Story Jam with Vanessa Chase - Nonprofit Storytelling Conference

Story Jam with Vanessa Chase

Written by Sheena Greer


I’ve been incredibly lucky to know Vanessa Chase Lockshin for a few years now. When I first stumbled on her site in search of some great resources for fundraising, I felt happily at home. Vanessa’s approach to fundraising, and really the entire sector, mirrors my own and always offers insight. Her work is thought provoking, and conversations with her always leave me wanting to dive deeper into the more philosophical questions surrounding our sector.

What I like most about Vanessa – and there truly is a lot to admire – is how her approach to work never just accepts the status quo. She asks good questions and does the hard work necessary to find better answers – for the people who works with, for the sector, and for herself.

The best fundraisers are interested in way more than just fundraising – they are curious about the world and about what it means to be human. Vanessa is deeply curious, and this makes her a powerful asset to those who get the opportunity to have a conversation with her.

If you are attending the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this November, I encourage you to have a conversation with her. You won’t regret it!

This Jam took place on Thursday, September 17th.

The Humanity of Storytelling

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice.” Ernest Hemmingway

To story is human.

We have something to say. Each and every one of us.

And we also have the need to listen. And participate. And connect. These are fundamental reasons why storytelling is woven into our humanity.

This is why storytelling is such a fundamentally important tool for nonprofit organisations. Great organisations tell great stories, and the most successful organisations tell stories that weave the audience in.

Storytelling by its nature is participatory. We need our audience to listen. But even more so, we need them to act.

For all the talk of how social media being a conversation, not many organisations are engaging in actual conversations.

Our audience needs more. To be a player in an ever-unfolding drama where they are at once both the hero, the supporting cast and the observer.

But in order to be successful, our stories need to have some kind of moral. A point. A theme. A set of values and beliefs which distinguishes our story from someone else’s.

In order to stand out, our stories need to take a stand.

For many nonprofits, this idea causes some hesitation. The conundrum of many organisations is though each and every one of them stands for something, and yet want to remain neutral in order to please a broad audience.

To create a strong brand requires that you take a stance and have an opinion. To clearly articulate who you are and what you do. To boldly announce what you stand for. If your organisation cannot commit to and act on this, you’re going to be telling really watered down stories.

But the desire to appeal to everyone leaves organisations in a sea where it seems impossible to differentiate one from another. There continues to be fear around using strong language, heaven forbid you lose a few followers or donors who likely weren’t all that committed to your organisation anyway.

Individuals communicate from a place of values. This is inherently an emotional act. This is why in the political realm you see politicians making strong statements and invoking strong language. They know who their audience is, and how to speak their language.

They know what story will resonate, and this is not and cannot be a neutral one if it is to be successful.

A neutral story is not a compelling one. Perhaps it is not a story at all.

Philanthropy is also an expression of values, and the language we use to talk about our organisations needs to mirror these values. Ultimately, as we tell stories, we are building a community of individuals who share our values and beliefs. We are connecting the humanity and urgency of what we do to individuals who see themselves in our story.

But to be successful storytellers, we must be prepared to take risks. To take a stand is a polarizing act, a vulnerable act.

Storytelling is humanity. Philanthropy is the love of humanity.

Be bold. Be vulnerable. Be human. And tell stories that matter.

More about our character, Vanessa

What is your motto?

  • Work hard and be nice

What is your most marked characteristic?

  • I’d like to say it’s being personable. I enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories.

What historical figure do you most identify with?

  • I think if you asked me 5 years ago, I would have said Hemmingway. I’m not drinking as much and I’m much less melodramatic! I’ve recently been reading Anais Nin – she’s so fascinating!

Which living person do you most admire?

  • My Dad, Johnathan Fields, Anne Lamott.

What is your favorite journey?

  • I always really enjoy the journey from Vancouver to San Francisco. When my husband and I were dating long distance, it was one of my favourite trips to make. I’m not a good flier, but heading there to see him was always exciting.

What is your greatest inspiration when writing?

  • Often my own life, as I connect emotionally to the world this way.

Who is your favourite author?

  • Favourite today? Hemmingway, Lamott, Fields, Mindy Kaling, BJ Novak

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in fiction?

  • First one that I loved a lot was Brett Ashley from the Sun Always Rises.

What are you looking forward to most at the NPStorytelling Conference?

  • Meeting people – hearing about their lives and their work. I love to just sit and chat. I always end up having the most interesting conversations that leave me feeling inspired.

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