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Role of Storytelling in Development

Learning from Nancy Bocskor

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Nancy Bocskor with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 12 – When I applied to be a Development Fellow for RespectAbility, I was under the impression that development was a synonym (and a more sophisticated name) for fundraising. But throughout the Fellowship, I have enjoyed learning about the nuances of development, specifically the intensely personal form that it often takes and the unique role of storytelling.

While speaking to the summer cohort of RespectAbility Fellows, Nancy Bocskor punctuated each bit of development advice with a story, weaved from personal experience and an appreciation for the connection that storytelling can create.

Bocskor, tagged a “Democracy Coach” by a major German newspaper, teaches citizens in the United States and internationally how to communicate with passion to affect change in their communities. She has raised money for more than 100 Members of Congress and candidates, trained activists and leaders in all 50 states and 26 countries and helped non-profits craft a story that resonates with donors and volunteers. Her areas of expertise include presentation skills, speech coaching, fundraising, grassroots advocacy and women’s leadership training.

The cliff notes of Bocskor’s visit are as follows:

1. Personal Attitude

Someone’s choice to contribute is incumbent on your personal attitude. In many ways this makes development easier; believing in yourself and your cause with sincerity and vigor can bring you more than halfway.

2. Presentation

The effect that a story will have on the audience is dependent upon how the story is presented more than the content itself. By coloring hard data in with anecdotes and visual information, your cause becomes infinitely more accessible.

RespectAbility Fellow Sneha Dave with Nancy Bocskor

RespectAbility Fellow Sneha Dave with Nancy Bocskor

To illustrate these two points, Bocskor provided the example of a purchase she made while abroad: a beautiful hand-woven rug that was so expensive that she has established an insurance policy for it. A young man, whose uncle owned a small rug store, was giving her a personal tour of his city.

While she agreed to look around his uncle’s store because of the young man’s sincerity, she was persuaded to buy a rug when the uncle spoke of the woman in a nearby village that handcrafted the rug to support her family. She said that the uncle grabbed her heart – because fundraising is all about capturing hearts, not minds.

She takes the rug out of her bag, as well as one of the holiday cards that the uncle and nephew send every year wishing her well. The rug is beautiful. It is also the size of a placemat. That is sales!


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Judith Lao

Judith Lao is a Program Development and Fundraising Fellow. She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at Brown University. As an individual with a mental illness, she believes her personal experiences with stigma and marginalization have translated into an active passion for advocacy.

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