Advancing Philanthropy

Sponsored Content: DonorPerfect — How to Tell Nonprofit Stories with Sensitive Information

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Your organization’s powerful stories are the foundation of your identity, showing who you are as people, what you do to make a difference in your community, and what makes you unique from other nonprofits doing similar work. These stories provide a narrative that resonates with donors emotionally and inspires them to give energetically.

Nonprofits in the human services and medical sectors often experience roadblocks when telling stories about their clients because they are usually unable to share their names and faces. HIPAA laws aside, there are many reasons why nonprofits vow to keep these details private. For some, confidentiality is a precautionary measure—mitigating potential risks to children and other vulnerable individuals. For others, anonymity is requested by the individual due to the sensitive information included in their story.

If these constraints apply to your organization, you might wonder what you can do to capture your audience’s attention. Online and digital fundraising practices allow for creative problem-solving—you can still tell your beneficiaries’ stories through donation forms, web pages, and social media without disclosing their sensitive information.

Story Details

Demographics

There are several options to create a sense of identity while still upholding confidentiality. First, you can use first names only and/or change names with a disclaimer. Second, you don’t have to list where the storyteller is from, their age, or anything that could breach your confidentiality agreement. The story will still resonate, as long as it is honest and heartfelt.

See an example below with no personal details that still paints a picture of the person telling the story:

A young woman came to us after sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment with her two-year-old daughter for several months. We’ll call her Kelly and her daughter Kate, for their protection. Kelly comes from a single-income family that couldn’t afford to send her to school, and she was left to her own devices to make ends meet. Some trouble with the law as a teenager has made it hard for her to find work. When she had Kate, she had little to her name.

Within a week of meeting Kelly and her daughter, we were able to secure them a cozy two-bedroom bungalow near the lake using donations from our Fresh Start Fund. Their new home is nestled in the same cul-de-sac as other young women we’ve been able to help. Kate has playdates with her young neighbors, and Kelly has a network of support right on her street. Together, they take walks around the lake and talk about the beauty of life. “I found my home base. I know that hard days are behind me,” says Kelly, “and I can finally look forward to the future.”

Participants

Keep in mind that you can ask beneficiaries for consent to share their stories, and if interested, what they would be comfortable sharing. If you are having trouble finding someone to share, or don’t feel comfortable asking, try talking to family members or caregivers who may have been impacted as well. Their stories are an important part of your work, too, as they are extremely close to it. You can also interview your own program directors and volunteers—have them walk through their typical day of working with and caring for your beneficiaries.

Angle

Imagine you’re a first-time visitor to your website, looking for a program, service, or event that will help you explore your options and get back on your feet. Maybe you’re looking for resources to help a friend or family member. What would speak to your situation, specifically? What would signify to you that a program was designed for you or your loved ones’ needs?

Story Imagery

Avoid faces

There are plenty of ways to make a connection to your audience while still respecting your client’s privacy and confidentiality. To avoid showing their faces, you can play with bird’s eye views, photos taken from behind, or photos of a person’s hands or body in action (writing, studying, passing out food, etc.). It’s not the person’s physical being that your website visitors are relating to—it’s their thoughts, feelings, and struggles.

Our nonprofit has five programs that serve different populations, so it is easy to overcomplicate, especially to new listeners. We are working on being more intentional about storytelling, one program at a time, depending on the audience.

—Kimberly, Donor Relations Assistant

Take advantage of eye contact when possible

If featuring someone who doesn’t mind showing their face, like a family member or willing beneficiary, try to use photos or videos of them looking directly at the camera to establish a deeper connection with the reader. Encourage them to share personal stories or values that the reader can grasp onto and resonate with. Keep in mind that even if you use a photo of someone, it’s not necessary to include their name. Give their story a title instead.

Get creative with graphics

Remember: You don’t need photos of people to produce great visual resources. Free tools like Canva and WordSwag allow you to create confidential stories in literal seconds, making client quotes, stories, and program descriptions pop with graphic elements.
If you’re feeling like you’re out of visual options, stock images are a reliable source to lean on. While they may not depict the actual people you are serving, they represent the people you serve. After all, your organization welcomes people from all walks of life who on the surface may not look like a stereotypical client or patient of yours.

If necessary, let beneficiaries tell their own stories

If you’re worried about triggering your clients by asking for their stories or aren’t sure how to tell them with dignity, let them do it themselves. They can make up a name if they wish, use a nickname, and add their own photo. It doesn’t matter if they choose a photo of a sunset instead of their face—that sunset could represent a new appreciation for the little things in life, and their story will speak for itself.

Once you’re happy with your stories, make it easy for staff, beneficiaries, family members, and website visitors to see the fruits of your labor. You’ve worked hard on these stories, and they’re close to your heart. If someone is skimming through your website and is curious about the first steps to getting help, stories that are strewn throughout your site may not resonate the same. Your storytelling should be a part of your core website navigation so visitors can easily put themselves in the shoes of your past and current beneficiaries and decide if your programs are right for their needs.

ally orlandoAlly Orlando joined DonorPerfect Fundraising Software as a copywriter in 2021, combining her passion for communications and marketing with a mission to help those serving the underserved. She has authored blogs and eBooks regarding nonprofit industry research and trends, online fundraising best practices, and diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector.

Read More

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