Christmas appeals, statistics and stories

By Matilda Macduff 13 December 2011

Christmas is fast approaching, and the UK’s media giants are rolling out their charity appeals. The latest one to catch my eye is ITV’s ‘Text Santa’, inviting viewers to text in and pledge an amount to support one of nine chosen charities, including Samaritans, Help the Hospices, and WRVS, amongst others. Charitable giving at Christmas is as much of a tradition as stuffing and Brussels sprouts: from Scrooge’s gifts to the Cratchits in A Christmas Carol to Crisis at Christmas. Reminding people caught up in a glut of Christmas shopping to spare a thought, and some cash, for those less fortunate at Christmas is an old idea, but campaigns by the likes of ITV, Radio 4, and the Times do it very well.

One thing which has struck me in the various appeals is what charities can learn from these media organisations in their day-to-day communications. There’s a mantra we have here at NPC which it seems is shared by many of the journalists writing pieces about the charities their appeals support. Numbers are important, but alone are not enough—you need personal anecdotes to give them colour and meaning. Similarly, individual stories, however heart-rending, lack context without a solid grounding in figures. Put simply, our philosophy is ‘no stats without stories, no stories without stats’.

For charities, this could be a helpful phrase to bear in mind while communicating how their work changes people’s lives. You need the numbers to tell people about the context of your work, and the scale of the impact you are having. But just as important are the stories of the people you help, and the changes you make to places you work in. Without these, the numbers lose their meaning, and vice versa. One without the other gives an incomplete picture of your work—but used together they can communicate your impact very effectively.

Many of the Christmas appeals I’ve seen this year successfully combine their stats and their stories. Some of these campaigns are run by big newspapers, used to producing hard-hitting journalism, exposing stories of hardship and managing to convey the troubles people face through a personal story backed up by numbers. Charities could gain much from using this approach for inspiration when talking about their impact.

This year, NPC once again worked with the Guardian and Observer on their Christmas appeal, which focuses on disadvantaged young people. You can read the stats and stories which prove their chosen charities make a difference on their website.