Fundraising and communications – using personal stories

Personal stories are a very effective way of fundraising, as empathy plays a big part in a decision to donate. People generally give in order to help others. Case studies using individual testimony can tap into that empathy. They can be powerful, compelling and likely to provide stronger financial results. You should keep a bank of stories that are approved for fundraising, successes, life changes and results, strongly linked to the direct activities of the organisation.

There are ethical issues to consider here though. Does the individual concerned know their story will be used in this way? If they have consented, do they really know what that means? Did they consent because they might think there is money in it for them or because the organisation (as funder and provider of benefits) is in a position of power and influence? How long does consent last? Could you be putting the person at risk in any way if their story becomes public? How would you deal with requests from donors to fund that particular individual or community?

Such ethical issues can be more pronounced when dealing with children or the very vulnerable. Your organisation should draw up guidelines as to how to approach the issue, but don’t let them stop or slow your fundraising. Most organisations find a way to overcome the difficulties and, usually, can gain consent to use stories.

When you do use a personal story, make it brief but interesting. You have a short amount of time to get somebody’s attention and so the case study should show quickly what the problem is, what you’re doing to help and what the result of this will be. Sometimes using two extreme examples can work, so highlighting a success story alongside someone you haven’t yet been able to help.

Visual representation is always powerful and can often tell a story much quicker than words. Do use photographs, testimonies and quotations when telling a story.

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