Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

Storytelling Across Capitol Hill

Throughout my experience with the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) and Michigan philanthropy my strong belief in the power of storytelling and narrative has been reinforced time and again. 

I recently attended Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) with a cohort of over 30 representatives from Michigan foundations. This experience proved no different.  

Leaders across a diverse range of organizations and roles, including youth advisors, program officers, policy officers, CEOs, trustees and other practitioners in Michigan philanthropy, traveled to Washington, D.C., to connect with legislators on Capitol Hill.  

The mighty CMF team hosted our Michigan cohort, scheduling meetings with legislators and federal agencies so that we could strengthen connections between Michigan philanthropy and policymakers on the Hill.  

Picture of various members of the 2024 Michigan cohort at Foundations on the Hill (FOTH), courtesy of the Council of Michigan Foundations.

At a national level, this event was hosted by the United Philanthropy Forum.   

The intention of this event was clear: to tell stories. 

The first day of the United Philanthropy Forum presented programmatic sessions to prepare participants for in-person connections on the Hill, which would take place over the next two days. Participants were guided through best practices for making their case based on time-tested models of success.  

Three Parts to an Effective Legislative Meeting: 

1. Hook – Tell stories of the legislator’s geography or home to create buy-in 

2. Line – Tell qualitative or quantitative stories about impact to demonstrate importance 

3. Sinker – Make a clearly stated request to link the stories told to the intended outcome or ask 

As we traveled across Capitol Hill, meeting with legislators and their staffers, grabbing coffee with colleagues, and even in conversation over group dinners, much of the dialogue was storytelling.  

There was an emphasis on the importance of storytelling in rapport and relationship building.  

There was an emphasis on the importance of storytelling in demonstrating urgency and generating issue buy-in. 

There was an emphasis on the importance of storytelling in advocating on behalf of the Michigan communities served.  

There was an emphasis on the importance of storytelling in creating a sense of belonging, even within our Michigan cohort. I heard many stories of past FOTH experiences and plenty of “shop talk.” 

In our legislative meetings we shared stories about community engagement and community driven solutions, packaged quantitative data points inside easily digestible narrative and explored the ways foundations could effectively partner with the federal government. 

I watched as legislators or their staffers on the Hill nodded, jotted down notes and admitted to their increased interest in supporting the subjects of discussion. Some even engaged our cohort in storytelling of their own, sharing their journeys to the Hill or of legislative wins and challenges.  

Picture of four current Council of Michigan Fellows in the lobby of the
Hall of the States

I watched and witnessed the potential of storytelling reveal itself. I saw bonds strengthened and I heard shifts happen.  

Stories help build empathy and belonging. They are what connect us as individuals to our shared human experience.  

Storytelling is essential in both philanthropy and policy efforts. We increase our chances of repositioning perspectives towards equity and healing when we amplify truthful and compelling stories.  

I am convinced about the power of the art of storytelling, especially as we work to collectively reimagine systems towards a more just and equitable America. 

The question becomes: how can philanthropy effectively navigate barriers to amplify the most marginalized voices in our communities? 

Tyler Parlor

Tyler Parlor is a storyteller and community builder who is dedicated to amplifying community voice and promoting belonging in civic engagement for America’s historically marginalized communities.

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