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Do You Exploit Nonprofit Clients When You Tell Their Stories?

By March 6, 2019Storytelling

Recently I was talking with a nonprofit executive director who told me she feels uncomfortable “pimping out” client stories to raise money. Her words, not mine.

The question then is, do you exploit nonprofit clients when you tell their stories?

My short answer is, it depends.

Are your client stories exploitative? it depends

It depends on whether or not you have permission to share the person’s story.

It depends on how you protect their dignity by carefully and respectfully crafting their story.

It depends on how you protect the anonymity of your client by changing the name and other details, if appropriate.

It depends on whether or not sharing the story will cause shame or harm.

So when IS it appropriate to share a client story?

Most importantly, when you have permission.

When you have invited the person to tell you their story in their own words.

When you invite a client to share their own story at an event or meeting, fully explaining that it is their choice.

I’ve coached more than 1000 testimonial speakers over the years: children, men, and women of all ages, scholarship recipients, troubled teens, grieving mothers or fathers, recently homeless teens or veterans, survivors of domestic violence, cancer and other diseases, and more.


What nearly each person has said, when I ask why they’re sharing their story is this:

“Because I want to let others know they can make it through whatever they are dealing with. Because telling my story helps ME.”


It’s said that people give to people.

Your client stories put a face to your mission and a donor contribution. When shared respectfully, your stories provide a powerful, empathetic people to people connection.

Take a deep dive into storytelling. View this free web class replay to learn 5 essential storytelling secrets!



  • Diane Libro says:

    Love this! I interviewed a client not long ago and she was so honored to be chosen to tell her story. She said she felt special. It occurred to me that the people we serve are rarely told that what they have to say is important – but of course we know it is!

    • Thank you, Diane! Your work at Volunteers of America to give voice to your clients is always a pleasure to watch. Thank you for the care you and the team put in on sharing powerful mission moment stories.

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