I was 8 years old, playing with friends in the New Jersey summer heat, when my mom and sister pulled in the driveway of our little rental house.
They’d been to the doctor that morning to try and learn more about why my nearly 4-year old sister wasn’t speaking.
My mom had this serious look on her face, and her eyes were red. She had just been told that Monique never would speak, or do a lot of other “normal” things. She was “special” – which back then, we called mentally retarded. I didn’t know what to make of that, and I told my mom it was OK and that I liked my sister anyway, and I ran off to play without much of a thought.
A few weeks later, my mother got a call and had to leave work in the middle of her shift waiting tables to come get me from school, which was a big deal, as she was divorced and wasn’t getting any support.
I was suspended for starting a fight in the hall, and when she arrived at the principal’s office, I was calm but defiant. I wasn’t going to apologize. I folded my arms and said, “Those boys will never make fun of the special kids again.”
I was willing to stake my humanity on a belief that we must uphold the dignity of the defenseless.
Now 40 years later, I look back on my life – my story – and it occurs to me that my experience with my sweet sister, and even the challenges my mother faced – made me the person I am. Little did I realize at the time that I would spend my entire life in one way or another working to level the playing field for the “little guy”, for the underdog, and look to liberate the hero in every heart.
Yippiekiyay was born of that spirit, of the belief that the best thing we can do to make this world a better place is not to wait for someone else, for the right program to come along, or the right person to be elected…but to empower people to, as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Look behind any compelling person or organization and you’ll discover the stories – many scenarios woven together – that birthed the present (and altered) reality.
Event – interpretation – response. These are the cycles out of which our human existence is spun.
A “Story Bank” is a collection of real-life situations that hold some dramatic energy, and bring to life the various elements of your cause or organization, from genesis to the most recent interesting or compelling event. It’s a record of those cycles.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve come across these ideas in a quest to find – or perhaps, to create – a solution to a problem you see. Maybe you’ve dreamed of starting a nonprofit, or have even crossed that threshold and taken the steps to bring one into existence.
Like I have, you’ve walked a journey to this place. It’s fascinating that, in fact, out of 7 Billion people on planet Earth, no one has walked the miles you have to arrive at the place where you are – your experience, your perspective, the hard miles you’ve run, the losses, the victories.
Sharing your own personal experiences that led you to this place– in as pure and raw a manner as possible – is pure magic, and will bring the friends and resources you need to finish your epic mission.
Often, a key event in the middle of one’s childhood, like the story about my sister – has a powerful influence on your trajectory in life. Great people in history – you included – are more often than not shaped by experiences of loss, injustice, or seeing a problem and dreaming of a solution.
Your own stories around your journey are what will attract people to your nonprofit idea, and this is why it’s critical to develop a “Story Bank” to flesh out the compelling journeys and beliefs that brought your idea into being.
Often, carrying a cause forward feels lonely and overwhelming. It is not meant to be done alone.
Even more exciting about pulling your stories out of your rib cage and getting them out in writing is adding the stories of the cast of characters you will invariably come alongside to help, or who you serve and who benefit from your wisdom and work.
Just as you have many stories that make you who you are and led you to the calling you have in your life, every supporter, every friend who shares the central beliefs you hold – they each have their own unique journey and story.
Remarkably, their experiences will often be radically different than yours, but this is why your Story Bank is essential: As you weave in the different perspectives and experiences of others who find your cause compelling, you’re creating a rich tapestry as compelling as any of the great works of art you may see at a world-famous museum.
One of the wonders of art is that each person who experiences a piece has a unique and deeply personal interpretation and emotional response. So it is with your organization.
You and I are a “cause artists” – it is our job to put the paint on the canvas and allow the beholder to interpret its meaning.
To your mission,
Christian LeFer, CEO, Yippiekiyay Nonprofit Solutions