How to write a brilliant charity case study

Your washing machine has just packed in and you’re gonna need a new one – it’s time for a bit of online research.

Unfortunately, every review for every make and model simply says: “I bought this machine, I love it. It’s really fantastic.” Which one do you go for? What are these people are so pleased with? Do you even believe them?

If you can feel this way about a washing machine, imagine how it feels to approach a charity, either to donate or get help, just to see the same kind of bland, meaningless messaging.

It’s tempting to think that the more positive and upbeat your case studies are, the better your charity will come across. But by following the identikit “good news story”, your readers will, at best, skip over it and, at worst, not believe you.

So what makes a stellar charity case study?

What's your "So what?"

This is such a basic principle that it often gets overlooked; it might be blindingly obvious to you who your audience is, but have you thought about what they want?

The answer, unfortunately, usually isn’t “to read a case study” – so you’ll need to convince them somehow.

The people who donate to, fundraise for and interact with charities are almost always those who have personal experience with the issues they tackle – so make it relevant to those experiences.

Ask yourself "So what?" at the time of writing, and your readers won't have to.

Be specific

While we’re on the subject of engaging your audience, don’t shy away from an anecdote.

Get specific. It’s tempting to think a nice, general “I had a problem, then Charity X solved it, now everything is fantastic” is a better way to reach a broader audience, but you know what they say about trying to please everyone.

For instance, which is more powerful?

“The charity really supported me throughout my treatment.”

Or:

“When Carla, my Macmillan nurse, sat down with me a few weeks after I got my diagnosis, it was the first time I felt like I wasn’t alone.”

Hook first, then educate

You could have the most compelling tale of human struggle and triumph – complete with uplifting moral message – but it’s all for nothing if nobody reads the damn thing.

Your opening hook is your brief window of opportunity to grab your readers’ attention – don’t squander it.

There’s an argument to be made for the ‘inverted pyramid’ model, where you use your first 50 (ish) words to get the who, what, why, when, where and how out there – and then the rest of the article is for the diminishingly less important details.

Sure, it’s a good way to cram the crucial information into the reader’s brain before they know what’s happening, but there’s a flaw: after the hectic opener, you’re left with a limp taper of a story from then on.

Why not use the first 25 words to set an intriguing scene instead?

Compare, for example:

“During the festive holidays, there are many children with cancer whose condition makes it impossible for them to go home and end up spending Christmas in hospital instead. We speak to one of them, 10-year old Timmy Jones.”

With:

“Christmas is always a weird time of year for us. When most people are looking forward to taking a break with their family, there’s no such thing as “time off” when your child has cancer.”

Don’t forget your call to action – and don’t let them forget it either

Finally, make sure you don’t waste all that hard work by tacking on a lame call to action at the end – or worse, leaving it out altogether.

You aren’t simply limited to “Donate Now” either. Although your wonderfully compelling case study is surely good enough to convince some people to donate, many might be more likely to want to “find out more”, “volunteer” or “subscribe”.

Even if they are immediately seized with the desire to part with £50, you can still make the action more memorable. They could “make a difference” or “help more children like Timmy” – they could even “brighten Timmy’s Christmas”.

 

On the subject of calls to action, you could brighten yours by signing up to our mailing list for more content-related shenanigans from Lark.