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Posted by Alex Vernon on

“I told a girl I had arthritis and she said, ‘Oh, is that all?’”

Last year I interviewed beneficiaries of the charity Arthritis Care as part of a big story-gathering project with Mile 91. I wrote this blog for Mile 91’s website.

Rowena (on the right) tells me about the help she's had from Arthritis Care
Rowena (on the right) tells me about the help she’s had from Arthritis Care

I’d always thought I was well acquainted with arthritis, as both my sister and my mum live with pretty nasty forms of it.

But it wasn’t until I interviewed others with the disease – people I didn’t know – for the charity Arthritis Care that I really started to grasp what it’s like for my mum and sister.

It sounds like I have a distant, dutiful-phone-calls-three-times-a-year type relationship with my family, right? Actually, the opposite is true – we speak every day. If anything we care too much, regularly working ourselves into irrational frenzies of worry about each other. It’s exhausting!

You can find this post in full on Mile 91’s website. Thanks for reading!

Posted by Alex Vernon on

Relax and eat posh biscuits: tips for applying to newspaper charity appeals, part two

So! You’ve read part one of my guide to newspaper charity appeals and so finely crafted is your application that you’re pretty sure it’s going to go all the way. Or at least to the next stage: the short-listing.

The Telegraph's offices in Victoria - pic from www.telegraph.co.uk
The Telegraph’s offices in Victoria – pic from www.telegraph.co.uk

Quick recap: last year, when I was working for the disability charity Motivation, we applied to the 2012 Telegraph Christmas Appeal – and got it! Based on my experiences of being short-listed and invited to the Telegraph’s offices to meet the appeal’s decision makers, here are some (hopefully handy) insights. I imagine they’re relevant for the other newspapers too.

1. It’s still all about the stories

You pitched your best story ideas in your application and you’re afraid of repeating yourself. Don’t be. The judges read dozens of story ideas during the application process and may well have forgotten yours (despite the fact that those ideas have got you this far).

So now’s not the time to list your formal charitable objectives. Instead, focus on your most moving beneficiary stories. Share them with colour and emotion and honesty and your panel will be hooked. And with any luck, a few months down the line their Christmas appeal readers will be too.

2. If you can, take a beneficiary

To prepare for our meeting, I spoke to two 2011 beneficiary charities – AfriKids and Riding for the Disabled. Both were very open and helpful. Riding for the Disabled described how they’d taken one of their beneficiaries to meet the Telegraph. That person talked about the difference the charity had made to them. This, as you’d imagine, went down a treat.

David and Jen from Motivation overlooking the Telegraph newsroom (and some peskily placed fire extinguishers...)
David and Jen from Motivation overlooking the Telegraph newsroom (and some peskily placed fire extinguishers…)

Motivation is a mostly international charity, so we couldn’t take a beneficiary to our meeting. But our three-strong team did include two people who had lots of experience of working directly with beneficiaries and could talk with passion and authenticity about the difference Motivation was making to them. Both wheelchair users, my colleagues David and Jen both had compelling stories of their own to tell too, which I’m pretty sure played a big part in our success.

In summary: take a beneficiary if you can. If you can’t, take staff with first-hand experience of working with beneficiaries. Oh – and don’t feel compelled to invite your directors / heads of / trustees etc. The panel won’t care about job titles and hierarchy. They just want to hear from people who’ve experienced the impact the charity is making.

3. Don’t spend days preparing a gorgeous, glossy PowerPoint

Luckily, we’d kept our PowerPoint presentation pretty simple. But we had invested quite a bit of time in choosing for it the most powerful images of our work that we could lay our hands on.

On the day, the members of the panel were seated down one side of a long table. We, the Motivation team, sat opposite them. Our presentation was on a screen at the far end of the table.

Alas, the panel barely glanced at the screen. They were too busy looking at us. And they continued to focus on us as fab pic after fab pic went by unobserved. Frustrating! But at the same time, rather refreshing. It really felt like they valued what we had to say.

So the meeting was more of a dialogue than a presentation – and I think it would have been perfectly acceptable if we’d turned up utterly PowerPointless (a scary thought, nonetheless).

