There is one thing I hear about my job that bothers me more than anything. And the strange thing is, it’s usually meant as a compliment. Some people look at my work highlighting nonprofits, and they tend to say the same thing: “It’s so great that you’re out there giving a voice to the voiceless.”
I usually respond by furrowing my brow and shaking my head.
It generally becomes clear to me that they do not have experience working with a client who is having trouble, and if they do they are looking at it the wrong way. The people who are characterized as “voiceless” could be those experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness, or even stopping by a food bank to get a week’s worth of food. But I would never characterize them as voiceless. Nonprofit clients are struggling, to be sure, and they are in need of support, but they have their own voices. They do not need someone else to create their story. They know their story. They spend every minute of every day living it.
What they need is an audience.
As nonprofit communicators, we do not speak for them. We do not invent their plight. We do not embellish or exaggerate their hardships. We find their stories and we point big arrows in their direction. We draw eyes and ears to it and say, “You need to hear this! This is important!”
We may repackage, we may polish and refine, but I have never seen my job as creating someone else’s voice. The people our region’s nonprofits serve are strong, resilient people who have gone through an immense amount of struggle. My job, as a nonprofit communicator, is to underscore the importance their story carries and use it to help make change in our communities.
You see, we do not create a voice for the voiceless. We repackage these stories, amplify them and spread them to create the highest amount of impact possible.
So if you’re a nonprofit communicator, the next time someone tells you that it is so great you are giving a voice to the voiceless, I urge you to correct them. Let them know you do not give a voice to the voiceless. Tell them that you provide an audience to those who are already speaking.