Most fundraisers know that telling stories is fundamental to the success of their charity fundraising campaigns. Good case studies for fundraising are really stories.
But how can you get hold of these stories?
I’m Director of the fundraising agency ChangeStar. In my experience on both client and agency side, one of the great challenges for any fundraiser is to maintain an ongoing supply of case study stories that are strong, emotive and relevant to the different types of appeal that they are running each year. It can become a stressful and time-consuming task for Individual Giving and Direct Marketing managers.
Only the very largest charities have staff dedicated to seeking out and logging stories, photographs and other materials. So, most fundraisers have to source their case studies for fundraising themselves either directly or from other teams in the organisation. This process can take time, as you need to find the right teams to ask, make them aware of the materials you need and then give the teams time to source them and negotiate with potential case studies – which may not be a high priority for them compared with their other work.
In this blog I’ll draw upon the experience of a number of fundraisers from charities large and small to give you some ideas of how you can improve your supply of case studies for fundraising.
1. Understand where your stories come from
Where do the stories come from in your organisation? Each charity’s work and beneficiaries are different, and the places you might find case studies could vary a lot between organisations. In an international organisation, it might be from a range of project teams in different locations. In a local services organisation, it might be from your website, local groups and many other places.
So, a good first step is to make a map of your organisation and the touch points where potential stories can be found. Then you can ‘follow the story’ and get in touch with the relevant teams.
2. Make everyone aware of what you need
You need to build relationships with the people in your organisation who can provide you with stories. Spend some time with them to understand their work, as well as the challenges they face in getting good stories, photographs and other materials for you.
As Mark Cassidy, Individual Giving Manager at Henshaws charity commented:
“I think building relationships with front line staff delivering the services is key. Treat those staff well. Just like donors – if you give them a good experience of dealing with fundraising, then they’re going to be easier to engage with and more likely to share stories in the future.”
At the same time, treat this as an opportunity to explain how you work, what you need and why these materials matter so much – ultimately, in terms of helping the beneficiaries you all care about. Address any possible concerns they may have about how potential case studies will be approached and treated.
3. Plan your fundraising appeal themes months in advance
It is good practice to sit down before the start of the year as a team and plan the basic themes of your fundraising appeals in advance. This gives you plenty of time to find the strongest angle of need to present in each theme, and enables you to give lots of notice to the relevant people in your organisation about the materials you need.
4. Plan your case study needs in advance
It’s not just themes that you can plan in advance. Different types of fundraising appeal may require different types of case study, and you can request these at the start of each year to give your teams the chance to find the best possible materials.
For example, a cash appeal for a disability charity is likely to require a story about a beneficiary. A legacy pack might well need a legacy pledger for a lift letter. By roughly setting out the types of case study you’re likely to need for your appeals over the year you’re not tying yourself to particular creative approaches as you can be flexible in this, but you are giving yourself the best chance of telling some quality, relevant stories. And even if you don’t use all of them, they can still go into your story library…
5. Set up your own story library for your charity
It doesn’t have to be just the largest charities that have great libraries of materials and stories. You can set one up at your charity. This means you can be constantly collecting new stories – not just at the times you urgently need them.
Start up a folder of case studies, split by themes, appeal types and any other variables you want to use. Add case studies for fundraising to it as you collect them, being sure to accompany them with high resolution pictures, videos and any other relevant materials you can find. Make sure of course that you store them securely to comply with GDPR, label them clearly, and log the contact details to re-seek permissions from people as and when needed.
6. Ask beneficiaries and supporters to opt in to telling their stories
A final suggestion is to build a mechanism for gaining case studies for fundraising into the communications you have with the public. This should include supporters, beneficiaries and events participants, as some of these contacts may have emotive stories to tell about why they became involved with the cause. This could simply be a case of having a tick box at the point of response asking the contact if they would be happy for you to get in contact about sharing their story more widely.
You will of course need to be sensitive to the needs of your beneficiaries, especially if they are vulnerable or in poor health, and follow their contact preferences.
Good luck! The efforts you put into finding great stories will really pay off when you or your agency then creates a really strong fundraising appeal.
By Richard Docwra, Director, ChangeStar
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