Latest Posts Subscribe to this blog RSS

What are your predictions for how charities tell their stories in 2014?

This year is going to be an exciting year for charities and how they use and tell their stories. I’d like to see the sector going back to basics and showing why they do what they do and the impact they have on society.

Authenticity will be key. I’d like to see the people that charities support – beneficiaries, service-users, clients, expert citizens – being a core part of a charity’s communications, fundraising and campaigning.

It’s surprising what you hear when you listen

I am passionate about storytelling, but often I meet people who are more passionate than me. Recently I had a conversation with Tony Phillips, commissioning editor of the arts at Radio 4 and at the BBC World Service. His most recent and perhaps most ambitious series is The Listening Project

Literacy campaign is a model for charities

As someone who is passionate about reading, I want to offer huge congratulations to the London Evening Standard and the national charity Beanstalk (formerly Volunteer Reading help) for putting a spotlight on the issue of literacy.

Support your volunteers to capture their stories

What do you get if you combine your passion for all ability cycling with the Eurovision Song Contest? A inspiring fundraising challenge to cycle all the way to Malmo (the host city for Eurovision 2013 if you didn’t know) by an amazing individual.

The stories of volunteers deserve a higher profile

Sadly, these days, with an elderly father regularly admitted for treatment, I am a frequent visitor at Royal Free Hospital in London. However, this weekend my visit was cheered by a volunteer doing her ward rounds serving tea and coffee to patients, and bringing much needed warmth into a cold ward.

In praise of Westminster Libraries staff

As I’ve watched the campaign against library cuts grow, I’ve been inspired by the passion of those involved. Community sit-ins in Barnet, high profile celebrity engagement online and varied use of social media. But yesterday, on a public libraries forum, a member of Westminster Libraries staff shared this open letter, written and published by colleagues addressed to their local councillors.

It is thought provoking and powerful and I hope staff working for charities in a similar position might be inspired by what they say.

Who would make a third sector Top 100 Women’s Powerlist?

I’m not a huge fan of “best of”-styled lists myself and it’s not just because I’m unlikely to find myself on one. But I often think that it’s the people who I admire that are the ones who usually go unrecognised.

So I’ve been following with interest the blogs, tweets and conversations going on around BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Power List, which closes for nominations this Friday (30 November). The programme is inviting listeners to nominate the individuals who they feel have shaped the way we live today. Which women have the greatest impact on British politics, society, culture and the economy?

Put aside your ego and think about the beneficiaries

In the last 48 hours I’ve had conversations with two different people that highlight some of the things that disappoint me about the way charities work.

I was having dinner with the CEO of a small human rights charity (income under £500,000) working with some of the most vulnerable and hidden groups in our society. She is one of the most inspiring leaders I know, who founded the charity 12 years ago and had driven it forward subsequently. The area her charity focuses on is particularly niche and she has been lauded by all those who know her – from her funders to the media. She has also been honoured by the Queen for her work.

Now is the time to help grassroots sports projects to tell their stories

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve been on an Olympic holiday and am still basking in the afterglow. I took a week off, guilt-free, to immerse myself in all things sport-related, which was met with some amusement by friends as I’m not particularly sporty. I was lucky to have got some tickets and managed to see some amazing events, from beach volleyball and hockey to diving and swimming.

As someone whose biggest sporting achievement was dedicating six months to training to run the London Marathon, I was in awe of the dedication the athletes had put into their training. Apart from the empty seats saga, I was impressed by practically everything that was delivered by the organisers, especially the wonderful volunteer Games Makers.

Funders should help grant recipients tell their stories

In 2007 there was a Third Sector article which featured an interview with the chief executive of a large grant funder. In the article he talked about the role of funders in encouraging storytelling within the projects they supported – an area very close to my heart.

It took over six months to get a meeting with him, but when we met we had a lively conversation about the role funders should play in skilling up and training the people to whom they give grants to help them capture their stories.

That conversation was nearly four years ago and although a little progress has been made in the funding environment in the intervening years – for example, I have been involved in some marketing and digital media training work with grantees – in general I still believe much more needs to be done.

I met the director of another large funder recently and she felt exactly the same, although lots of discussion on this topic is taking place.

As we all acknowledge, the next few years are going to be extremely tough and there will be more organisations applying for fewer grants. I think it’s the responsibility of grant funders to ensure that organisations are equipped with the skills to tell their stories.

Communications, marketing and digital skills shouldn’t be seen as a nice extra but an important part of the support that is provided. This will give people confidence to keep their stories alive once the funding runs out.

The question is – when organisations write up their funding bids, should they put training as a small part of their budget? Or should it be offered as part of the support package a funder offers?

I think that funders should make it a requirement of accepting a grant that recipients are compelled to keep a blog, capture photographs or produce some kind of content which they should be able to use online. In turn, the charity or community group can use this content for their own marketing, communcations and profile raising.

I know for many charities, particularly smaller ones, this kind of content gathering will be seem as a big ask, especially with feedback forms and other paperwork to fill in, but I have a sneaky feeling that this will be a key part of impact reporting in the year ahead.

I think both parties will benefit hugely, as long as they know how to maximise this content.

Last year I was the very proud recipient of a series of grants for a pilot project I delivered offering a respite break in London for carers. In the budget I included the cost for a professional photographer to capture the trip and other content.

Unprompted, I offered multmedia content to all the funders and corporates who had been involved and most used it in some way – whether on their Facebook, websites or via their Twitter channel. In addition, different media channels including the BBC, The Guardian and regional outlets were delighted to take the content. A  real result as far as I’m concerned.

So in the year ahead I’d like:

- To see more funders offering ‘storytelling’ training, in whatever guise that might take, as part of their package for grant recipients. The long-term rewards will be a real benefit.

- To see funders cutting down written feedback forms to encourage different kinds of impact reporting.

- To see people apply for grants, including training, in their budgets so that they can ensure they have the right skills to tell their stories.

- For everyone, whether the funder or fundee, to recognise that there is simply no point in leaving photographs, video footage, or oral history content in an office to gathe dust, and to ensure that this material is used to maximise impact.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.