the power of nonprofit stories

Storytelling Ethics 101: Protecting Anonymity

As a non-profit professional, chances are good you’ve been told about the power of nonprofit stories – and if you haven’t, now you have. Storytelling is one of the most effective forms of communication available because it humanizes your mission and connects your supporters in an authentic and emotional way. Telling quality stories will help your mission stand out from the masses.

However, many organizations are posed with this common concern: 

“How can I tell stories if I work for an organization that requires anonymity for those we serve?”

Of course, it is an organization’s first responsibility to protect the feelings, identities, and safety of those they serve. 

Many healthcare organizations, shelters, child-centered causes, etc. have guidelines to follow when it comes to concealing the identify of those you serve. This can make sharing stories challenging.

How can you connect donors and supporters to your mission if you can’t say names and show faces?

You have to get creative! And I’m here to help.

You have several options and approaches you can take to leverage the power of nonprofit stories: 

  1. Tell “Inspired by A True Story” Stories. Changing names, dates, locations, and details that could give away someone’s identity won’t strip the storyline. You can still tell the audience about common experiences of those you serve. What was their struggle? What did they overcome? How did your organization help? Your audience will appreciate if you are upfront and honest with them. Tell them that because you have to protect the identities of those you serve, you cannot show pictures or give real names. But, you can still paint a picture of who your organization serves.  
  2. Share stories of volunteers, staff, and Board members. While the story of those you serve is important, you can also share the stories of those close to your organization. These individuals won’t need that level of “protection” but can still communicate passion about your mission. To learn more about telling stories of supporters click: HERE
  3. Do you have a physical space? Such as a clinic center, shelter, or school? Share “behind the scenes photos” of the physical place. Tell a hypothetical story about what goes on inside the space. Even though it is not a human story, it is one that can help your audience further connect to and visualize your mission. Helping your audience physically picture what you’re all about will help solidify your importance.
  4. Share quotes. You can interview those you serve and get quality, insightful quotes and testimonials without sharing who they came from. 

In addition to protecting identities, it is important to get permission to share stories. Always get written consent to share photos and stories. Someone may want to opt in to one (a photo/video) and not the other (a verbal story) or visa versa, so give them the opportunity for each. Additionally, make sure to get parental consent for minors. Make sure the individual knows what the photo or testimonial will be used for. In this day in age, it is so easy to snap a photo and share it to social media – but nobody wants a lawsuit on their hands!

Remember, any time you choose to tell someone’s story, it is extremely important to keep the integrity of it. The power of nonprofit stories with the correct intentions will color how the teller feels about their story being shared and how the audience will receive it. As storytellers, we are the messenger – not the author! To learn more about how to share a story without be exploitative about it, click HERE!

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Madison Gonzalez

Madison Gonzalez

Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc.
Madison Gonzalez is a National Public Speaker, Storyteller of the Year Award-Winner, Best-Selling Author of Dear Mirror, Events Manager, and Published Poet. She is also the Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc., and Indianapolis-based nonprofit that fosters community programs in Indiana for the terminally ill, seniors, families and the home-bound. As a storytelling coach and consultant, it is her mission to empower others to share their stories for impact and income. Madison can be reached at madison@toldcoaching.com.
Madison Gonzalez