Digital roundup – October

My top reads for October. Catch up with this bumper month!

Images from some of the content covered in the post

October was hashtag-tastic! We had #WorldTeachersDay, #WorldMentalHealthDay (see Third Sector’s series), #WorldOsteoporosisDay, #InternationalDayOfTheGirl, #WorldHomelessnessDay, #WorldSightDay and #WorldPorridgeDay. It was Breast Cancer Awareness month, #HospiceCareWeek,  It was also the month that the #RoundPound went out of use and many of us got our #FirstTenner.

It was also a month of great charity content and useful reads.

Great content

Headless weather presenter gives the forecast for Halloween

Useful stuff

Flowchart showing how to decide how to respond to trolls

Want more? Read JustGiving’s 10 things you should read this month.

Blog posts

Surprising content

Macmillan tweet about their charity number 261017

Coming up

November is sure to be busy too with #TrusteesWeek (13-17 Nov), #OurDay (for local government on 21 Nov) and #GivingTuesday (28 Nov). Plus all the preparations for Christmas fundraising and fun. If you are thinking about seasonal content, read my post about digital advent calendars.

Examples from WCHP, MS Society, Royal Marsden, New Mills Food Bank, Bliss, Bookstart, Family Holiday Association

What have you seen?

What did you read or see in October? Do share your highlights.

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Did you miss June’s round-up? Catch up with more good reads!

 

 

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How to illustrate difficult causes and subjects

Images are an important part of web (and social media) content. But for many organisations using images is problematic. There are thousands of charities who cover sensitive or difficult to illustrate causes. Many therefore don’t use images at all which makes their message hard to engage with. This post focussing on websites looks at some ways around the problem.

The purpose of images

A web page without images can feel overwhelming. Images help skim reading as they break up the text and work as shorthand to help the user make sense of what the page is about. Therefore images play an important part in boosting the usability of a page.

They also help to soften difficult subjects. Websites with no photos can feel cold and impersonal with no human connection. Using a photo in a case study or an information page about an issue or condition can help to bring the subject to life. On a donation page it makes us feel empathy. We relate to text more if we can picture the person or issue being described.

For example, here is Albert’s story from St Joseph’s Hospice, shown here with the image taken out. It has good headings and an engaging first paragraph.

Case study with no image

Here is the same story again but as it appears with an image. The image instantly connects you with Albert and the care he received at the hospice. It draws you in to the story as you can relate to him straightaway. It also brightens up the page and humanises a potentially upsetting story. It helps that it is a beautiful picture clearly showing care in the setting of the hospice.

Case study but with image

“We can’t use images”

But what if Albert’s story was so sensitive that he couldn’t be shown? Or the page was one about a medical condition or dealing with bereavement – much harder to represent? It can be tempting to just not bother because it is too difficult. A culture of “we can’t use images” can develop and become the norm without anyone challenging the fears or trying out some creative solutions. It is understandable that worries about alienating readers or lack of time, budget or skill create barriers to solving the problem.

I looked at hundreds of small charity websites while researching this post. The vast majority didn’t contain any images at all. In a competitive market, having a dense text-only website where users can click on to something more friendy within seconds, means you can’t afford to ignore images. Images perform an important function and there are creative ways around the problem.

What makes a good image?

Images can appear at lots of different sizes depending on how they are formatted and what type of device is being used to look at them. Images that work well online are therefore clear and uncluttered. They are unambiguous. They instantly tell a story and are emotional where they need to be.

It can be tempting to use a literal image; something which shows the obvious and is easy for everyone to understand. But being too literal can help to reinforce stereotypes. Time to Change’s Get the Picture campaign provided alternatives to the standard ‘headclutcher’ which they argued stigmatised mental health. To date they say that their bank of alternative images have been downloaded 17,000 times. And this blog post by Patrick Murray from NPC called Do charities need a ‘Gran test’ for fundraising argues that stereotypical images of beneficiaries used in fundraising material are doing much to reinforce negative views in order to raise funds. He cites a few examples of organisations who are consciously not using obvious images.

