If affected people themselves choose how they tell their story, it may be more effective than if professional marketers from aid organizations do so, a new British study shows.
Researchers from The University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of the Arts London (UAL) are behind the report, which looks at how aid organizations can raise as much money as possible through fundraising campaigns.
– As far as we know, this is the first time someone is researching the effect of different ways of telling stories in a real context where you need financial funding from donors, and where you consciously try to challenge who has the power to shape the story that becomes told, says David Girling, associate professor at UEA.
Girling is one of the researchers behind the report, which shows that a local health worker in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Patrick Malachi, received more money than professional marketers in the UK when both parties were completely free to choose how they would carry out fundraising campaigns for the aid organization. Amref from start to finish.
– It is really interesting that donors gave a higher individual amount when the story was told by someone who participates on the ground, says a senior lecturer at UAL Jess Crombie, who is also one of the researchers behind the report.
The findings can be experienced as surprising since the fundraising campaign of the local health worker was stripped of both glamorous images and an impressive design, in contrast to the campaign of the professional marketers. However, there are good reasons why we found these findings, the researchers believe.
– It shows that authentic storytelling leads to greater individual gifts, says Girling.
Lisa Sivertsen, head of the department for communication and politics at Norwegian Church Aid, believes that this will not always be the case.
– Our experience is that timeliness is more important than who tells the story. When one of our employees stands on the border in Ukraine and tells about meetings with people on the run, it hits well. Similarly, when a mother from Malawi, who has given birth safely at a clinic, tells about her experiences, she says.
Control over the storytelling
The campaign led by Patrick Malachi in Kibera received more money from British donors than the professional marketers from Amref. The aid worker in the local community in Kibera also received 38 per cent more than what the organization usually receives through such fundraising campaigns.
In addition to the gain for Amref, locals in Kibera said they liked to be in control of the story being told, instead of Westerners having the power to choose how the story of them is told. The researchers behind the report believe that this is one of the really big gains from this type of storytelling.
– It’s not just about replacing the voice that tells the story, but about asking those who are actually involved: “What stories do you want to tell and how should we tell them”, says Jess Crombie, who adds that this is how you challenge the bulk of Euro-American storytelling about the poor in need.
The findings also challenge a dominant attitude in the development aid industry that fundraising campaigns must be made by professionals.
– This project shows that it is a different way to collect and share the stories of people living in poverty around the world, says researcher David Girling.
The researchers behind the report believe that the findings will be applicable to everyone who works in the development assistance industry. Sivertesen from Norwegian Church Aid, for its part, believes that this will not always be the best way to carry out fundraising campaigns, even though it may be.
– We notice well that many respond positively to content that is perceived as real and close. At the same time, we also see that different target groups respond to different content and that some adjustments are often needed to reach different target groups. I do not believe in “one size fits all”, says Sivertsen.
The head of communications and politics is positive about including local voices in marketing.
– Norwegian Church Aid already has good experience in developing campaigns together with local partners and local employees, and we very often share content where volunteers, local leaders or people who receive assistance from us, tell about local needs and solutions.
When telling stories, however, there are many pitfalls in terms of security and privacy, according to Sivertsen.
– We will never pressure anyone to have a visibility that can be harmful to them. People on the run, women who have been raped, children who are afraid of being recruited by militant groups – this is our reality and “do no harm” is vital.