Ten top tips for story-gathering

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Charity communications are all about storytelling. It’s the most compelling way to attract support for the people your organisation is working with. So, the WAY you tell them is critical. It determines how well you’ll engage audiences, foster relationships with your brand, and, ultimately, raise money for your cause.

Supporters are smart. They know when they’re being manipulated or emotionally blackmailed – and some, knowing this, will still give. But the best stories for creating deep, lasting, empathic relationships with supporters are AUTHENTIC.

And authenticity begins at the very beginning of the storytelling journey, with story-gathering ­– the process by which, usually through interviews and conversations, you find out about the lives of the people you want to support.

We’ve put together ten top tips for authentic, effective story-gathering. We hope you find them useful 🙂

1. Be curious

Find out about people’s whole lives, not just their present vulnerability. Ask open-ended questions. What do you have in common? What’s different?

2. Stay honest

Constantly ask yourself – is this story a faithful reflection of that person’s feelings and experience? Never edit in a way that alters meaning.

3. It’s not me, it’s you

Forget what you want to hear, and listen instead. Be prepared to learn something about a person’s feelings, agency and ingenuity.

4. It’s not my organisation, it’s you

Resist the temptation to impose your organisation’s values, language and ‘solution’ on someone’s experience (they might have a fresh perspective and ‘solution’ of their own).

5. Show respect

Don’t use language (or images) that portrays people as objects of pity. Instead, consider participants as equals with the right to be represented as they choose.

6. Be culturally, socially and emotionally aware

Depending on the context, find out about local customs, health conditions, family circumstances, work etc., and check that your questions will not cause offence.

7. Be fair and inclusive

Take time to understand local power dynamics and make sure you’re not privileging certain voices and silencing others.

8. Don’t put people out

Disrupt people’s everyday lives as little as possible. Pay for any transport and refreshments.

9. Consent is everything…

…including participants’ full understanding of how their story will be used, their permission, their right to withdraw at any time, and their approval of the final product.

10. Think ethically across the process

Apply these principles across all stages and interactions – interviewing, translating, editing, sharing between country and head offices, partners, agencies etc., and final materials.

For more information on story-gathering, do check out these brilliant resources:




Need help telling your stories? Get in touch at hello@narrativedesign.co.uk – we’d love to hear from you.