Health and disease organizations are committed to providing care, treatment and innovations for some of the world's most serious diseases. Their donors often have strong emotional ties to the cause, whether that’s due to their own personal experience or that of a family member or close friend who has battled the disease.
The research these organizations do is a critical component to their work—and why many donors support them. The groundbreaking work done in their labs leads to breakthrough treatment options and even lifesaving results.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fundraising appeals, stories of research initiatives and findings can often feel sterile and analytical. The emotional tie donors have to the cause calls for a more personal approach.
How can we balance the two?
Humanizing research through storytelling
We know the health and disease audience is still heavily tied to the research the organization is doing, so including that in your fundraising stories is essential.
But we can humanize the research by taking the stories told a step further. In many cases, telling stories about research leaves the patients’ outcomes up to the donor’s imagination. Rather than letting donors use their imagination—show them.
These are sensitive stories, often life-changing, so it’s important to handle them with caution and care. Here are a few ways you can work to humanize research through your storytelling:
- Tell stories of the researchers behind the innovations in the lab.
- Go beyond the lab and allow patients to tell their stories through their own eyes.
- Tie patient stories to examples of the research for the disease the patient is fighting.
- Get out of the way—let the stories of humans stand front and center and allow your organization to be a secondary vehicle.
Remember, this is an expansion of the way you’re already telling your story, not a strategy shift. If many of the donors you’ve acquired through the years are from research-driven appeals, they’ll still want to hear those updates.
Now, let’s look at how we’ve implemented this approach for one of our clients: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.
How Fred Hutch is expanding the story
When we began our partnership with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, our first goal was to dig into their creative and data to understand what was driving their donors to give. Our findings told us that their donors were heavily motivated by research.
Our creative team, led by Associate Creative Director Don Rossi, worked to find ways to humanize their stories. Initially, Fred Hutch was primarily a research organization and didn’t have an avenue to tell patient stories.
So, the Fred Hutch team worked to gather stories about the researchers and the work they were doing behind the scenes to provide the emotional connection to the cause that donors were looking for.
As a part of the Fred Hutch “Fearless Science” campaign, RKD helped implement the messaging into their fundraising efforts and put a face to the breakthrough work that was being done.
Then, a newly launched partnership with the University of Washington allowed Fred Hutch to tell a more comprehensive story. This “bench-to-bed” approach followed the stories of breakthroughs to the patients’ experience and included one of the most powerful forms of storytelling—testimonials.
An important thread throughout all of Fred Hutch’s fundraising materials is the consistent tie to research, which is what originally brought their donors to the cause. But by adding a human element to the stories they’re telling, Fred Hutch can connect with the emotional ties the donors feel to their cause.
Fred Hutch first began injecting storytelling into the appeal above in 2022, and saw a 38% lift in response, 11.7% increase in average gift and an 81.8% lift in net income.
If your health and disease organization is looking for ways to strengthen the bond with your donors, look for ways to humanize your work by telling the amazing stories of the people doing that work—and the stories of those it impacts. A small shift in language and imagery can lead to a big shift in results.