Evolving Top Nonprofit Storytelling Practices
Everyone knows storytelling = good. Humans wired for stories. We want to enter into them … become part of them… see ourselves, in some way, expressively reflected in the characters, plot and struggle. Everyone responds, all ears, to “Shall I tell you a story?”
Yet there’s been a brouhaha of late around so-called “donor-as-hero” stories. I’ve long been a proponent of encouraging donors to jump right into the narrative to give it a happy ending. Yet, today, people worry these stories reinforce “white saviorism,” especially in cases where donors are perceived to be in positions of privilege and power. In such situations the impression is donors unfairly get to feel good about helping those less fortunate. And it’s unfair because donors are part of, and contribute to, an unfair system — even if unconsciously. And this unfair system keeps people in need in their disadvantaged state.
Related to this are the ethics of making poster children of clients. Program staff may fear the commodification of stories as “sales products” for fundraising. There’s tension between departments, fueled by misunderstanding and mistrust.
I’d like to address (1) the overarching storytelling challenge, with specific attention to both the (2) white saviorism and (3) ethics conundrums. Let’s begin with.