The Russell Family Foundation
In May, I experienced a week-long storytelling retreat near New Haven, Connecticut attended by 13 people from nonprofits and foundations around the country. The retreat was taught by Donald Davis, a master teller of stories born and raised in the Appalachian town of Waynesville, North Carolina. The attached photo is the newly-published book of stories from his youth—Tales from a Free Range Childhood. That’s Donald pictured on the cover at age three with his favorite teddy bear.
The retreat was generously hosted by Bill Graustein, trustee of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund in New Haven, which focuses on education and community building—using storytelling as an organizing tool.
Here are some nuggets from Donald Davis about the art of storytelling. I found many lessons and metaphors during the week directly related to my work at The Russell Family Foundation and philanthropy in general.
- “Stories are what happen when you have a picture in your mind and you want to share it. We watch stories as much as we hear them.”
- “What do you need to say about that picture in your mind to successfully transfer that image to the listener? In the listener’s mind there are two basic questions: 1) Where are we? 2) Who is there?”
- “Often the listener hears the story before the teller realizes she is telling a story.”
- “Storytelling is different from journal writing because vocalizing your thoughts to listeners creates an interpersonal exchange that informs you, the teller, and your story—so it can evolve over time.”
- “As you listen to a teller’s story and if you’re invited to offer feedback, keep in mind: everything that gets labeled gets bigger. If you label the mistake that is what will grow. Imagine now pointing out what works—that is what grows.”
Imagine applying Donald’s remarks to the efforts of your foundation, that of your grant partners or colleagues, and the stories we all yearn to hear.
For more information about Donald Davis or the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund see: