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Shift the Storytelling Balance

By Liz Hefner

Great storytelling motivates. It should make audiences feel something powerful and want to take action. As fundraisers, we are often the storyteller as we shape narratives to demonstrate impact, need, and heart to our donors and volunteers. Often, this shaping process maximizes fundraising impact without intentionally considering the sources of the story - the people or community served. As fundraisers, there is an opportunity to create narratives, which engage donors and prevents objectification of people and communities. Communities and people served by our organizations can invite audiences to share a moment with them and inspire the audience to action rather than becoming a token of your organization's brand. 

This process eases tensions between program officers, who want to convey impact without dehumanizing anyone, and fundraisers who want to inspire donors. It is important that fundraisers develop the tools needed to = create opportunities to empower and equip the people at the center of your organization's story to own, craft, and develop their narrative. In this process, they find their voice and discover how their own narrative intersects with your organization. 

One of the most important tools you can develop is your interview process.

Before Interview Checklist:

  1. Check your assumptions
    1. Will the interview create harm, trauma, or delay progress related to a person’s reason for being apart of your organization
    2. What assets/values/gifts do you already see, know about, what to learn more 
  2. Introduce yourself and check-in
    1. Are there any questions or concerns you can answer ahead of the interview
    2. Share your role in the org and the goal of the interview
  3. Confirm that they are comfortable with their story being shared on a variety of platforms

During Interview Checklist:

  1. Check-In with your interview and confirm that the scheduled time still works for them
  2. Re-Introduce Yourself
    1. Ask what their interview goals are for the interview
    2. Shift the power back to the interviewee
      1. Acknowledge your privilege, position, and power as the author/recorder of the interview
      2. Empower them to own their narrative.  Let them know your intent to be a pathway for your audience to hear from them in their words with their voice and mean it.
      3. Let them know they will get to approve the final product(s)
  3. Confirm pronouns, and preferred name
  4. Check body language as you continue through the interview to gauge comfort and determine if you should continue.


Post Interview Checklist:

  1. Provide the final product to the interview before 
  2. Check your bias, filter, and language shifts that don’t honor the interviewee’s goals or that reinforce systemic racism and stereotypes.

As you begin telling stories orient every narrative around value, assets, and opportunity for the teller not simply your fundraising objective.

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