How to Ask Your Client’s to Share Their Stories
Examining the Power Dynamics in Nonprofit Storytelling
As a nonprofit, you have to tell your client’s success stories to get support and donations to continue your missions and help more people.
Stories bring your mission to life, they show people how what you’re doing is working.
Stories show potential supporters that you know how to get results for the people you serve. Those stories build trust, and a donor who trusts you is likely to stick with you and your mission for the long haul.
The best stories are the ones that your clients tell themselves.
You hear about success stories from your direct service staff, from client’s themselves, you can even see them in the photographs you have of your clients. And you should be out there sharing those stories every chance you get! But there is a caveat to that – you should be sharing them with informed consent.
It feels wonderful to talk to a client whose life you’ve helped transform. I used to interview nonprofit clients on a regular basis and it was the BEST part of my work.
What I found over the years though, is that not every client wants to be a success story – they don’t want to share the personal details of their lives, they don’t want to share their name, and they don’t want to be tagged on social media.
What they DO want, is to give back to the organization that helped them change their life and supported them through difficult situations.
So what happens when you ask (and you should ALWAYS ask first) a client to share their story, photo, or quote? They might not have the heart to say no, or they might be thrilled. You can only find out my informing them of all of their options and helping them think through what impact a public story might have on them, that is informed consent.
It’s important to recognize that there is a power differential between a nonprofit and the client receiving its services.
The last thing you want is for your client to feel obligated to say yes to sharing their story publicly, when they’re uncomfortable with the idea. What you do want is to point out your client’s options, to tell them that they can say no to the whole thing or that they can pick and choose in what ways they are comfortable sharing their story.
If a client is thrilled to share their story, they should know all the ways their story is going to be shared (in a newsletter, social media, newspaper, etc.) and you should share with them, ahead of time, what details will be shared. This is how you can share your client’s story with integrity and ensure they have an all around great experience with your organization!