But even if you aren’t working to change attitudes, showing the same type of literal image over and over again can lose impact. If you are medical condition charity how many pictures of people wincing in pain can you show?

Images don’t have to be literal – the actual person going through the actual thing being discussed. They can instead create a tone by showing the context of a situation. Or they can help to reinforce your brand by showing images of the work you do and the people you help. How you do this depends on the style of image you use. Finding your own “tone of voice” for images should be part of your branding (for example Parkinson’s UK include their image style in their brand description) and your content strategy.

Remember that what works offline might be different from what works on your website or Facebook. And what works on your donation pages might be different from the images you use in your services section.

Images of people

Stories which describe the work you do can be very powerful. For many organisations there will be sensitivities around privacy. There are lots of different ways to illustrate a story if you can’t directly show the person involved.

This case study from drug and alcohol charity, Addaction tells the story of Alison, a young mother. The image preserves her anonymity as it only shows the side of her face. It could of course be a model rather than Alison but it helps us to connect with her story. It feels like an appropriate image to use.

Addaction: Case study image of woman looking towards a window. We can see her hair and cheek

Images don’t always need to show a face to give impact. Showing a personal object or situation can be just as effective. This survivor’s story from Women’s Aid uses a close-up of women’s hands holding mugs. It suggests warmth and support.

Woman's Aid: close up two women's hands around tea cups

Images of children have to be handled sensitively. If you are a children’s charity you can’t avoid the issue. Options include using images which protect anonymity, making use of very clear model release forms or good stock photography.

This page from Adoption UK about aggression in adoptive families uses a very strong image. It is quite brave but having an image of an aggressive child might help to normalise or reassure families going through the same thing. The page wouldn’t feel as supportive without it.

Adoption UK: page about aggression showing a young angry boy shouting direct to camera

Other images

Images don’t have to be photos of people. This Prisoners Abroad case study includes an image of a quote. It helps with skim reading and to highlight the important message.

Prisoners Abroad: use an image of a quote to break up the page

Images of things can also bring your work to life. These stories from Make Lunch use a thank you letter and an image of the food cooked.

Make Lunch: close-up of a thank you letter and an image of pizza

Illustrating difficult subjects

Illustrating shocking stories can be really hard – how much should or could you show? It’s always a judgement call based on the topic and the culture of your organisation. But storytelling is much more effective with images and shocking ones are sometimes needed to show the gravity of a situation. For example, the shocking image of 3-year old Aylan Kurdi in September changed many views on the refugee crisis. Read more about why images trigger empathy.

Images illustrating shocking stories don’t always have to be graphic or shocking themselves. Showing the situation can be really effective. This blog post from British Red Cross on the refugee crisis uses lots of images taken in the camps in France. This picture of a muddy toy is really powerful.

British Red Cross: blog on the refugee crisis showing a muddy teddy in a refugee camp

Simple graphics like this page from NE Child Poverty Commission can work well especially if used sparingly. (See previous blog post on illustrating data.)

NE Child Poverty: graphic showing one in five childrenin the UK live in poverty

Photos from an image library can be a life-saver when illustrating common-place but sensitive subjects. This example from a page on sex by Diabetes UK is a good example.

Diabetes UK: sex and relationships page using a stock image of a couple in bed

Using graphics, illustrations or stylised images can also be used instead of photographs. They can be a good way to illustrate a complex idea or situation. See this blog post from Mind which uses an illustration. Kelly’s story from Crisis is an example of using an illustration to tell the whole story rather than just illustrate it.

Mind blog: illustrated with a cartoon about taking compliments

Filling blank spaces

When your website has a space for a photo on every page, it can be a real challenge to fill those spaces especially on “subject” pages. In these cases it can be tempting to be literal. But images which show detail or pattern or a general mood can work well here.

For example, this navigation page about seizures and the brain page from Epilepsy Society uses a close up of brain scans. The picture doesn’t actually teach us anything but helps to lift the page which would otherwise be very functional.

