Storytelling Ethics 101: How to Avoid Exploitation
Storytelling is an essential element to effective communication. Nonprofit stories often play a key role in maximizing an organization’s overall impact and income. But let’s face it, storytelling can be vulnerable. The human experience can be a delicate, complicated, and emotional at times. This is especially true with many of the people that non-profits have the privilege of serving.
Especially in this day and age, with social media and the ability to paint picture-perfect lives and images, we are all looking for real stories we can connect and relate to. Nonprofit stories of struggle and triumph are incredibly powerful – but how can we tell them without feeling like we are being exploitative?
The stories of the people we serve can be incredibly inspiring, powerful, and enlightening.
It is also important that we recognize that when someone tells their story, it has the potential to be an intense experience. Sharing a raw and powerful story is an experience that can liberate, empower, and impact their life and the lives of those around them but also requires a level of courage and vulnerability.
Many non-profit professionals are concerned with asking those they serve to tell their stories because they don’t want to appear nosey or pushy. Society has conditioned us to not ask questions – especially about personal topics. However, this creates a barrier between human connection.
First and foremost, make sure someone knows they are in no way obligated share their story. Simply asking them gives them an opportunity to say, “No.” And they should know that is completely okay.
That being said, I invite you to consider shifting your perspective and think of how asking someone to share their story is giving them a chance to be seen and heard. You may be the only person in someone’s life to ever ask them about their story. While some people may not want to share their experiences, many people will feel proud and honored to have the opportunity to share their story. You never know until you ask.
Psychology tells us that storytelling can be incredibly therapeutic. Telling one’s story can help them:
- Find their voice and gain confidence
- Learn that their experience could help another
- Make sense of their life’s events and experiences
- Make peace with their story
Ultimately, when someone shares their story and knows it could help raise awareness, increase donations, or inspire others, suddenly their struggle has meaning. Again, give them the opportunity. Give them the chance.
Once we have collected the story or invited someone to share their story, it is them our job to make sure we protect the integrity of the story being told. We need to make sure it is told in a way that reflects the individual’s views and experiences accurately. Remember, as storytellers, we are the messenger – not the author!
You can preserve the integrity of a story by using quotes, facts, and testimonials as much as possible. Getting someone’s story first-hand is also highly effective. Are they willing to share on stage or in person at your next event? If not, can you record a video? If first-hand isn’t possible and it’s your job to write or share the story, try to tell it as it was told to you. As the storyteller, it is not our job to try to doctor the story to better serve our mission. Additionally, make sure you get the written consent of the story’s subject before you share it with others. To make sure you are able to get a solid nonprofit stories, you must conduct a solid interview – to learn more about what questions to ask for a powerful story, click HERE.