best practices persuasion self-advocacy

Strategic storytelling isn’t manipulative

My kid saw an Elmo toothbrush at the grocery store the other day and insisted I buy it. He already had a toothbrush at home but it never fired him up like this one. In the end, figuring this would make him more likely to brush, I bought it. Did he manipulate me? Or persuade me? Or did I do one of those to him?

Whenever I teach a workshop on strategic storytelling for nonprofits, I frame it within the art of persuasion. We talk about selecting only those stories that make the cut. We talk about how we need to make the audience feel compelled to donate or join the movement. We can’t assume people care about kids, the forest, social justice or whatever we think is a given. We must bring them to our side somehow. Now and then, someone in the room says, “Ugh. This all sounds manipulative.”

Hold up. We may be uncomfortable but let’s not confuse terms.

Manipulation and persuasion are different and unequal.
Manipulation is artificial. Persuasion is genuine.
Manipulation bends the truth. Persuasion is honest.
For the listener, manipulation leads to remorse and persuasion leads to gratitude…or at least a little enlightenment.

When you compete for donors’ attention, you play the game of persuasion. Manipulation would be cheating. 
How are you going to convince a donor who has never been to one of your fundraisers to whip out her checkbook and give you a renewable gift? You’ll have to influence her. And she needs to leave the conversation happier, confident she did the right thing for the right people. Your intentions must be good.

Persuasion should be a win-win.
If everything you said was true, you ‘ll keep all your promises, and you didn’t guilt her, then kudos. You were persuasive. You were an effective advocate, not a bully.
As for brushing before bed, we now brush our teeth with the original toothbrush while admiring the Elmo toothbrush in our free hand. Still no remorse.

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