What No One Tells You About Using StoryBrand for Nonprofits

4 min read
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Frameworks are invaluable. They offer us the confidence to craft stories that resonate, especially in the challenging nonprofit landscape. But here's some food for thought—could popular formulas like StoryBrand inadvertently perpetuate white saviorism for nonprofits?

Diversity and White Saviorism

Hold up, before we talk StoryBrand, let's get real about the white savior complex. White Savior refers to white folks stepping in to "save the day" for non-white communities. Sounds noble, but the truth is that White Saviorism snatches the agency from marginalized communities and glorifies white-led efforts.

According to a 2022 report from Statista, most nonprofit organizations in the U.S. reported being white-led. Their executive director/CEO/managing director was identified as a non-Hispanic white person. Black or African American-led nonprofit organizations followed by a significant margin, with 14 percent being Black-led in the U.S. in 2022.

Additionally, the report claimed that 59.5% of full-time staff at nonprofit organizations in the United States were white people, significantly more than any other race or ethnicity. Hispanic or Latinx employees were the second most represented ethnicity/race among nonprofit employees, making up around 11 percent of full-time staff at U.S. nonprofits that year.

Most of the time, the people involved with helping don't reflect the communities they serve.

The Awkward Truth About Funding

Only 4% of Minnesota nonprofit funds go to racial equity. Racial justice? A pitiful 0.5%. That's what the Black Collective Foundation MN is reporting. Mind-blowing.

An Unsettling Reality for Black-led Orgs

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy reveals that an awful 1% of community foundation funding supports Black communities. This gap is costing these communities a whopping $2 billion.

I mention funding and diversity to illustrate the existing power dynamics amplified when we apply the StoryBrand framework to nonprofit storytelling.

StoryBrand for Nonprofits: Good or Bad?

StoryBrand for Nonprofits

The StoryBrand framework is a 7-step marketing approach that uses storytelling elements to clarify your brand's message. It positions your brand as a guide to help customers solve problems, leading them through a clear plan to a successful outcome.

When using StoryBrand for nonprofit storytelling, nonprofits are positioned as guides—Yoda to someone's Luke Skywalker. But beware! This dynamic risks enforcing existing power imbalances, especially when the nonprofits flexing their storytelling muscles are majorly white-led.

The Problematic Steps in StoryBrand

  1. Step 3: Meeting the Guide: Nonprofits often take center stage, sidelining the real heroes.
  2. Step 6: Avoiding Failure: This can exaggerate the savior mentality by portraying communities as helpless.
  3. Step 7: Culminating in Success: Often, success contributes to the nonprofit, sidelining community contributions.

So, What Now?

The StoryBrand framework for Nonprofits isn't inherently toxic. However, its application in the context of nonprofit storytelling can contribute to the perpetuation of the white savior mentality.

What we're suggesting is subtleties that make a difference.

Actionable Steps to Empower Communities

  1. Community Co-Creation: Invite community members to co-create the stories instead of dictating a narrative. This approach ensures authenticity and respects local expertise.
  2. Elevate Local Voices: Use your platform to share stories told by community members directly. This shifts the focus and gives the mic to the people who are often talked about but rarely heard.
  3. Transparency in Storytelling: Clearly state your nonprofit's role in success stories. Make it known that while your organization may have played a role, the true heroes are the communities or individuals affected.
  4. Training and Workshops: Invest in storytelling training for your staff and community members. This equips them with the skills needed to tell their own stories.
  5. Feedback Loop: Always go back to the community for feedback on how they were represented. This ensures that you're not inadvertently falling into the white savior trap.
  6. Inclusive Hiring: Strive for a diverse team of storytellers, which includes people from the communities you're working in. This internal diversity can manifest in more equitable storytelling.

For social change to occur, the focus must shift from white-led nonprofits as the heroes to empowering communities to be the heroes of their own stories.


The StoryBrand framework has its merits, but we must consider its application in the nonprofit space. This framework can be a powerful tool when used responsibly. The focus must shift to empowering communities, and the actionable steps above are your playbook.

Looking for More Alternative Framework?

Our free storytelling guide will help you craft stories with depth that elevate empathy, community, and donations. Click here to download.

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