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Ethical Nonprofit Marketers Tell Stories with Empathy

Sarah Steimer

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Nonprofits exist to solve problems. But using a problem-then-solution formula oversimplifies nonprofit storytelling, and it fails to show the full scope of the lives touched.

Nonprofit marketers know that stories can compel donors, but it can be a tricky endeavor to procure those stories. Nonprofit beneficiaries may feel less driven to talk about one of the most challenging periods of their life. They may feel embarrassed or as though they’re being defined by their experience.

“Some ethical concerns are the same as with any other marketing efforts, such as always ensuring you have permission from someone to utilize their image,” says Rick Cohen, chief communications officer and COO of the National Council of Nonprofits. “Nonprofits have an added layer of sensitivity in that some of the people who utilize their services would prefer that others not know.”

Finding someone comfortable with sharing their story can be difficult enough, and many marketers may breathe a sigh of relief when they find a willing subject: The hard part is over. But to tell a story that will empower the person or community and motivate the audience, marketers need go beyond the problem-then-solution formula.

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Sarah Steimer

Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.