Storytelling for charities – finding stories that work for you

24 May 2021  |  Insights
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Think about the last time you supported a charity, by giving money, signing a petition or taking action. What inspired you? The chances are it was someone’s personal story – whether you know them personally, or heard about their experience through the media or the charity’s marketing.

Finding powerful beneficiary stories is a crucial part of charity communications. Stories are effective and versatile – they help secure media coverage, explain why a charity’s work is so important and motivate people to give.

This story, from international maritime charity Sailors’ Society, has been used across its PR, marketing and fundraising campaigns. It featured in the Indian media and on the BBC, raising awareness of the issue of seafarer abandonment and the charity itself.

Last week, I explored how to identify the kind of case study that is likely to attract media coverage. But gathering stories can cost time, effort and money – particularly if you are commissioning any digital content such as video or photography.

So before you invest in a case study, it’s worth double-checking that as well as being a strong story, it is right for your organisation and a good use of your resources. Here are a few things to consider:

1. What benefit will telling this story have for your organisation? Think about your objectives and if the story delivers against any of them. Is there a clear link between the story and an issue that your charity wants to highlight? Has your organisation directly helped the person involved, and are they able to talk about the difference you have made?

It can be very frustrating to put time and effort into sourcing a case study, only to find that the media use it without mentioning your organisation. At Jersey Road PR, we work closely with journalists to ensure that both the story and the charity get coverage, and where possible a link is included to its website.

2. Do you know from experience if this story will have the right impact? Some stories resonate better with your target audiences than others, so it’s important to consider the timing of a story and the engagement you might receive from it. Social media engagements, clicks to your website from news articles and donations are all good indicators of the types of stories that work for you.

3. Is telling this story right for your beneficiary? As a charity, you have a duty of care to the people you support, and before you thrust them into the media spotlight you need to be sure that this won’t have a detrimental effect on them. Legally, you must be able to demonstrate that they have consented to their story being shared, and on which platforms. Morally, it’s also important to ensure that you tell their story in a dignified way. It’s essential that you explain to them how the media are likely to use it and discuss any boundaries they would like to set – for example, whether they are happy to be identified by name. If you sense that they are uncomfortable, it’s important for their protection and the integrity of your organisation to step back, which could mean withdrawing from telling and using their story altogether. So it’s worth having these conversations with them as early as possible.


The good news is that, done well, stories will not only benefit your organisation, but can be a fulfilling experience for the person involved – and have a huge, positive impact on your cause.

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