Story Jams – Trent Thompson



A mysterious figure, born and raised in Indiana, destined to be a warrior.

I really just want to sit and spin a yarn with Trent Thompson. When we chatted, it was all business, but I can tell from his depth of experience and his passion for stories, that this is the kind of guy I’d like to have a pint with and just see where the stories take us.

Trent is exceptionally good at what he does. He knows what works, but more importantly, he knows why it works.

Y’all know I don’t like to make these kinds of statements, but Trent is a freakin’ storytelling samurai.

He is dedicated to his craft.

He is focused on the work.

He is a master of making nonprofit brands come to life.

And, he just makes sense.

I cannot wait to meet him, learn from him, and experience his wisdom in real life.

This Jam took place on Thursday, September 24th.

Belly Fire

It starts with belly fire.

Somewhere, someone felt something so deeply that he simply needed to do something about it.

He needed to make change.

Maybe it started with a simple experience. Likely, he felt it so deeply for so long that it became the gospel truth to him. Something that touched him, left an impression on his heart, and over time this fleeting feeling began to rage until the only logical thing to do was to act on it.

And in a breath of fire, a nonprofit was born.

A really great nonprofit with a very noble cause.

A cause that makes a lot of sense.

Who wouldn’t want to cure sick kids, or save wounded puppies, or fix poverty, or grow vegetables in a food desert, or give shoes to veterans, or build stables for homeless ponies?

Who would say no to something that makes so much sense?

He can list statistics. He can pull pages of data. He can even use a mathematical equation to prove it.

He has a really great pie chart that explains everything.

And herein lies the problem.

He’s at the helm of a really great nonprofit with a very noble cause that makes a lot of sense.

Just like the rest of them. And nary a pie chart could distinguish one from the other.

You have a mission, but no message. And with no message, you have no meaning. And with no meaning, you have no supporters. And with no supporters, your mission is as good as a fart in the wind.

It’s getting windy, folks. What is it you’re trying to say?

What is your brand?

When a lot of people hear the word brand, they think that it’s too big for them. Brands are for Coke and Uber and charity:water. Not for a small Midwestern nonprofit that helps homeless ponies.

This is one of the one of the biggest stumbling blocks in nonprofit communications. To not care about your nonprofit brand is to not care about what you’re saying to the world.

Brand isn’t just a logo and a tagline. It’s a statement of what you do, why it’s important, and where your audience fits in to the story.

Imagine you sell apples. It’s not about how round or how red your product is. It’s about the feeling someone gets when they smell their grandmother baking a pie with your apples.

Apples be damned, people. We need to smell the pie, baking in grandma’s 1950s olive green oven, the sound of the range door creaking as she peeks inside to see if the crust is golden brown. We need to hear the sound of her good silverware clinking against her cheap depression-era plates, and taste that first bite in a dining room filled with faded doilies and ceramic cats.

The secret ingredient is love, she says, but everyone knows it’s nutmeg, though try as we might, our pie just isn’t the same.

This is where storytelling comes in.

Stories are a natural conduit for deeper meaning. They are a current – carrying your mission and your meaning and bringing your audience along for the ride.

The more we tell stories, the easier it is for audiences to understand who we are, what we do, what it matters, and how they can help.

Think back to that man and his belly fire.

What set him ablaze was an experience. A story. A narrative that has been so engrained in him that it is the absolute truth he seeks.

Set a fire in the belly of your audience. Of your donors. Your members. Your supporters and volunteers. Your community.

Tell them a story. Make them feel it. Get in their belly. And invite them to breathe fire alongside you.

It’s that simple.

Though none of this is simple, is it?


More about our character, Trent

What is your motto statement?

  • Give it to God.

What is your most marked characteristic?

  • Being absolutely relentless!

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

  • Spartacus

Which living person do you most admire?

  • My dad.

What is your favorite journey?

  • I’m often away for work, so my favourite journey is heading home every Friday to see my family.

What is your greatest inspiration when writing?

  • The lives of those I’m working for – to put myself in their shoes is to connect to my work.

Who is your favourite author?

  • James Joyce.

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in fiction?

  • Thor!

What are you looking forward to most at the NPStorytelling Conference?

  • I’m looking forward to being inspired, and to the sharing and exchange of ideas.