Harness the Power of Digital Storytelling – Tips on how charities can give a voice to the people they support

We need to be braver at telling our stories.  This is a phrase people often quote me on.  Storytelling is the essence of a charity, it is at its core. Not an add on. It is an area that I am passionate about. Unfortunately, all too often I have come across barriers within my work […]

We need to be braver at telling our stories.  This is a phrase people often quote me on.  Storytelling is the essence of a charity, it is at its core. Not an add on. It is an area that I am passionate about. Unfortunately, all too often I have come across barriers within my work helping charities to tell their stories authentically.  Key to my work is to encourage organisations to give the tools and confidence to the people they advocate for to tell their stories in their own ways and in their own words.

Some charities I meet believe that the social issue they are trying to address is too difficult and the people they are working with are too vulnerable and as a result telling their story is too difficult.  Understandably they are trying to protect people, but by not telling the story some organisations are doing more harm than good.  If we want to challenge stigmas, raise awareness about an issue, give a voice to the people we are there to support then we need to think about the best ways to do that – and often telling the stories firsthand is most powerful.  I think that with time, the right support and choosing the appropriate storytelling tool – no story is impossible to tell.

So where should you start?  If you are looking to get started it’s important to look at what techniques other charities are using to incorporate firsthand storytelling and look at how you can use these ideas yourself.  Here are a few examples.


User Led Blogs and Vlogs  


Mental health charity Mind is a great example of an organisation which has been proactive in encouraging people with first-hand experience of living with mental health difficulties to tell their stories. They provide storytelling guidance, advice tips and a platform for these voices to be heard.    Their user-led blogs   and Vlogs are authentic and honest and give an insight into issues that Mind’s network are facing.   Mind make clear the impact that sharing your story through a blog can have and encourage individuals to make a difference through their experiences. Through Story Camp they skill-up their supporters with practical training that can help to build their confidence and all bloggers and vloggers are given clear guidelines for writing creating a strong team of storytellers. Mind also utilise this platform to recruit new campaigners to support their cause.


Social Media Takeovers

ShiftMS and Parkinson’s UK

are two charities incorporating social media takeovers where they hand over the reins to beneficiaries to tell their stories. This is an easy, low cost tool to give a voice to the people that you support and generate new and interesting content for your social media channels too.

ShiftMS  use their main twitter account @ShiftMS and Parkinsons has a designated handle @Parkinsons52. Both invite new guest tweeters to take control of it over time giving fresh perspectives and sharing new experiences.  Some charities might worry about this approach being too risky (a fear of losing control? Damaging the brand?) but it’s all about trust and building a relationship with those you support.


Crowdsourcing Content

Cancer Research UK,  Antony Nolan and the  National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS)

are a selection of charities that have embraced the power of user generated content. Cancer Research’s #CancerRightNow campaign has invited individuals with experience of cancer to share their photos and stories documenting them at different stages of treatment and recovery creating a gallery of images and a plethora of content to share.  Antony Nolan equally champion the firsthand stories of those they support using their social media channels and website blog as a platform for individuals to tell their stories and also create a forum for people to provide support for each other.  The National Deaf Children’s Society use crowdsourcing to actively invite stories from their stakeholders, in this case primarily from the parents of children with hearing impairments, to create compelling visual storytelling content. By combining a simple message – such as tips from a parent – with a picture, the NDCS are a good example of how charities can create effective stories to communicate with their audience using low cost and low tech resources. During their Stolen Futures campaign, which put the spotlight on cuts to deaf children’s services, their crowdsourcing came into its own as they invited parents to send in a picture of their child with an explanation of what their child wanted to be when they grew up. The engagement online spoke volumes.


Interactions with Journalists

All About Trans is a project that aims to positively influence how the media understands and portrays trans people. They have built up a wonderful network of volunteers from the trans community and have involved them in interactions with journalists, broadcasters and commissioners to share their firsthand experiences. This approach to storytelling has led to real changes in media behaviour, more responsible reporting as well as storylines in soap operas and the comedy Boy Meets Girl.


Jude will be taking through these examples at her masterclass on the Power of Storytelling at the Charity Writing and Communications Training Day It would be great to hear examples of charities that you think are telling stories well so please share them in the comments field.


Want to improve your storytelling skills? Come along to sounddelivery’s flagship training day the Social Media Exchange 2017. There will be a host of masterclasses as well as practical surgeries so book your ticket today.

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