Beyond Stereotypes: Ethical Storytelling in Social Impact Organizations


One of the many joys of creating brand strategies for the social impact organizations we work with is getting to know the heroes of their stories — the people they serve.

It is a privilege to share incredible stories of strength and resilience. When creating content for organizations, there’s a principle we use to anchor ourselves, no matter the organization or mission:

“Write as if the people you are writing about are in the room.”

This is our guiding ethos, reminding us that we’ve been entrusted to tell others’ stories — often about some of the most difficult things a human can experience — and we’ve promised to do that with respect. It’s also an exercise that instantly resets our thinking; when we’re wrestling with exactly how to frame a narrative arc, pausing to remember the actual human behind the story can show us the best way forward.

As creatives working to develop narratives related to social change, we collaborate with organizations whose goals are to show impact, build empathy, and inspire action. As storytellers, we have to give great care to how we meet those goals, especially as stewards of difficult stories.

Third-party storytellers often flatten humans into characters with predictable experiences. Writers can easily — but irresponsibly — create urgency to act or donate by painting the subject as one-dimensionally down-trodden, heroic, suffering, or brave. These donor-centric narratives perpetuate the story of the other, a person the audience probably feels they share little with — a character for whom they might feel pity but ultimately see as an outsider.

We’re not interested in easy storytelling that perpetuates stereotypes.

At Liminal Creative, we work diligently to create content that engages donors, aligns with the organization’s mission, and respects the people served. This starts with writing as if our narrators are sitting with us as we write (they’re the only people we’d want reading over our shoulders). These folks have graciously shared their experiences as a way for organizations to build bridges across distance and culture. So, we take seriously the responsibility to capture their humanity and portray them as people who may have been victimized but are not victims — people whose lives are not defined by their most challenging experiences.

Life is complex. In our work, we resist over-simplifying people’s stories by embracing the co-existence of suffering and strength, catastrophe and joy — the very things we all experience in our own lives.

To begin that work authentically, we strive to listen and really hear what our clients share with us.

We would love to work with your organization to fulfill your mission and capture the stories of the people you serve.

Reach out if you’d like to hear more about how we use this ethos to write stories that build a deep sense of connection with your audience.

Todd & Bill

Todd Hiestand

Todd has over 20 years of experience as a leader in the nonprofit sector. He has served in a wide variety of roles, guiding digital marketing, technology, fundraising, eCommerce, and communications strategies. His expertise in developing systems and processes has helped launch organizations and sustain growth over time.