Epilepsy Society: image of brain scans

Practical tips

  • Sourcing images – can you find an expert volunteer or talented member of staff to take photos of your work? If not, it is worth investing some budget into producing a portfolio of quality images you can use across your work.  Plan your shoot so you maximise the time and resources you have.
  • Model release / photo consent forms – if using images of ‘real people’ you should always get signed permission from them which specifies how and where you will use the image. Take a look at Macmillan’s photo consent form and this one from Parkinson’s UK (Word). Diabetes UK have an open form for people to share theit story.
  • Stock photos – images of ‘real people’ always feel more authentic than stock photography but for some organisations or situations stock images are a good solution. There are lots of free sources available (see below) but remember that the images you choose may be being used by other organisations to illustrate other topics.
  • Alt text – when including images you should always include alt text. Alt text is important for people who can’t see the image due to accessibility or technical reasons. See the 5 golden rules for compliant alt text (AbilityNet).
  • Manage your images – plan where you use which images. Using the same image over and over again means it will lose impact. Build a database or manage your images online (see below).

Useful links

Don’t miss the Social Media Exchange on 8 February, this practical event is a change to develop your skills. There are a few sessions on photography and images.

In summary

If you need alternatives to literal images or find it difficult to find people to represent your cause there are lots of creative ways to use images. Why not experiment with some of the following and see what works for your brand and cause:

  • close-ups of people
  • images of things or text
  • images which show the siutation
  • stock photography
  • graphics or illustrations.

Your tips and examples

Have you seen any good examples of images? Have you done creative things with images to illustrate a sensitive subject? Got tips or thoughts to share? Please join the conversation in the comments box. I’d love to hear from you.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their content. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or  input into your content strategy, please get in touch.

5 digital comms tips for hospices

Hospices are amazing places but often their digital content is missing something. Websites, email and social media tend to be dominated by their excellent community fundraising rather than telling the story of what they do and making an ask. I have been working on a few projects with hospices recently. Here are some great examples and my top tips for hospice comms.

1. Set the tone

A strong and clear strapline or prominent sentence can help set the scene on your homepage or more widely across your site and social media. In a few words you can warmly bring people in, explain what you do and set the tone for your hospice. (Like this example from Severn Hospice – the statement “Behind every family we help is a huge caring team and hundreds of kind supporters who make it all possible” appears prominently on every page of their website.)

Severn Hospice - "Behind every family we help is a huge caring team and hundreds of kind supporters who make it all possible"

Statements like this can be difficult to write as each word and the tone of voice counts. Look at what other hospices do to get some inspiration (such as the example from Peace Hospice Care below). Then brainstorm key words and phrases that you want to use. Test out your draft statements with colleagues and the people you support to get some feedback. Once finalised, you can use this statement in lots of different ways across your different channels.

Peace Hospice statement: Peace Hospice Care offers excellent all-round care for people across South West Hertfordshire with a life limiting illness

2. Show what you do

Hospices mainly use social media to drum up supporters for events and fundraising activities. Don’t miss the chance to use it to show the detail of what you do. Short statements, graphics and photos showing your work can be very effective as these two tweets from Haven House Children’s Hospice show.

2 tweets from Haven House Children's Hospice showing their work

And use social media to dispel general myths about hospices (as shown in this tweet from Sue Ryder).

Sue Ryder tweet

Do you have a ‘why support us’ page in your fundraising section? Supporters may need more persuading than a ‘please donate’ ask and information in your ‘about us’ section might be tailored for friends, family and carers rather than new supporters. A ‘why support us’ page can give you a space to explain what you do and how much it costs. Here is a good  example from St Joseph’s Hospice.

3. Tell a story

How do you tell the story of the people you support and the wider story of your organisation? Case studies are widely used but often feel quite formulaic. Getting people to read a carefully crafted but devastating story in 800 words can be hard. About us pages covering your history and founder can also be very dry.

Reframe your case studies as stories written by the subject (like Norma’s story from Severn Hospice or Margaret’s story from Hospice in the Weald). These sound more authentic and engaging. You could still write the story yourself based on what they have told you but write it in their voice and with their signoff.

Many charities invite their users to write about their experience. For example, the mental health charity Mind have blog posts written by users. Their ‘in our own words’ section includes users’ #mentalhealthselfies and #drawmylife videos. They have produced comprehensive guidelines to help people write for them.

