From Exploitation to Empathy: Ethical Storytelling


By Jamie Sargent

April 15, 2021

“It’s really about working in collaboration with your story contributors to truly understand how they want their stories told.” – Caliophy Glaros, Principal, Philanthropy Without Borders

 During the 2021 Nonprofit Technology Conference, Caliopy Glaros led an illuminating session about how to tell ethical and authentic stories that preserve the dignity of the person whose story is being told. The thirty-minute session was filled with many nuanced takeaways. Here are a few of my favorites:

Make dynamic representation a rule, not just a goal. What stories are you telling and what stories are you not telling? Think about how you would want the story told if it was about you. Prioritize the voice of the person whose story is being shared over the desired reaction of the audience.

Sympathy and empathy are not synonymous. Sympathy is treating others the way we want to be treated, while empathy is treating others the way they want to be treated. When you’re empathetic, you create space to respect differences. When you are capturing another person’s story, the process behind the scenes is just as important as the final product.

Stay committed to changing larger beliefs and behaviors. How are you using your storytelling platforms to challenge and deepen your audience’s understanding of dominant societal narratives? What would solve the problem besides more money? Be the microphone and not the voice.

Remember, consent is always a process. Does the person sharing their story know how and where it will be used? People can “opt-out” at any time, even if they provided initial consent for you to use their story.

Finally, here are a few resources from Philanthropy Without Borders to help you tell more ethical stories:

Checklist: Empathy in Communications

Exploitation – Empathy Continuum

Difficult Dialogues with Curiosity and Intention


By-Jamie Sargent






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