“Our 65+ club provides older people with somewhere to go to meet new friends on Friday afternoons.”
“I live for Friday afternoons. I go to the 65+ club every week. I used to be stuck at home, but now I have new friends, Margaret and Betty. We play bridge, have a cup of tea and some nice cake, and have a good old gossip,” says 73-year-old Jane.
Which of the above is more effective in showing how great the 65+ club is? The second, I hope you’ll agree.
Using the voices of the people you help is the very best way to demonstrate your charity’s impact. They show readers how effective you are, rather than simply telling them.
Every publication you write, from websites to annual reviews, magazines to brochures, should be packed with well written, powerful case studies showcasing these voices.
But how do you write a good case study? You can find out at the Charity Writing and Communications Training Days on 29 and 30 October 2015.
But in the meantime, here are the basics:
Include the three vital elements
Case studies are all about illustrating the change your charity has made to someone’s life. Supporters want to read about outcomes and impact, so make sure your case studies show them.
With illustrating change in mind, all case studies should include three, easy-to-remember elements:
- The case study’s situation before they got involved with your organisation (I was broke, homeless and living in shelters).
- How they got involved with your charity and how it’s helped (One day, I saw a sign on the shelter notice board offering training courses… I went along for a month and learned lots of new skills).
- Their improved situation now (I’m now working part time and living in my own flat).
Check every case study you write has all three to create powerful copy.
Get the opening right
Your opening is the most important part of your case study. It’s your brief opportunity to grab readers’ attention and draw them in to read more – don’t waste it on background information!
Some attention-grabbing ways to open a case study include:
Start with the change in the interviewee’s life: “I used to be a bully,” says Lizzy. “I was naughty and had a problem with my anger. I don’t know why. It gets my feelings out. But now I’ve calmed down loads – 100%.”
Start with emotion: “I was suicidal and ready to give up on life.” That’s how Shakita felt 18 months ago. She was 15, sexually active and prone to violence, and had been excluded from school.
Start with intrigue: Alone, scared and lost, Aamir wandered the streets of Leeds. They were very different from the streets in Afghanistan. It was Aamir’s first day in the UK, and he was hopelessly lost.
Start by shocking your reader: Safia was just five years old on the day she struggled into her wedding dress.
Start with an odd statement: I may be deaf, but that didn’t stop me passing my grade eight piano exam.
Use any of these, and your reader won’t be able to help but read on.
Remember the ring of truth
The more real your case studies seem, the more they will impact your readers and prompt them to action. A good case study will feature lots of specifics and small details to make it compelling and believable. Too many charities write generic case studies that look like they could easily have been made up.
For example, “I helped teach a class in the African school we visited” is much less effective than “I helped teach a class of 43 noisy seven-year-olds. We did a lesson on multiplication on the old, creaking blackboard. One little girl, Jenny, couldn’t stop tugging at my leg, wanting to impress me with her expert knowledge of the five times table.”
“mmm, I’m not sure, let me think a moment…I definitely think the best thing about the hospice is absolutely the brilliant staff, they are absolutely, totally fantastic, in my opinion”
This is the kind of thing people say in interviews. You need to tighten it up when you write your case study (“The best thing is the staff. They are absolutely, totally fantastic”). As long as you don’t change the meaning, editing quotes is not a problem. If you’re worried about misrepresenting your interviewee, you can always ask them to approve the case study before it’s published.