By Esther Preston, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Ashgate Hospicecare
As a fundraiser I have a big responsibility to increase our income to meet the growing need for hospice care in our local community. People are living longer with more complex symptoms. Competition for donations in a saturated charity marketplace is becoming fierce. These things, coupled with the latest Charity Aid Foundation report showing that giving in the UK has dropped from £10.1 billion in 2014 to £9.6 billion in 2015, mean that fundraising for hospice care is becoming more and more challenging.
Being a local organisation delivering very visible services and the fact that one in three people are touched by hospice care (https://www.hospiceuk.org/support-us/corporate-partnerships) does work in our favour. However, we don’t have the large marketing budgets of national charities and often, when asking the public what their perception of hospice care is, the answer is ‘a sad place where people go to die’. Whilst yes, a place for people to die is part of what we do, hospice care is so much more than that. There are many happy emotions amidst the sadness.
One challenge that Ashgate Hospicecare faces with its fundraising communications is explaining the breadth and depth of our services in a way that supporters can understand the difference they make. We’ve talked about the number of patients we care for and how many home visits we make. We’ve talked about what their donation could buy, for example £54 could pay for a patient to attend our day hospice. This all helps people to understand what their money was spent on, but crucially not connect emotionally to the difference they made.
However, the greater challenge with communications is ensuring prospective patients see a referral to Ashgate Hospicecare as something positive. There is nothing sadder than hearing about a person who could have benefited from our services but was put off accepting a referral as they were worried about what that would mean for them. Lack of communication around death and dying can have an adverse affect on the perception of hospice care. Dr Katherine Sleemans’ excellent TED talk about how sometimes health care professionals say their patient isn’t ready to be referred for palliative care, even though the evidence is this means feeling better and potentially living longer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VsYhw9z-1Q), is worth watching.
Not a sad place to go and die
This time last year, we knew we did great work, we knew we changed people’s lives, we knew we needed to connect donors to the difference they make, but we were falling short. We couldn’t change the perception of the hospice being ‘a sad place to go and die’.
To solve this problem we worked with fundraising specialists Rob Woods on his Major Gifts Mastery Program (http://brightspotfundraising.co.uk/) as well as Alan Clayton and Lucy Gower on a 3-day residential masterclass at The Inch Lodge in Scotland (http://revolutionise.com/). They all helped us understand the power of storytelling to connect with people emotionally, communicate our messages, and make them stick.
The power of real stories told from the heart
After working with Rob, Alan and Lucy, I started to look more closely at how we could use real stories to help patients, supporters and the wider community really understand what we do.
We had always tried to include a patient story in press releases and mailings to show how our services helped people. They always focused on the factual details of the care we delivered. For some patients, this was pain relief and for others it was more practical solutions, like equipment, to enable them to stay at home with some independence. What was missing was making an emotional connection for the reader or listener and helping them understand how the hospice made a difference to real people.
We wanted to help local people who had no experience of hospice care to understand:
- What impact Ashgate Hospicecare makes to individuals and whole families
- That a hospice is a warm and friendly place and not a ‘sad place to die’
- How we also help people to stay in their own homes
- That a hospice is not a place to be feared – by sharing experiences of other people who have overcome their fears
- And from a fundraising point of view, we wanted people to understand that every donation helped us care for the next person who needs hospice care, creating a link between how much we raise and how many people we can care for.
We asked people who had experienced hospice care first hand to talk on camera about the difference Ashgate Hospicecare had made to them and their loved ones. We didn’t want a script. We simply encouraged people to tell their story in their own words. As people told their story, they opened up about what the problems were before the hospice was involved. For example, Matt talked about how low his Dad got when he couldn’t get out of his chair without assistance. When Ashgate Hospicecare brought him a motorised chair, he could get in and out without assistance and Matt saw him quickly return to his old bubbly self. In many cases, the things that meant the most were the simple things that reflected normality, such as Rob, who shared his experiences of being able to move a bed into the garden and sit in the sun with his mum.
We heard so many stories, for example, when Alison shared with hospice staff that she wanted to spend a night with her husband, which she had been unable to do for months because of his pain, the staff worked out how they could make this happen and Alison and Mark were able to sleep next to each other. Alison said “that night, we shared a bed for the first time in months and that was a lovely memory and a lovely feeling”.
The powerful lesson for me was the ‘can do’ attitude of the staff who didn’t give up at the first hurdle. They kept going until they found a solution, because if it mattered to Alison and Mark, it mattered to them.
The stories were a really emotional experience for everyone involved.
‘Every Person Matters’
The videos are very raw and real. You can see them here. http://www.ashgatehospicecare.org.uk/patient-stories/
How we are making sure our whole community hears these powerful stories
Having the stories is the start; now we are working hard to get them to everyone that needs to hear them. We’ve integrated the videos into our website www.ashgatehospicecare.org.uk and other communications.
We’ve used photos of the storytellers in each video to form a series of adverts, collection box wraps and leaflets. As well as engaging and inspiring our existing supporters, we wanted to reach out to new supporters. We’ve started an outdoor advertising campaign that we hope everyone in the community will see which includes adverts on petrol pumps, buses and telephone boxes.
Already we are starting to get anecdotal feedback about the difference that this storytelling approach is making. Tracie works in one of our charity shops. She has been recognised as one of the storytellers in the adverts. Yesterday, she told me one of her friends had seen the advert on a petrol pump and then watched her video on our website, which inspired her to set up a Direct Debit to donate to Ashgate Hospicecare regularly. She said this wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t watched Tracie’s video. She was really pleased to have the opportunity to make a difference.
What next for Every Person Matters
We know that helping our teams understand this new approach, which is more emotional and different to what we have done in the past, is important. Word of mouth is a powerful method of communication, so I have started a series of focus groups with staff and volunteers to connect everyone to the problem that we, as a charity, are here to solve. I show the story videos and encourage people to use these real examples as inspiration to explain in their own words what Ashgate Hospicecare does. It is important to help them understand the reasons for this new approach; that real stories connect people emotionally, communicate messages, and make them stick. To understand the power of stories, they must experience the powerful connection themselves by telling their own powerful stories.
Later this year, we will be holding story-telling training sessions for staff, volunteers and supporters who want to become communication ambassadors and help spread our new messages. Our aim is to develop a strong network of local advocates for the hospice to reach all local people face to face.
We will also run a series of focus groups with members of the public to discuss what their perception of hospice care is and how easy they feel it is to access. The information from these focus groups will then be used to form a questionnaire to gain quantitative data to support the need for service developments and therefore growth in fundraising income in order to fund the new developments.
What I’ve learned
One of the things that has really stood out for me is the need to reconnect staff and volunteers to why they do what they do. Establishing a common purpose is a big part of bringing everyone together. There is also great value and connection in hearing each other talk about what the hospice means to them.
The other learning point for me as someone who is impatient for change has been having the patience to repeat the same messages because it takes time to shift mindsets and bring people with you. I’ve also learned that sometimes I am not the best person to make the case because I am too close to the cause, which is one of the reasons why working with external experts like Rob, Alan and Lucy has such an impact on organisations.
Most importantly, I have learned to be uncompromising about the things that matter. It is our responsibility to be there for every person who needs us. Every person matters. Every patient I talk to inspires me to keep going to make sure that Ashgate Hospicecare is no longer perceived as ‘a sad place where people go to die’ but a way of caring that is as unique and as inspirational as the patients we care for.
Thank you to ehospice who first published this blog post on 16th June 2016. Click here to view.