Once Upon A Time…
Storytelling as a Leadership Tool

By Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE

Click image to enlargeThe Women's SIGJessenia Francisco,
Executive Director, ALPFA New York.

"Anyone can tell a story, but a good story is what is defining," said Jessenia Francisco, Executive Director of ALPFA's New York Chapter, who led NYSAE's recent Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG. Stories can inspire, create organizational unity, help set a vision, teach an important lesson, explain who you are and what you believe, and ultimately, define and reflect your culture and values as an individual or as an organization.

In her role as Executive Director, Jessenia uses power of storytelling to develop the organization, connect community partners, and engage members. A core value to ALPFA is all about telling stories to impact, engage, and inspire the community. "We use stories to show how ALPFA has affected our members and pushed them across the organization's trajectory. When you listen to those stories, you realize that they iterate the association's core values," said Francisco.

Stories can be incredibly compelling, engaging a member's emotion and creating memorable experiences. "You can build incredible relationships when you give someone else the opportunity to share his or her story," said Marian Bossard, Vice President for Meetings and Events at the Toy Industry Association.

Understanding the right platform or medium (print, audio, visual, social media) to use to capture and share your story is as important as using a framework to make sure that all the elements of your story are included. Quoting Aristotle, Francisco said: "The three differences which distinguish artistic imitation—the medium, the objects, and the manner." She offered the following advice about constructing a story:


Story Structure

  • Where and when did the story happen?
  • Who are the subjects (person, organization, event)?
  • What do they want (goal or lesson)?
  • Who or what is getting in the way (obstacle/challenge)?

A Good Story's Elements Should:

  • Develop your content based on context;
  • Use metaphors and analogies;
  • Appeal and Involve to your audience;
  • Be concise and to the point;
  • Add a surprise or drama.

It is important that your story conveys a lesson the listener should have learned.   After all, it's why you told the story in the first place.

Click image to enlargeThe Women's SIGNYSAE Board Member Holly Koenig, Vice President, The Kellen Company, and SIG Chair; Valerie Cammisso (with mike), Executive Director, International Council of Shopping Centers Foundation;

Click here to view more pictures from this this meeting of NYSAE's Executive Women in Nonprofits Shared Interest Group.

Stories should have a clear purpose or message. Not every message can or should be told through a story. One of the challenges is to get lost in the numbers. "Facts tell and stories sell," said Valerie Cammiso, Executive Director, International Council of Shopping Centers Foundation.

Francisco sprinkled her presentation with examples of stories. Perhaps the most powerful was a September 11th story recorded by StoryCorps.


Francisco quoted Douglas A. Ready (How Storytelling builds Next Generation Leaders): "Use stories to stimulate dialogue, reflection, and action."

"Ultimately," she said, "you need to ensure that your story is fluid so that you can engage and bring people back full circle so that the reason for its telling is concluded."

NYSAE's Executive Women in Nonprofits Shared Interest Group serves as a gathering place where women leaders from the metro NY association and not-for-profit communities convene and engage in high-level, interactive discussion with like-minded peers. We enjoy meeting with other dynamic women, building relationships, testing new ideas, and receiving feedback.

The next meeting of the SIG will be Friday, November 14. Attendees must be preregistered. For information, contact Holly Koenig, SIG Chair, (212) 297-2123, hkoenig@kellencompany.com.

Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE, is President of Millman-Falk Communications, LLC, providing strategic communication services for trade associations, professional societies, and donor-based organizations. In addition to her own company, she serves as Editor for Apogee Publications, which provides turnkey association newsletters, magazines, and membership directories. She is Editor of NYSAE's InView and is Chair of this year's Awards Committee. She can be reached at 201-652-1687 or through her website at www.millmanfalkcommunications.com.