While working as a consultant with a large NGO, I wasn’t entirely happy with the kind of case studies that were churned out. They did not really tell a story. They had all the right facts, figures and outcomes but lacked heart. Since I was aware of the hard work of the field staff and the huge impact their efforts had on the lives of the organisation’s service recipients, I found this puzzling.
I looked at the raw information that came to the marketing team from the field. The information was just a clinical report – basic mention of the service recipient’s personal information, health and economic background, condition, challenges, interventions, progress and outcome. There wasn’t anything to give you an insight into the psychological and emotional experience of the person receiving care, the caregivers, family or community.
How does this happen?
Both the marketing team (if there is one) and field staff in most NGOs are significantly understaffed. Further, with resources moved between internal teams based on need, oftentimes the role a staff member is expected to execute is beyond their skill or aspiration. Everyone works but when skills, interest and capabilities collide, motivation and self-learning take a huge hit.
Another factor is the lack of adequate training. While NGOs invest great effort and time into the training and capacity building of their service recipients, many do not budget for or prioritise on iterative skill development of their staff. Not enough is done to help the staff improve their skills and grow in their roles.
NGOs are also prone to “sluggish processes” and “resistance to change”, a state true of many private/public organisations as well. Processes don’t change quickly enough. To me, that is a huge folly. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Coming back to the case study predicament … as I continued to see (and often create myself) more morgue-like case studies, I decided to change the process.
I would come up with a template for the field staff. The template would guide the field staff on the questions to ask of the service recipients. That way, the marketer would have the right information to develop a story. For every person has a unique story – her pain, anguish, joy, victory, thought and aspiration are uniquely her own.
I developed the template over a course of some days, based on my observations and some research.
Rolling out a new process
Since the template was longer than what the field staff were accustomed to fill, I requested that it be filled for only one service recipient every month. The way I saw it, if we had twelve good stories at the end of a year, it was progress. And good enough to support our marketing efforts. Once the results from these improved stories started showing, we could use that to add impetus to the project.
Once we implemented the case study template, it took a while for people to use it. This is where constant encouragement from supervisors and managers can be quite effective, assuming they are sold on the value of this change first.
One staff member took the time to fill out the template as best as she could by spending good time with the service recipient and her family. The information we received was without doubt much more comprehensive, detailed and telling.
With the information at hand, we could create a much more powerful story that resonated with donors and supporters of the cause. The possibilities were extended – short case study (social media), long case study (blog, proposal or report), impact lines (video or image content), first-person quotes (video or image content), and more could now be created from a single document. That’s a big win.
Should your NGO also try this?
The template is successful in saving time and effort for the field staff as they don’t need to think from scratch. The marketing team wins because the pressure to create compelling stories with inadequate information is reduced. Never gone through! Expectations from NGOs, internally and externally, I have found, are always high.
I have the greatest respect for the staff at NGOs – the sacrifices they make and the extra miles they’re so willing to walk for the sake of service. So, I’m sharing the case study template here.
I hope it helps NGOs tell better stories of the wonderful work they do, day in and out.