Add a cup of story, salt to taste.

Some­time back in the wan­ing days of the last cen­tu­ry, the Green­peace infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy depart­ment was stan­dard­iz­ing all staff’s email sig­na­tures to a hor­ri­ble piece of text from a mis­sion state­ment the organ­i­sa­tion had writ­ten by com­mit­tee, agreed by con­sen­sus, and prompt­ly buried in that dark­est recess of any NGO web­site, the gov­er­nance sec­tion of the About Us page.

I was par­tic­u­lar­ly aggriev­ed to see it dredged up into the light of day, as I’d writ­ten it.

Well, no, not quite. I’d put a set of words to paper in a man­ner that sat­is­fied about a dozen col­leagues who were using the mis­sion state­ment dis­cus­sion as a proxy war for strug­gles over lead­er­ship and vision. The were using argu­ments over vocab­u­lary and word order to try and win the argu­ment over who had the big­ger Dick­en­sian claim on being the REAL Green­peace. Any­one who has ever worked for any large NGO knows those bat­tles; they’re par for the course among ide­al­ists. But they can get tru­ly absurd when they are vic­ar­i­ous­ly waged over prepo­si­tions.

I nev­er want­ed to see those words again, much less look at them every day anchored in the muck at the bot­tom of every email I sent.

So for my own amuse­ment, I wrote a dif­fer­ent email sig­na­ture. A “Recipe for Sav­ing a Small Plan­et.”

Recipe for Saving a Small Planet
Recipe for Sav­ing a Small Plan­et. Words by Bri­an Fitzger­ald, images by Iris Maertens of Iri­sistible Design

It was intend­ed to sum up Greenpeace’s peace and envi­ron­men­tal mis­sion — men­tion­ing each of its then cur­rent cam­paigns — in a pos­i­tive, light-heart­ed, quirky form.

It got noticed. A few oth­ers adopt­ed it as their own sig­na­ture. I saw it trans­lat­ed into Ital­ian and Chi­ne­se. It showed up in a fundrais­ing appeal in my mail­box. To this day, I see it pop up in dif­fer­ent guis­es — the above just appeared in my twit­ter feed a few days ago, pro­mot­ing the tru­ly excel­lent Mobil­i­sa­tion Cook­book — and while I’d quib­ble with bits of it now, I’m still proud of it.

If I were to assess it today, with my Danc­ing Fox com­mu­ni­ca­tions advi­sor hat on, I’d say it pass­es a few tests one might put to a piece of organ­i­sa­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion:

1) It explains its sub­ject in terms a five year old could under­stand. May­be a some­what eru­dite 5 year old, but it’s in the right zone.

2) It makes the mis­sion look sim­ple, attrac­tive, and, most impor­tant­ly, achiev­able. How hard can it be to fol­low a recipe?

3) It’s got a bunch of puns and word play. Which is to say, it uses fun as its vec­tor instead of shame, hec­tor­ing, and force.

4) It’s true to form. It’s a recipe, and it doesn’t let the mes­sage desta­bi­lize that. Just as The Moon Can­dy Rebel­lion, a children’s book that Iris Maertens and I col­lab­o­rat­ed on, is a bed­time sto­ry first with the mes­sage nes­tled deep in the cen­tre, this remains a recipe — with frac­tions and real recipe words — rather than an abom­i­na­tion top­pled by abbre­vi­a­tions and activist jar­gon. It ain’t per­fect in this respect, but had it gone through com­mit­tee, it would read “Pre­serve high-car­bon and bio­di­ver­si­ty-rich rain­forests with spe­cial empha­sis on threat­ened trop­i­cal or bore­al HCV forests (includ­ing IFLs)…” I’m not mak­ing that up…

5) It’s about trans­for­ma­tion, not incre­men­tal change.

6) It puts focus on the more beau­ti­ful world we dream of build­ing rather than grab­bing us by the col­lar and forc­ing us to feast upon an ugly night­mare.

If you were to cast your organ­i­sa­tion­al mis­sion as a recipe, what would it look like?

Dancing Fox Storytelling Training Berlin October 5 2016
Danc­ing Fox Sto­ry­telling Train­ing Berlin Octo­ber 5 2016

I’ll be teach­ing a day-long course in sto­ry­telling for Activists in Berlin on Octo­ber 5th, just ahead of the Euro­pean E-Cam­paign­ing Forum. If you’ve got a cause and you want to com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter, I’ll be shar­ing tips and tricks on Sto­ry as The­o­ry of Change, nar­ra­tive tech­nique, and sto­ry map­ping: just a few of the tech­niques we use to hack the oper­at­ing sys­tem of the world at Danc­ing Fox, Ltd. Tell a bet­ter sto­ry, change the world: Reg­is­ter here.

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