4. But do show videos. Short ones.

The panel missed the pics, but our films got their attention. We showed two – both short. The first was a rough-and-ready 30-second clip of Motivation’s rough terrain wheelchairs in action. The second was a professional, one-minute film featuring Afghanistan’s first ever wheelchair basketball tournament. With these little tasters of our work, I think we got it just right. A longer, more generic intro-style film might have got the panel a little twitchy.

This is what comes up when you search for 'posh biscuits' in Google images. Good old M & S.
This is what comes up when you search for ‘posh biscuits’ in Google images. Good old M & S.

5. Relax – and eat their biscuits

“Today’s a special day – we’ve got the posh biscuits,” a member of the panel told us as we were ushered into the meeting room. This throwaway comment made quite an impression on me. I realised that no matter how impressive and intimidating and utterly different from our humble charity office the Telegraph HQ happened to be, the members of the panel were just normal people who wanted to hear good stories and eat nice biscuits. Phew.

I hope these insights are useful. Good luck! And if you’d like any help with your charity’s newspaper appeal application, please get in touch.

Posted by Alex Vernon on

Three charities using beneficiary voices brilliantly in their annual reviews

How have two months gone by since I last blogged?! I’ll now attempt to make up for this misdemeanour by posting something that is, I hope, both interesting and useful…

As charity comms / fundraising / governance folk get round a table to start tackling the possibly much-dreaded task that is their annual review (or ‘impact report’ as they’re increasingly known), I’d like to highlight three charities that I think are doing a great job of it.

What does this trio have in common? They’ve all used beneficiary voices to powerful effect. And it is the voices of the people the charity works with, not page after page of aims and objectives, that will inspire supporters to keep supporting.

Parkinson's UK's 2011 Impact Report features beneficiaries talking simply and convincingly
Parkinson’s UK’s 2011 impact report features beneficiaries talking simply and convincingly

1. Parkinson’s UK – Our Impact 2011

What strikes me about this report is the authenticity of the beneficiary voices. Here, Ben isn’t speaking in grand terms about how the charity has transformed his life / given him new hope / inspired him to get up in the morning etc. Instead, he’s speaking simply and honestly about general day-to-day support.

“My wife and I go to our local group – Merton Branch – in south London. It’s very good and there’s always something to do. At the last meeting we had a pampering evening. It was great to have a treat! We both had a massage and my wife had her nails done.”

I think the simplicity of Ben’s words makes them convincing. Here’s Parkinson’s UK’s report.

Hope and Homes for Children's annual report includes sad quotations as well as happy ones
Hope and Homes for Children’s annual report includes sad voices as well as happy ones

2. Hope and Homes for Children – Out of sight, out of mind: Annual Review 2011

This report successfully uses a mix of sad and upbeat quotations to demonstrate the crucial ‘before’ and ‘after’ (painting a picture of life before and after the charity’s intervention).

Before: “It feels unsafe when you are left alone, when no one loves you, when people only insult or yell at you,” says Dima, who lives in an institution in Ukraine.

After: “I do not feel uncared for. I am loved,” says Maxim, a teenager with special needs who has been reunited with his family in Belarus.

Though annual reviews should generally be celebrations of a charity’s achievements, they should also highlight the challenges people face – the ongoing need – so that they keep inspiring support. I certainly want to know what’s happened to Dima. Here’s the full report.

Sue from Crisis tells it to you straight
Sue from Crisis tells it to you straight

3. Crisis – Standing strong in a time of crisis: Impact Report 2011/12

With this thought-provoking quotation from Sue, Crisis reaches out to its readers in a way that is quite unsettling:

“I’m really passionate about homeless people now as I was a snob before [this happened to me], but you need to get out there and explain to people that it could happen to anybody. People live in their own little bubble and they think it’ll never happen to them, but most people are about a month’s salary away from losing their homes and becoming homeless.”

This compelling ‘it could happen to you’ angle could be a relevant and useful one for many charities. Read more from Crisis here.

If you know of any other organisations doing great things with beneficiary voices in their annual reviews, please do share them in the comments box below.

And if you think your charity could benefit from some beneficiary voices for your annual review or any other communications materials, please get in touch – I’d love to help!