According to Associate Professor Kate McDowell, storytelling is one of the few ways you can help people quickly understand cause, effect, and what they can do. For that reason, storytelling is a valuable tool for nonprofits wishing to educate the public about their mission and attract more volunteers and donations.
McDowell was recently honored by the Prairie Rivers Network (PRN) as Volunteer of the Year for helping the organization tell the story of its fifty-year history. PRN, the Illinois affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, is a member-supported nonprofit organization that champions clean, healthy rivers and lakes and safe drinking water to benefit the people and wildlife of Illinois.
McDowell was approached by PRN after giving several invited presentations on storytelling to local and statewide nonprofits during the 2016-2017 academic year. She created two workshops for the organization and assisted with efforts to tell its story in preparation for videos and presentations at its 50th anniversary celebration.
"We've talked about storytelling as a dynamic exchange between the teller, the tale, and the audience, a model I've adapted slightly from Doug Lipman's work," McDowell said. "We've also looked carefully at story structure and construction. I've shared my research as well as my experience from working with campus fundraisers, in terms of what stories and forms of stories connect with donors, and I've shared ideas about how stories can effectively persuade people to take action."
In the process, McDowell learned about the rich history of PRN, which started in 1967 when the group resisted and ultimately overturned plans for a dam on the Sangamon River that would have flooded hundreds of acres of Allerton Park.
"I've learned about the high costs of river navigation, which is an untold story that more people need to understand; treating rivers as highways has major costs for water health. I've also learned that they are an incredibly talented group of people facing difficult odds but undaunted by the challenges before them. If anything, despite increasing threats to the health of our waterways, they are more energized and mobilized than ever before," she said.
McDowell received the award at the PRN’s 50th Anniversary Dinner Gala on October 6.