In an effort to raise money and awareness for causes, nonprofit organizations often feel compelled to tell stories of desperate victims. Well-intentioned efforts to convey the urgency and severity of need lead organizations to reduce people to their problems. And to stand out in the crowded marketplace, organizations often conflate value with heroism, representing themselves as saviors in individuals’ stories.
These strategies may succeed in achieving temporary goals—pity does raise money. So does convincing someone they are a hero by giving. But there are bigger dangers inherent in these practices.
Reducing someone to a problem when he offered to share his story—an extraordinary act of charitable giving all its own—is a victimizing act, and it imposes a viewpoint of his situation he may not share.
On a broader scale, it can reinforce false stereotypes most nonprofits try to combat about who lives in poverty, who has a mental health condition, and who faces obstacles bigger than they alone can overcome (which is all of us).
Kate Marple shares five ways we can all be more empowering storytellers.