March 29, 2022

Power Your Charity Fundraising with Research Impact Stories

For medical charities looking to grow their donations, creating research impact stories is a powerful — and often overlooked — approach.

In fact, studies show that informing donors about the specific impact of their donations increases donors’ generosity.

Moreover, donors want impact information to guide their donation decisions. According to research conducted by RootCause, 75% of donors want to know the impact of a charity’s activities.

Despite donors’ appetite for more impact information and the fundraising benefits of providing it, few charities are doing so. The charity assessment organization Charity Navigator found that only 2.5% of the charities they rate had results-related terms (impacts, outcomes, results, etc.) on their website. 

To help more charities take advantage of the fundraising power of impact information, this post offers best practices and examples of effective impact stories.

Human-Centered Impact Stories are More Effective than Abstract Data

Some types of impact information are more valuable than others. In particular, anecdotes about impact have more fundraising power than impact data.

This finding may surprise you. After all, most people are taught to value objective data over anecdotal information and personal stories. But when people actually make donation decisions, they are driven more by emotion than cold, analytical reasoning.

In fact, emotion drives our decision-making in many areas other than philanthropy. As story expert Lisa Cron observed, “Emotion is the most critical element of every decision we make, and if we couldn’t feel emotion, we couldn’t make a single rational decision. That is not a metaphor or a theory; it’s a biological fact.”

To make people feel something about your charity, stories are more effective than data because stories are designed to move people emotionally, whereas data are simply facts.

The Elements of a Good Research Impact Story

Of course, crafting a story that actually makes the reader feel something requires certain critical elements.

In particular, effective research impact stories contain these three key components: 

  1. A challenge that involves real stakes, 
  2. A specific person or group that takes action to address the challenge, and 
  3. A resolution that reveals at least some progress toward solving the problem.

If your charity executes these elements well, your research impact story will evoke the feeling of hope or uplift. 

That is, a good impact story makes the reader feel that things are getting better, that people are being helped, or that important progress is being made.

That good feeling in turn moves the reader to want to donate more because they can see that their money is making a specific, observable difference. They feel hopeful and powerful.

What An Effective Research Impact Story is Not

Compare the above story elements to this hypothetical research impact information:

With your funding, we supported 58 different researchers at 45 separate institutions who produced over 249 significant research articles.

This is not a story. It’s data. 

Yes, we learn some of the outcomes of the funding from this statement, but we don’t feel anything. 

The only reaction this information provokes is to make us wonder about the significance of these developments. What came of the papers? Anything concrete? Anything that changed someone’s life?

We’re not moved to action or to donate more. We’re left wanting more.

Examples of Effective Research Impact Stories

So what does a good research impact story look like?

Several Researchfish clients recently produced impact reports that contain great examples of strong impact stories.

For example, consider these story excerpts from the impact report of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and notice the key story elements in it:

First, we learn the challenge: “In Uganda, there is only one qualified mental health professional for every 100,000 people, so mental health support is scarce.” 

Then we learn of a specific people taking action to address this challenge: “The charity MQ Mental Health Research gave Dr. Nakimuli-Mpungu a Fellows Award to conduct a study in which lay healthcare workers were trained to deliver group therapy sessions for people living with HIV in rural northern Uganda.”

We also learn the progress this action achieved: “People who took part in the study had reduced symptoms of depression and PTSD” as well as “better adherence to HIV medication, which improved their physical health,” and they took part in training sessions on making income “that improved their financial status.”

Furthermore, we learn that Dr. Nakimuli-Mpungu’s model for increasing mental health care access has been scaled up in Uganda and other African countries.

Not only that, but without the funding from MQ Mental Health Research, Dr. Nakimuli-Mpungu was prepared to leave her field. Thus, without the charity’s funding, the field would have lost a talented researcher whose study has improved many lives across Africa. 

This story, with its specific details, vividly helps us understand the impact of the charity’s Fellows Awards. More critically, the story makes us feel good. The research funding is being well spent and having a tangible impact on people’s lives: both patients and researchers.

It’s not hard to imagine how a donor who reads this story would feel moved to contribute more funding.

Stories about the impact of funding basic research can also move readers

You may wonder if research impact stories only work when there is a clinical impact to share.

In fact, though, a well-crafted story about basic research can also make the reader feel hope.

Consider these excerpts from the impact report of the hearing loss charity RNID:

Here’s the challenge we learn: “For the hearing research field to be successful in developing effective treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus, there needs to be a sufficient number of trained and engaged researchers” in the field.

To address this challenge, RNID took the specific action of funding Dr. Morag Lewis with the Pauline Ashley grant, which supports the career development and progression to independence of the UK’s most talented hearing scientists.

As a result of this action, Dr. Lewis conducted important research on sensory cells in the inner ear. That research in turn led to another grant from RNID, which is supporting a study of how the gene Mir96 controls the activity of other genes during inner ear development.

The story then previews what these actions will achieve: the study “will help to identify target genes for drugs in order to treat hearing loss. The grant will also help Morag develop her own independent research career in the hearing field and increase the number of dedicated hearing scientists in the UK.”

Thus, again, we see a story that presents a challenge, shows people addressing it, and tells us what will change from their actions. And we’re again left with that satisfying feeling of progress being made, knowing that specific people are working on difficult challenges and pursuing promising ideas.

Other powerful stories about basic research discoveries can be found in the impact report created by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Collecting research impact information is a necessary first step to discover research impact stories that move donors emotionally

For medical charities to produce research impact stories that move donors, they must first regularly collect research impact information, including qualitative impact information.

The more impact information your charity collects, the more likely your charity is to discover impacts that would make for compelling stories.  

How to Collect Research Impact Information

For those charities that wish to collect impact information, the good news is that researchers generally welcome the opportunity to share information about their research with a broad audience.

The bad news is that having them do so only through an end-of-project grant report won’t capture the full impact of the project because there are often time lags of several years between the conclusion of a project and its impacts. 

For this reason, the Researchfish platform, which helps charities collect impact data, can look at impacts several years after the immediate conclusion of a projection. It also uses technology and algorithms to collect outcomes and outputs of research from the web, external data sources, and the researchers themselves to generate a more comprehensive portrait of impact.

Regardless of the method your charity uses to collect impact information to mine for stories, crafting effective impact stories has the potential to super-charge your fundraising efforts and usher in a virtuous cycle of greater funding and greater impacts.

What organisation doesn’t want that?