Storytelling for conservation action

Before you start selecting your story

To select a potential story for your nature conservation project, you first need a strategy and clear communication objectives. You need to answer the questions:

  • Which message should my story tell?
  • What characteristics of my target audiences need to be taken into account? You need to know how to connect with them. And you need to prevent upsetting specific groups who might be sensitive for certain stories.

Key subject 2 and 3 explain how you can use the power of storytelling strategically. We explain why it’s wise to first develop a core story about your organization and about yourself. To influence, people must first know you and trust you. So that’s a good starting point. In this Key subject we focus on exercises helping you to develop your own Nature conservation story, assuming that you have read the previous topics.

Let’s start with another great example of a ‘Who am I and why am I here story’.

OUR STORY OF REZVIN: The personal ‘Who am I and why am I here’ story of her colleague Christina Greenwood Barlow

I have loved animals since I was small and wanted to do something with my life to save them, but somehow I got swept up into a management job in a huge company. What I knew of saving animals then is what we all see from the outside – the khaki outfits, the sweaty, scientific expeditions through steamy jungles to find rare and new species. It’s hard to see a way in from outside, and jobs seem as rare as some of those species. Though I’d developed some great skills and experience over years of hard work in my corporate job, I thought that surely I’d have to retrain and become a biologist or a vet. How would I make the move from corporate to conservation? A magical trip to a tiger-filled jungle in Nepal showed me a glimpse of another life, and how I could go about changing my own. I took the chance to work on a project in Kenya and found out that my skills were not only valuable but also scarce in nature conservation. It was a great realization, and I leapt. I leapt from the safety of my known world into a new field, into an unknown country, into the promise of adventure. Into zero salary and hundred percent meaning. It was one of the scariest things I’d ever done, but I knew it was right. There were five of us and we started to create together: we built relationships, ideas, energy, and trust. We paved a path through an unchartered territory to find solutions, and to make it easier for others to join and come after us to grow and multiply our impact. That I am still part of this amazing work five years later still amazes me; I mean, who’d have thought that I’d be helping to save animals as cool as tigers! I feel lucky, yet I know that this was my choice. A simple choice really – money or meaning? Anyone can do it. All it takes is that first leap!

What message do you get from this story? Would you trust Christina if she tells you about her personal journey?

Main elements of the story

Target audience: donors, target audiences and conservation professionals in partner organizations.

Key point: I choose for meaning provided by nature instead material wealth provided by business.

Conflict: hard, cold, money driven corporate world versus the warm-hearted, magical world of nature.

Hero: Christina.

Adversary: Corporate world and not listening to your most important values

Truly persuasive message wrapped in a personal story

The story of Christina is about a powerful and recognizable conflict: the hard, cold, money driven corporate world versus the warm-hearted, magical world of nature she truly loves. The resolution of the conflict by sticking to her values and not falling for material wealth, makes Christina a hero you would trust immediately. She is not after personal gain, she fights for a higher cause. If Christina would just say those words – ‘I am not driven by personal gain, I fight for a higher cause’ – she is less convincing. Anybody can say that. Her message wrapped in a personal story, using structure and techniques, is really and truly persuasive. Because it touches your heart.