Ep 43: Nonprofits, Storytelling, and ‘This American Life’ (with Alex Blumberg)

by Joan Garry

Alex Blumberg, executive producer of ‘This American Life’ discusses with me the power of storytelling to activate people to engage and help your nonprofit.


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In this episode, I’m honored and excited to have the opportunity to interview Alex Blumberg, a former producer of the uber-popular public radio show, This American Life and the founder of Gimlet Media. The main topic of our conversation? Storytelling.

Stories are core to what make us human. Mastering storytelling is certainly a primary key to becoming a successful nonprofit. And yet, when doing the research for my book, I discovered that the topic of storytelling was largely missing from most other books on nonprofit leadership.

I think that’s a mistake. So I decided to write an entire chapter on the subject.

And so it was terrific to have an opportunity to discuss the power of stories with one of the great storytellers of our time. We discussed how important it is to be able to tell the story of your nonprofit in a compelling way that brings it to life for potential donors, advocates, and your own staff and board members.

About Alex Blumberg

Alex Blumberg is the CEO and co-founder of Gimlet Media. Blumberg is an award-winning radio journalist known for his work as a producer on the wildly popular podcasts This American Life and Planet Money. Blumberg was a co-founder of Planet Money and hosted the first season of the podcast Startup.

Prior to Gimlet, Alex had a long career in public radio where he learned the ins and outs of the nonprofit world.

Blumberg’s work has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including the Polk, the duPont-Columbia and the Peabody. His award-winning documentary on the housing crisis, The Giant Pool of Money, which he co-reported and produced with Adam Davidson, was named one of the last decade’s top ten works of journalism by the Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism and New York University.

Blumberg co-founded Planet Money with Adam Davidson. Through podcasts, radio stories, documentaries, and blog posts, Planet Money delivers economic journalism in a fresh, accessible, humorous and yet hard-hitting way. Blumberg executive produced the interactive project Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt, which won almost every major online award including an Emmy.

Blumberg also served as executive producer on the television version of This American Life, which aired on the Showtime network. The show earned rave reviews from almost every major market television critic. It won three Emmy Awards, including the award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series.

Throughout his extensive career in audio journalism, Blumberg has done radio documentaries covering such diverse topics as life aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier, teenage Steve Forbes supporters and prisoners staging a production of Hamlet. Blumberg has been a featured guest on Meet the Press and other television programs. He lives with his wife and two children in Brooklyn, New York.

In this episode:

  • The key elements of a good story
  • The poison of jargon
  • Typical mistakes we all make when we try to tell a story
  • How to really bring your nonprofit work to life
  • What leadership looks like at a thriving organization – nonprofit or for-profit
  • How nonprofits and startups are similar

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