One of the basic fundamentals of good fundraising is the ability to share a story that’s full of human interest. It is often the personal stories of people that motivates a donor to give. This is particularly true if the story is told by a real person, the person it is about and not second hand via a fundraiser or copywriter.
OK, now take the art of storytelling and couple it with the technology of the digital age. What do you get? A whole new way to reach out and share these stories with a wider audience, locally and globally.
This is the basis of some exciting projects currently taking place in the UK, thanks to an organisation called “Tales of things and electronic memory” (TOTeM). TOTeM is a collaboration between University College London, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh, University of Salford and is funded by the UK Research Council’s Digital Economy Program.
The basis of TOTeM’s work is to create “spimes”, objects that can be tracked through space and time throughout their lifetime. For example, I have a casement clock that belonged to my maternal grandparents. It’s a very ordinary clock with a nice chime, probably not worth very much, but to me and my family it is a part of our history. During the second world war it hung under the stairs in my grandparents home, until the night of the air raid. A bomb fell in the street outside their house. My mother, aunt and grandparents were, thankfully, unhurt, having taken refuge in their sunken air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. My mother, now 80 years old, remembers as a child scrambling over the debris of what had been their house and as she did, the clock, which was hanging on the one remaining wall, struck 6am!
Over the years the clock has hung in various homes until it succumbed to a weapon far more lethal than a Nazi bomb - teenagers! A game of “let’s be silly and throw a tennis ball indoors” led to one of the glass panels breaking and the pendulum being damaged. (It is now awaiting a clock repairer to fix it) If you saw the clock hanging there, it would just be a nice casement clock, a bit old fashioned, but pleasant to adorn a wall in many a home. Imagine being able to know the story behind it, the history of the clock, what it survived, who owned it, etc.
One of TOTeM’s first projects was to record and tell the stories of items in a Scottish museum. Not only to tell their stories, but to develop them too, but inviting the public to share their own experiences of these objects, by adding to it. People can share how they used similar items in their home, work, etc, or interesting stories about the item, etc.
“So what’s this got to do with fundraising?”You may be asking? Well, TOTeM has started to work in partnership with Oxfam. In a pilot scheme currently running in Manchester, Oxfam are asking donors of goods to about 15 shops to download a free iPhone app, “ShelfLife”, to record the stories behind items that people are going to donate. The items are then displayed in their shops with a unique QR Code attached to the label of each item. Shoppers can then use their smart phone to scan the QR code and see what the story is behind the article.
So far, they are reporting large rises in the sale of the ShelfLife labeled items, compared to those that are not labeled. It would appear that the art of fundraising by sharing human interest stories applies just as much to inanimate objects as it does to people! Also, the ShelfLife items are realising higher resale prices than non-labeled goods. So a provenance can be good for business, even in the charity shop world!
OK, Oxfam is huge, has lots of highly skilled staff and budgets to experiment with. But what about the local hospices and other small charities? Can they get onboard with this?
My resounding response is “Yes!” there may be a small outlay, but I’m talking £100-£150 and a bit of time and training. What would you need to get started?
- A cheap digital camera (or a smart phone)
- An inkjet printer A free blog or website (e.g. Tumblr, Wordpress, etc)
- A free QR Code creator app
- A staff member, or better still a few volunteers, to run the process
A donor comes in with an interesting item and is asked if they would like to share a bit about it. The item is photographed and the story recorded (it doesn’t have to be typed, it could be an audio recording using the Audioboo app, or even videoed using a phone or the camera). These are then uploaded to the blog or website. A QR Code is then made of the blog page and then printed off onto a sticker or tie on label and affixed to the item in the shop. Voila!
Virtually no techie knowledge is needed, more just the confidence to use the Internet and a computer, as well as a digital camera and/or smart phone. Maybe a national umbrella body like Help the Hospices could get someone to develop an app like ShelfLife that hospices throughout the land could use, or a commercial developer create one for independent charity shops?
If you wish to discuss how I could help you set up a scheme like this, or maybe you’re a museum, historic property or cathedral and want to see how you could develop something to share more about your exhibits and artefacts, please get in touch with me.