Showing not telling: how advice content generates donations for charities

Why content strategy is a great investment for charities, not just in terms of meeting users needs, but in generating income.
A minimalist digital illustration of a website with a helping hand reaching of of one side of the screen and a hand holding money reaching out of the other.

Last week I attended ‘Supporting beneficiaries in crisis online’, an event featuring lots of research, content, and design experts from UK charities, hosted by Outlandish

Among many interesting examples and questions, one stuck in my brain. It came from Karen Spillett, senior health content editor at Parkinson’s UK and editor of The Parkinson Magazine. The magazine also has a digital offering in the form of an email sharing stories and tips for people living with Parkinson’s. Karen told us:

“The email … has a really clear focus on information and support. But recently, off the back of those emails, where we’re not asking for any money at all, we’re not even hinting at it, we have been generating donations. Some of them more significant than we’d ever imagine … The latest top picks email actually raised more money than a direct fundraising ask for supporters.

If you can get that content right and you’re giving people tips on how to live better with Parkinson’s and sharing stories, you’re sharing their experience, so they’re feeling supported, which then leads to them thinking what else can they do and becoming engaged with the with the charity.”

Karen highlights and provides evidence for something I think is really important to know about content strategy for charities:

Focusing on meeting needs with content can have wider benefits than just providing advice and information to the people you serve. It’s another way to show your impact and tell the story of what you do, and can provide a compelling reason to support your work.

This lesson doesn’t just apply to charities where there might be an overlap between the people who use the content and the people who donate. It can work if you’re serving very different audience groups, too.

The CEO of a charity I’m working with at the moment set me a challenge at the start of the project. They wanted the charity’s new website to win over stakeholders, funders and commissioners, as well as service users. But they didn’t want to do that with messaging or content written specifically for the professional audience. They wanted to do it with messaging and content aimed at showing members of the community exactly what the charity can offer them, and in turn making it very clear what value the charity has to offer. I love this brief, because it’s all about showing, not telling. Demonstrate your work, get people to use the info and services you offer, and make your value unmistakeable along the way.

The whole event had lots of useful discussion on responding to the cost of living crisis with research, content, and design. If you missed it, you can watch the video here. (Go to 57:35 to hear the bit from Karen I’m referencing.)

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