There’s been lots of interest in my posts on storytelling and communications recently – some have had thousands of views! I want to wrap up this series by looking at storytelling from a different angle – ethics. In fundraising, it’s likely that your organization has had discussions about ethics and maybe they even have some internal guidelines. But when I was speaking at a conference two weeks ago, someone made a great point that storytelling also needs some ethical parameters – especially if your non-profit is serving people.
The specific concern that was raised what this:
Our clients (who have suffered spinal cord injuries) don’t want to be portrayed as a part of the “tiny tim” narrative. How can we tell stories in a way that does not exploit their stories, but honors them?
This is a very good question and a real concern for many non-profits. Depending on the people your non-profit serves and how they perceive themselves, storytelling can seem like a far off possibility.
Here are two ways your non-profit can navigate this issue and still use stories.
1. Choose to focus on the part of the story that the client is most proud of/eager to share. In the case of clients with spinal cord injuries, the person at the conference noted that stories will often times emphasize their pre-injury life and how the injury occurred. Yet, clients would rather talk about what they are able to do and what they have accomplished inspite of their injury. That’s completely understandable.
I’d like to think of this example as a reminder that you choose how the story is told. What is emphasized (or not) is in your hands. Pay attention to the client and their body language as they talk to you about their story – this will give you a lot clues about their comfort levels. Also, make sure to let the client read a draft of the copy before it goes live. This will make their feel more included in the creation process.
2. Recognize that you have access to a wealth of stories that are not from clients, yet are equally impactful. There are other options available to you, so don’t get too pigeon-holed.
Consider using stories from staff members, board members, donors or volunteers. Each of these group have a unique perspective on your work and might have a neat connection to it that you don’t know about. But you’ll never know what that is unless you start talking to people : )
There you have it – 2 strategies for storytelling that are respectful of people’s personal stories.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg with this conversation. I would love to hear your thoughts on this tope. Have you ever encountered choppy waters when trying to use a client’s story? What did you do to resolve it?
Leave a comment below with you thoughts!