Ethical Storytelling for Non-Profits

Ask someone who they are. They might tell you about their family, their home, their dreams, or their fears. They might tell you about where they grew up. Or the kind of work they do. Or all about their favorite sports and hobbies.  No matter where they start, unless they’re giving you the drabbest of information – I’m 5.7, of Peruvian and Norwegian descent, with straight hair – they’ll answer your question by telling you a story.

Even drab facts usually elicit a story – who were the first Peruvian and Norwegian in your family? How’d they meet? Where? Tell me that story.

As meaning seeking animals, stories give voice to our experiences and histories. Stories tell us where we are. Where we’re headed. How we’ll get there. Why that matters.

They have the power to change our minds, open our hearts, and expand our empathy. Stories also open future possibilities – the first step in doing anything is telling ourselves a story that says we can. The stories we tell ourselves and others shape the world.

For many organizations, story is currency.

This is especially true in the nonprofit and social impact world. We tell stories to amplify awareness. We tell stories to raise money – to do the good we want to do. And when we’ve done that good, we tell stories about it – so donors, volunteers, and supporters can participate in the good their gifts make possible. We tell stories to invite others in.

Who are you? What’s your story?

Think about how you would frame your answer. Are you a victim? Or a survivor? The hero? Or the villain? The rescuer? Or the person in distress? Maybe you’ve been all of these at one point. Maybe none of these labels fit. Each person’s story is as unique as they are.

We know this is true, and we know stories matter. So why is that we continue to tell the stories of those we serve as if they’re one dimensional? Why is it that we continue to consume one dimensional stories?

As a diverse group of nonprofit employees and activists, survivors and social workers, researchers and storytellers, we know we can tell better stories. And we know we can learn to expect more from our storytellers. We’re an open sourced, nuanced, constituent first, donor second collective seeking to change the way we tell and consume stories.

To learn more about Ethical Storytelling and sign the pledge, please visit the Ethical Storytelling website at www.ethicalstorytelling.com.

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