places where that will play out: when we talk to partners, when we talk to people who may want to support us financially, when we celebrate with people who are already on board…”
Steve Wanta, CEO, JUST Community
“Many of us as founders and leaders of organizations are used to a certain way of presenting, and oftentimes it’s freestyle. We kind of just get up and talk. This was not that. And the result was awesome. You see it across the board with every one of these [speeches]. People were prepared, they were articulate. They felt effortless, and it was a lot of effort. It was great. Without the ability to communicate, we will never realize our vision.”
Lorenzo Lewis, Founder, The Confess Project
“I’ve had a bunch of storytelling coaching over the last five years. This was the first time I was able to weave three major life experiences into one six-minute story with a huge outcome about people coming to join the cause. I thought that was very hard to do. So, I was excited that I was able to connect being a kid, up through my teenage years, until now. I’ve just never done that before.”