Charities encouraged to use 'storytelling' to boost donations

31 January 2019 3 min. read
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The CEO of a fundraising consultancy has warned the UK charity scene that it must better engage with storytelling if it is to boost stagnant levels of donations. Caroline Underwood, who heads Philanthropy Company, said the third sector would do well to spend more time considering how to make information better accessible to its major donors.

With the continued dismantling of the social security net in the UK and across developed economies, charities have once more become integral to the provision of some of the most basic and essential services citizens rely upon to survive. While the importance of the third sector could be said to be more important than ever before, it has come under intense pressure as demand for its services rapidly rises amid declining funding to charities from the UK Government.

At the same time, a number of charities are encountering a crisis of confidence, and a major decline in public favourability, thanks to a raft of damaging scandals to have hit leading names such as Oxfam in the last few years. As a result, the sector is going through a period of significant change, dealing with varying levels of public trust, increased regulation and Brexit uncertainty, as well as the recent resignation of the Civil Society Minister.

Charities encouraged to use 'storytelling' to boost donations

Because of this harsh environment, many charities are now faced with a period of difficult restructuring to simply keep their doors open – while some have even sacrificed keystone services to the private sector in the pursuit of remaining solvent. Recently, a downturn in donations saw disability charity Scope sell its regulated and day services provision wing to private sector firm Salutem Healthcare, which will now run the services for profit. The transaction impacted services at 51 locations in England and Wales, but ultimately generated £23 million for Scope, safeguarding its other aspects.

In order to better address the current situation, the leader of a UK fundraising consultancy has claimed that charities need to change the way they share information to attract major donors. Earlier in January 2019, Caroline Underwood, Chief Executive of Philanthropy Company, told the Institute of Fundraising's Major Donor Fundraising Conference that the major trends in philanthropy and major giving suggested the information that charities share needs to be more easily “digestible” if they intend to boost the number of donors they can rely on.

As reported by, Underwood continued, “We are all incredibly sophisticated in the way we get information… [However] as a sector we have been absolutely rubbish at getting out information into a relevant form.”

She went on to add that the major question fundraisers need to ask is “how do I make this information digestible to major donors?” At present, the consulting chief contended that charities rely on graphs and other complex ways of packaging information, but would be better off with moving to platforms like YouTube to use as a less conventional storytelling method to court donors. By combining this with a reputation management strategy, charities could also boost trust in their organisations and make donors feel better connected with a cause.

Before founding Philanthropy Company in 2003, Underwood was a board level Executive Director as Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships at Save the Children. There she tripled high-value income and built a team of over 80 fundraisers in the UK, while playing a key role in income generation internationally with an effort to grow income to $2.4 billion.