Stories Every Catholic Businesswoman Needs to Tell

claire dwyer

“Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables” (Matthew 22:1).

Editor’s note: For more on this topic, join the CWIB Membership Community and attend our November Mastermind Meeting, facilitated by Claire Dwyer on storytelling for Catholic businesswomen.

The head of donor development at our Catholic nonprofit called me with a request: We needed a fundraising letter for a year-end campaign.

I knew I had countless testimonials and sobering statistics.  I thought about pulling out our mission statement or our value proposition.

My fingers sat unmoving on the keyboard for a few minutes as I considered the options; then, I picked up my phone and dialed the founder of our organization.

“I need,” I said, “a story.”

Nothing has helped me appreciate the impact of a good story more than learning the art of copywriting. I’ve always known the power of a well-crafted narrative—I’ve been an avid reader and a writer all my life—but I’ve learned an important lesson after writing hundreds of donor funnels, nurture sequences, and fundraising campaigns: When you’re writing to influence others, to persuade, or to encourage action, storytelling gives your writing more vibrancy and authenticity.

We are, after all, wired for story. It’s how we best receive information and how we are most likely to remember it. Our brains light up as we listen, connecting us not only to the narrative but to the person recounting it. If he or she is a good storyteller, we immediately feel trust and connection.

As Catholics, we recognize that this is because we are made in the image and likeness of a Master Storyteller. Jesus Christ, who reveals God the Father to us, did not become incarnate to sit on a throne and make pronouncements. He sat by the fire and told stories: “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30).

And as his listeners leaned in, immediately interested, they not only heard a good tale, but they learned about God and about themselves. They received powerful truth wrapped in images and characters and plot lines.

Like our Creator, we can influence others for good with the power of words, shaped into compelling and meaningful stories. What’s more, in the telling of our stories, we also come to understand and accept ourselves. I’ve had people tell me that writing their story was healing. There’s something about exploring and naming our experiences and integrating them into our life that makes us more whole, more ourselves.

I believe that there are two pivotal stories that every woman in business should be able to tell, whether it is in an email, during a lunch meeting, on a stage, or in line at a conference. We should be ready to recount what God has done in our life, what He’s called us to, and why we do what we do: “Always be prepared to give an explanation to everyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).

Your Signature Story

First of all, we should have a Signature Story—the telling of a pivotal moment in our life when we personally learned a powerful truth that made us the woman we are today. It may have been the time we realized our mission or had a conversion. It may have been the surrender of a false hope or the release of a dream that wasn’t the Lord’s.

Whatever it is, in some way, it is the story of how you became more fully yourself. It made it possible for you to do what you do now and more positively impact the lives of others. Likely, this story involves both a crisis moment and a climactic moment of surrender, realization, or acceptance.

For me, this is the story of starting college as an English major who loved reading and writing. I ended up by “mistake” in a class with the Bible scholar Scott Hahn and realized, as he broke open the Old Testament, that this was the story I wanted to spend the rest of my life learning—and living. I changed my major to theology and never looked back. The writing I do now wouldn’t have been possible without that moment.

Your Starting-out Story

I also suggest knowing your Starting-out Story—the story of the hopes, hardships, determination, and dreams that launched your business, company or nonprofit into the world. If you don’t own your own business, it’s the story of how you started out in the industry you’re in and the ups and downs of stepping out in your particular mission. It may help others see why you do what you do, how God confirmed the call, and how you persevered in the early days.

I do a lot of different types of work, and each “branch” of my career has its own starting-out story. My writing coaching story begins one day when I was driving home after dropping off the kids from school. I’d been praying for a long time for a profitable “side hustle” to help my family through a difficult time. That morning, I turned on a podcast and heard the host say these words: “Teach what you know.”

To this day, I can’t drive past that spot on the road without remembering how, in that moment, I heard not only the podcast host but the Lord, who impressed on me that while I didn’t know much, I knew writing.

Suddenly, a possibility opened up before me. Life would never be the same.

Stretching Stories

There are other stories we’ll be shaping and recounting throughout our career—stories of stretching as we are tried and tested. We’ve all been through days that were hard and felt dark, but they were only middle-of-a-story moments. Once we are on the other side, we can craft them into powerful stories to encourage others and allow them to see us as human, relatable, and trustworthy.

Transformation Stories

Then, there will be the stories we (with permission) tell about others—stories of transformation from people we work with or who benefit from our products, knowledge, or services. These narratives are not the same as testimonials or endorsements. To be truly a story, they involve a “before,” an encounter or experience, and an “after.”

Using these stories in our business or personal branding enables us to be authentic, relatable, and personal. It makes us memorable—not because we want to be known for the sake of being known but because God has entrusted us with a mission, and it is our job to communicate it with both humility and magnanimity.

The Divine Story

Everyone appreciates a good story, but as women of faith, we have the benefit of a worldview that allows us to see our stories—big and small—as part of an intentional, sweeping drama. We are a part of The Story, written by a Divine Author who is working all things for good and who is aware and concerned with every detail, who reconciles all things to Himself, and who will continue to craft a beautiful story out of the stuff of our lives. 

May we glorify Him in all of it.

A lover of the saints, a spiritual director, and lifelong student of the interior life, Claire Dwyer is the author of This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. She works as content editor and senior copywriter for the Avila Foundation, and recently co-founded Write These Words and the membership community PraiseWriters to encourage Catholics writers in their calling. Claire loves coaching writers and communicators, helping  them craft their stories and magnify their message. Find out more here.

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