One thing your small charity can learn from the National Fundraising Convention
by Amy Appleton
This year, I had the pleasure of visiting The Institute of Fundraising’s (IOF) National Fundraising Convention for the first time. The sessions and atmosphere were both inspirational, but for me the highlight had to be the day two plenary delivered by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn. They took to the stage and captured the audience with their harrowing, but heart-warming, tale of a friendship forged from a difficult battle with mental health. Check out the full video here or watch the clip below.
Obviously, Jonny and Neil share an impactful message around mental health and wellbeing, but as fundraisers there is another key learning – good storytelling is vital to your fundraising success. Often, one story can be more powerful than all the graphs, statistics and narratives that charities rely on.

Storytelling is not restricted to large charities with individual giving campaigns and TV adverts, it is a vital ingredient across the funding mix. Luckily, this actually plays to the strengths of small charities. With the growth of digital technology, it has never been quicker or easier to produce free, high-quality videos and content from your smartphone or computer and share it with a mass-audience. Moreover, small charities tend to have greater knowledge and access to the individuals and communities they support, meaning a wealth of stories to tell.

So, what makes good storytelling?

- The best stories come from your beneficiaries, in their own words. Authenticity is much more important than a polished final product.

- The story should focus on an individual rather than talking about your beneficiary group as a wider whole.

- Stories need to be honest and express real emotion. The more varied the experiences and emotions, the more likely you are going to engage a wider audience of people.

- You need a bank of stories across different platforms and mediums - videos, poems, pictures, letters – delivered in a variety of ways, i.e. spoken, written stories etc.

Check out the Bone Cancer Research Trust’s patient stories page here if you want examples from a charity that is a storytelling pro.

How can small charities inject storytelling into their fundraising?

- The first step is being prepared to capture stories at any moment. You may be talking to beneficiaries, volunteers or colleagues and hear something inspiring. Ask them if you can video them or write down the story and add it to your story bank. Have a few disclosure forms printed out and to hand to ensure you get the appropriate permissions.

- Be proactive! You can’t just wait for the stories to come to you. Get away from your desk and spend some time at the heart of your charity’s work.

- If you are fundraising locally, emphasise local connections with your stories. Supporters want to get behind a local cause and this is a great advantage of small charities.

- Ask your beneficiaries to consider talking at your next event, community visit or rotary talk etc. Their story is much more powerful when they tell it. If they are overwhelmed by the idea of public speaking, offer to do it in interview style so they know which questions you will ask and can prepare. Or, ask them to make a video and take that with you instead.

- Think of ways you can inject story-capture into your everyday contact with beneficiaries. If you do any creative sessions with them, include an activity that will result in storytelling materials for you e.g. ‘write a poem about how homelessness makes you feel’.

There are many ways your charity could inject more storytelling into your fundraising without hiring an expensive digital marketing agency and breaking the bank. Please don’t avoid telling your beneficiaries’ stories because you don’t think you can do it well. At the IOF National Convention, Jonny and Neil had a room full of around 1000 fundraisers lost for words (and fundraisers are generally a chatty bunch!). They achieved this with a few pictures and simply chatting to us about their extraordinary story. It was powerful.

Didn’t make it to the IOF National Fundraising Convention? Book your ticket for the North East Fundraising Conference on the 23rd and 24th September 2019. I will be delivering a session on the ‘Lego Approach to Trust Fundraising’ with the award-winning Mat Cottle-Shaw from the Bone Cancer Research Trust. Even better, as KEDA Consulting is the headline sponsor, we have a discount code for you - use ‘KEDA’ to get £30 off your ticket!