In this report, we’ve collected insights from our research to identify the harmful narratives perpetuated by well-meaning organizations. We focused our attention on the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to explore how we tell stories about poverty and wealth—and where we can do better.
We offer a set of recommendations grounded in the science of storytelling. To arrive at these recommendations, we conducted a literature review focused on understanding prevalent narratives about poverty, a content analysis zeroing in on the storytelling of anti-poverty organizations on social media, and interviews with practitioners who are doing it well—to highlight bright spots and to answer the following questions:
- What are the narratives about poverty and wealth coming from the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors?
- Do these narratives demonstrate the best of what we’ve learned from research and practice about how to tell stories that transform systems?
What We Learned
- Organizations share stories of individuals who were able to become contributing members of a capitalist society by joining the middle class or starting businesses.
- Organizations share partial stories about poor people, only sharing aspects of their lives related to being poor or getting out of poverty.
- The stories told promote individual-level change over system-level change, even when the organization acknowledges systemic changes are needed.
Nine Principles for Communicating More Justly About Poverty and Wealth
- Tell compelling stories by applying the Science Of Story Building
- Tell stories about individuals navigating systems and engaging in collective action to disrupt power
- Create space for people to come together and talk about systems
- Problematize current narratives
- Use justice frames in storytelling
- Build the capacity of communities to share stories
- Use visual images and language to engage communities
- Be intentional with the language you use
- Amplify stories–ethically