Open Site Navigation

The power of storytelling

I briefly mentioned this point in another post of mine, about the approach many charities seem to take when making an appeal to the public for money.


Woman at the back of a truck handing over charity donations.

Large charities in particular, with their sizeable marketing budgets, produce hard-hitting visuals and videos that portray the very worst of the issue they’re tackling. Crying, injured, poorly children; the very worst cases of animal abuse; the grief felt when someone loses a loved one. They’re meant to evoke emotion in the viewer, in the hope they’ll be so moved/disgusted that they’ll act immediately and donate their money.


The issue in 2022 is that there are so many of these adverts and images around. One or two may be hard to forget, but when you’re bombarded with them every day, each one loses impact. Apathy sets in, and they all get lumped in together and are easily ignored.



Some of these adverts may show what happens after a charity has delivered its support. They’ll often include a shot of a happy, healthy child, or an animal at the peak of fitness that is clearly loved and well-kept at the end of the report. In an age where transparency is requisite in any charity, this is important on many levels. As the general public has become numb to ‘shock value’, depicting the end results has more of an impact with donors than you may think.


I’ve worked with many small charities, and whilst the following issue isn’t limited to them, a lack of resources and hands on deck often means strategy and rich, effective, dynamic, inspirational content isn’t always top of the list of things to be done. I see so many posts on their social media accounts that ask for donations, and which detail upcoming fundraising events, but very few that show their supporters the benefit of their efforts.


Today’s donors want to know what effect their money will have on the beneficiaries they choose to support. There are so many good causes to get behind, which is why spending time on case studies, quotes, measures of impact, video logs and fly-on-the-wall footage is so important. You need to differentiate your organisation from other causes in the same sector and those in the same geographical location. No donor wants to chuck money at an issue where there’s no chance of success or any attempt at transparency. For example, is their hard-earned cash going into the pocket of the CEO or furnishing the organisation’s head office with fancy art? Or is it really going to help the people who are in need of the charity’s support?


As far as donors are concerned, they want to know the following. Who are your beneficiaries? What are their stories? How did they find themselves in the situation they’re in? What are their goals and aspirations if they were to escape their lot? What legacy or experience could they pass on to others who are on the precipice of needing the same support?


Remember the human factor. Storytelling is a powerful medium. Though the phrase is ‘a picture says a thousand words’, you can’t rely on images alone to do all the work.


Storytelling is not all about your donors, though. If you accurately demonstrate the work you do, it will help partners and connections buy-in to your cause, as it will give them an instant understanding of the support you offer.


When it comes to your beneficiaries’ case studies, first person is the most effective, according to a report by the University of East Anglia and University of the Arts London. Jess Crombie, of UAL’s London College of Communication, said: ‘Our results show there is another way of gathering and sharing the stories of people living in poverty around the world.

‘It is really about trusting that if we hand the power of editorial decision-making and narrative choice to the people living these stories, we won’t just be doing something ethically sound, we will also tell more powerful, more interesting and ultimately more effective stories.’

Of course, in some situations, it’s not appropriate to hanker after lots of first-person stories, as anonymity may be required within such as domestic abuse charities and organisations supporting victims of rape, etc.

Storytelling covers the whole kit and caboodle, form beginning to end, which does include detailing the scale of the issue at hand; however, as I’ve outlined above, it also requires a balance and some focus on what a donor’s money pays for and how this helps the groups or community you work with.