Brain Matters

Brain Matters For Non Profits

There has been extensive research done that shows that people who give are generally happier, healthier and even wealthier than those that don’t.  But how do you get those happy givers to take an interest in your organization and your cause?  Blowing them away with statistics and a 23 point plan to solve the world’s problems?  Studies about the brain say you may have better luck simply telling stories.

An article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling” Professor Paul J. Zack discusses how blood tests have shown that a good character driven story will consistently stimulate oxytocin synthesis.  Oxytocin is a neurochemical the brain releases that compels us to cooperate.  During oxytocin synthesis we are more trustworthy, generous, charitable and compassionate.  It also makes us more sensitive to social cues around us which motivates us to become engaged to help others. (And here you thought you were in charge of your brain….)

Storytelling is universal, we are all taught to communicate and learn through storytelling.  Therefore, it has a familiar format to our emotional pathways that will help people remember and connect to your mission.  Stories make your cause more relatable because it requires us to focus in on a scene and bring it to life.  Our brains can put us inside a story.  We tend to turn the story in to our own ideas and experiences, an event called neural coupling.  

When we process facts, there are only two areas of the brain that are activated.  When we consume less than interesting information, like listening to a bullet point presentation, a small area of the brain activates to translate the words into meaning, but that’s all that happens.

When we hear a story our brains actually change.  Not only are the language processing areas engaged, the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex are also activated.  In addition to the oxytocin synthesis the brain also releases dopamine making it easier to remember the facts or details with greater accuracy.

Mirroring is another interesting phenomenon that happens when listening to a story.  Our brain can actually cause us to develop thoughts, opinions and ideas that align with the person telling the story.  So the same parts of the brain being activated in the storyteller are the same parts of the brain being activated in the listener.  In essence, I see what you see.

It may start to sound like this storytelling thing is a bit manipulative and for most of the marketing wolves it is.  But one key thing to remember in regards to nonprofits is this: giving makes people feel happy, it provides meaning; and there are givers in multitudes out there searching for a worthy cause.  Storytelling may be the tactic you need to form a connection so your cause doesn’t get overlooked.

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