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

Three Challenges

  1. Organizations share stories of individuals who were able to become contributing members of a capitalist society by joining the middle class or starting businesses.
  2. Organizations share partial stories about poor people, only sharing aspects of their lives related to being poor or getting out of poverty.
  3. The stories told promote individual-level change over system-level change, even when the organization acknowledges systemic changes are needed.
Read more

Nine Principles for Communicating More Justly About Poverty and Wealth

  1. Tell compelling stories by applying the Science Of Story Building
  2. Tell stories about individuals navigating systems and engaging in collective action to disrupt power
  3. Create space for people to come together and talk about systems
  4. Problematize current narratives
  5. Use justice frames in storytelling
  6. Build the capacity of communities to share stories
  7. Use visual images and language to engage communities
  8. Be intentional with the language you use
  9. Amplify stories–ethically
Read more