Many of the people you support will be too ill to share their story and it won’t be appropriate to ask. Are there other ways you can tell a story? Could your volunteers, nurses or care staff contribute? Could you tell a story from the perspective of a mascot or piece of equipment (such as a teddy bear, bench in the garden or the tea machine)? Being creative can engage readers and lighten the tone (as these tweets from Arthur Rank Hospice show).

Arthur Rank Hospice tweets showing Arthur Bear in action

Your stories should end with an ask (eg ‘please help us to help people like Steve’) or at least a link to ‘find out more about our services’. This is so often overlooked. People reading an emotional story may want to do something to help. Make it easy for them or nudge them to do so. If it doesn’t feel right, test it out for a month or so. If it doesn’t work, take it off or change the wording.

See more about: Storytelling.

4. Use photos

Photos are key to a good story. They invite the reader in and give an indication of what the story will be about. Poor quality or unclear photos can put off a reader. Stock photos of healthcare can stick out like a sore thumb. Photos of your own setting, staff and patients are much more authentic and help bring your organisation to life. What is your housestyle for photos?

Photos can be shocking, moving or funny in the right context. They don’t have to be professionally taken but should tell a story. These lovely images from an Acorn’s Hospice story in a local paper are family-taken pictures.

Acorn's Hospice tweet - Alexis's story

Comment boards can be a very effective way of telling a story or getting a message across. They can be quick and easy to do. Try a simple statement such as these examples from Acorn’s Hospice (I give Acorns…. / Acorns gives me).

Acorn's gives me / I give Acorn's comment boards

Or more emotional like St Joseph’s “I want to be remembered for….” pictures. (NB St Joseph’s have lots of beautiful photos on their website.)

St Joseph's photo of a man holding a sign saying "I wan to be remembered for..."

5. Use video

Video is perhaps the most impactful tool you can use. A 2minute film showing what you do can be more effective than pages and pages of written content. Think about the stories you can tell through film. What are the key messages you want to get across? Who is the audience for your film? What do you want to persuade them to do after watching? How can you use video alongside your other communications?

Video has the potential to show very moving stories. Some hospice stories have been very hard-hitting. It can be risky to produce a film which is very upsetting as you can risk alienating your audience and community. Planning and editing a video should involve lots of questions about the sensitivities of the subject and viewer.

There are lots of inspiring examples to look at to help you think about how you could use video. I love this film of volunteer Elaine talking about her experience of Hospice in the Weald.

Elaine's story of volunteering for 17 years

This video from Haven House Children’s Hospice is upsetting but very powerful. It has had over 950 views. And this film from Princess Alice Hospice is a simple slideshow of photos showing what they do.

There are lots of practical tips about video in this post by Jude Habib: Bring your story to life through video. Find out more about YouTube’s charity help including how to apply overlays and donate buttons.

Other tips

  • Do you include JustTextGiving details on your donation page? Willowbrook Hospice’s donation page starts with the SMS details, then list other methods including charity shop donations.
  • What does your housestyle say about how you talk about death and dying? What terminology is appropriate for your organisation and audience? Do you talk about it in a clear way or skirt around the topic? Do you use euphemisms? Is this the language used by your audience? Do you use a different style for different channels?
  • Are you using terminology which alienates your audience? Are you sure that everyone knows what terms like palliative care, multi-professional teams or even life-limiting conditions mean?
  • Storify can be a powerful way to document an event or your work around a particular theme. See: Content curation.
  • Keep up with what other hospices are doing. Watching out for new fundraising methods will give you new ideas. For example, St Joseph’s have a sponsor a nurse programme is very well put together and St Helena Hospice run a big-bucket-a-thon.

Share your tips

What tips or examples would you add? I’d love to hear about your experience. What works well for you? What did you try and then scrap? Please share using the comments box below.

Can I help?

I help charities and non-profits with their content. Whether you are looking for training for the team, copywriting or some input into your content strategy, please get in touch.

See also Legacy Fundraising – tips for persuasive and engaging web copy.