How many story gatherers does your charity have?

Anyone who has ever worked in communications or fundraising in a charity will at some point have uttered the words “we just don’t have any case studies”. Well that’s just a silly thing to say! Assuming you’re delivering your services or campaigning as your mission and vision states then I think you can assume you do have case studies – it’s just that you personally haven’t got your hands on them yet.

So how are you going to secure your pipeline of inspiring stories and photos when frankly there isn’t enough time in the day to write all your proposals, reports, press releases, blog etc? Will there ever be a time when you’re not scrabbling around for a case study a week before the annual review is going to print?

The answer is to use your story gatherers. Which brings us back to the question at the top of this post, how many story gatherers does your charity have? I’ll hazard a guess that your answer is one if you’re lucky but probably none. Wrong! You have as many story gatherers as you have staff and volunteers working in the field (whether your ‘field’ happens to be a rural community in Sierra Leone or a hospital in South London!).

The people working on your frontline are the people who everyday are exposed to the highs, lows and spine tingling moments that are going to inspire your audiences. Until you talk to those people you really can’t say you have no case studies.

If you were sat opposite me rather than on the other side of your screen you’d probably be saying “but they don’t understand what makes a good story”. Well whose fault is that? They’re not fundraisers or communications specialists, why should they know? With a little bit of guidance they can learn.

I am working with a development charity at the moment, writing a communications handbook for their field staff. It’s packed full of simple explanations like what we actually mean by human interest story, the basics of getting a good photograph and how to interview someone? There are templates with prompts to capture the little details that give a story its atmosphere and the boring but essential bits like permissions form, caption sheets etc.

Over the last month the handbook has been tested by the field staff and we’ve been getting really positive feedback. People are excited about it. This is probably to be expected because it will make their lives easier too; just think, next time they’re asked for a case study from a press officer or fundraiser in London they’ll actually know what they’re looking for!

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