4 brilliantly inspiring storytelling techniques

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4 brilliantly inspiring storytelling techniques

Children of the Holocaust Heinz' s Story Fettle Animation.jpg

Which charities are being ultra creative with their storytelling to achieve maximum emotional resonance? Fundraiser editor Jenny Ramage presents 4 of the best


In this post-NCVO Summit blog post by Ken Burnett, Ken relays the suggestion that “in future, fundraisers are going to have to be a whole lot less persistent in asking. Which seems to suggest, logically, that we’re going to have to get a whole lot better at inspiring".


With this in mind, I set out to explore the world of inspirational charity storytelling and review some of the most remarkable examples that have motivated, mobilised and moved audiences to galvanise support for the cause.


Cutting out the middleman


Some of the most emotive stories are those born of a genuine experience and told directly by the person who experienced it – take Jonny Benjamin’s #FindMike campaign. Jonny, on his own initiative, set out to find the man who talked him down from a bridge when he was thinking of taking his own life – and people from all over the world got behind his campaign.


Rethink Mental Illness endorsed and supported Jonny in his endeavour, but the charity’s role was very much ambassadorial; this was Jonny’s story, and the charity knew better than to get in the way. “It’s so much more powerful when someone who is living with mental illness every day, like Jonny, tells the story themselves”, said Nia Charpentier, media manager at the charity.


Jonny did find ‘Mike’ – although it turned out his name was actually Neil – and the charity followed up with this short video in which both Jonny and Neil recount the events and the impact of that decisive day on the bridge. While they each tell the story from their own perspective, you get a sense that their stories and lives are intrinsically woven together – a brilliant microcosm of the supporter-beneficiary relationship, and of how supporters of a cause are the ultimate solution.


Breathing life into history


Some stories are more difficult than others to tell. How, for example, do you help a teenage audience understand what it felt like to be a child in a concentration camp more than 70 years, and four generations, ago?


For the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association, whose goal is to raise awareness and ensure that survivors of one of history’s most unimaginable atrocities still have a voice, an answer came in the form of Fettle Animation’s Children of the Holocaust, a BBC Learning series that won several international awards for its sensitive re-telling of the survivor’s stories.


Kath Shackleton, producer at the animation company, said: “Animation is a good medium for conveying complex and sensitive issues. In a live action film, school-age children might have been unable to relate to the older people and their incredible stories, but with an animation, we were able to show the Holocaust survivors as children themselves so that today’s youngsters could more easily empathise and understand .”


You can watch clips from the animation here.


A winning personality


For more 'popular' causes that are easier to explain and relate to, such as cancer, the bigger challenge is achieving cut-through. And with thousands of fundraisers doing sponsored events to try to win hearts – and donations – for cancer charities every day, sometimes it boils down to likability.


Jessica’s Promise was an emotive and engaging social media campaign, run by Anthony Nolan supporter Jessica Stoate and centred around her promise, following the loss of her mother to cancer, “to help other mums fight cancer and WIN”.


In her series of shaky, unpolished videos, Jessica comes across as natural, approachable and unpretentious. “You want to be her mate, say well done, give her a hug”, says Lucy Gower, director at Lucidity and an admirer of Jessica’s work.


Catherine Miles, fundraising director at Antony Nolan said: “Jessica told her story in a very simple, relatable and humorous way which brought her supporters on a journey with her”. It proved a winning formula, with Jessica raising over £12,000 for the charity.


Life in reverse


The best stories don’t always start at the beginning. Last year, Age UK and Equally Ours launched a new film called His name is Charles to help start an important conversation about older people and human rights. The one-minute video takes the viewer on an emotive, reverse-chronological journey through Charles’ life, opening with a depiction of his neglect in the care home, and ending with a starkly contrasting image of the warmth, love and protection shown to the infant Charles by his parents.             


Catsnake, the company that made the film, brilliantly recast and reframed Charles’ story in a way that eliminated the risk of mawkishness to make it resonate deeply with the target audience.


These borrowed words from Vincent Canby’s critique of the 1983 movie Betrayal sum up perfectly the impact of the film's back-to-front narrative:


“The film... moves forward from a sense of lovelessness and loss to discover, at the film’s end, the initial ecstasy, which, knowing what we do, is all the more haunting.”        


Keep an eye out for the next chapter in this series of blog posts about storytelling - coming soon.


Jenny Ramage is editor of The Fundraiser

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