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Take the Ethical Storytelling Pledge

Date: May 20, 2021

Rachel Goble

CEO, The Freedom Story

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version of this blog post originally appeared on the CEP blog in July 2019. It is re-posted here as part of our Rewind series.

Thanks to the digital age, we live in a new era of storytelling.

Whether through blogs, emails, social media, or video, using stories to highlight an organization’s impact is an engaging way to invite people into the good work being done. From the complexities of social issues to the benefits and downsides of nuanced solutions, great stories not only inspire, but educate.

Stories have the power to show someone a mirror-image of their best self. To encourage people to hold on when going through difficult times. And to inspire others to act. Stories change our world.

At Ethical Storytelling, we are a community of practitioners engaging the messy yet beautiful conversation around storytelling in the social impact space. We believe people’s stories are more than emotion-generating machines. That story consumers are more than guzzlers of emotion. And that stories should always be constituent first, donor or funder second. We aspire to tell stories that are truthful, nuanced, educational, and empowering. Not just for branding, but because stories shape our humanity and our world.

This pledge is an aim to focus on the HOW, not just the WHAT, of the stories we encounter in the work we do. As storytellers shaping the way the world sees people’s lives, we pledge to:

  • Tell others’ stories the way we want our story told.
  • Always put people first.
  • Explain to constituents the purpose of the story, where it will be used, and answer any questions they might have before photographing, filming, or recording.
  • Find an able translator if we speak different languages.
  • Ask the constituent if they wish to be named or identified and act according to their wishes.
  • Use all images and messages with the full understanding, participation, and permission of the constituent or the constituent’s legal guardian.
  • Uphold the dignity of our constituents through empowering imagery and messages that motivate engagement and inspire hope.
  • Truthfully represent a situation or story to educate our audiences of the realities, complexities, and nuances of the issues we advocate for.
  • Not use images, footage, or words that sensationalize or stereotype a person or a situation.
  • Ask for feedback from our constituents and incorporate this feedback into the final story.
  • Abide by international law, standards, and protocols related to vulnerable persons, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
  • Listen to our constituents’ voices and respect their decisions, story, and journey.
  • Hold a posture of humility and learning, recognizing that failures can be our biggest educators.
  • Seek advice if we question whether a particular story, message, or image is not in alignment with ethical storytelling practices.
  • Choose not to tell the story, despite the resources invested, when the story cannot be told with the integrity of this pledge.
  • Take ownership of our responsibility to uphold integrity in our storytelling and messaging.

As a community of nonprofit practitioners and storytellers, we commit to learning from the past and integrating a new standard of storytelling as we journey together into the future. For funders seeking to use the power of storytelling to bring the work of grantees or the realities of those they are seeking to help to light, we hope you, too, can commit to this pledge in guiding your work.

Download the pledge here.

Rachel Goble is the co-curator of Ethical Storytelling and the founder of The Freedom Story, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent sex trafficking globally.

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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