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Demonstrating your impact with digital storytelling

4 July 2011

Lasa’s Miles Maier on how your organisation can get started with digital storytelling and show the world in under five minutes why what you do matters

Digital storytelling combines narrative with digital content, including images, sound, and video, to create a short movie or set of slides, typically with a strong emotional element. It is a powerful and low cost way for charities to get their message across.

With many charities working hard to stay afloat, you might well feel you do not have time to spare for digital stories. Equally, you might wonder if your senior managers would support you spending time on what might be seen as non-core activity.

Why is digital storytelling important

However, digital storytelling provides charities with a powerful way of demonstrating impact without the need for big budgets. Increasingly, charities are having to justify what they do, particularly the budget for comms work. For example, Paul Berstow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, recently questioned why the body that investigates MPs’ expenses is spending a ‘large amount of money’ on communications officers.

Now, more than ever, comms professionals need to ‘show, not tell’, what their charities do to give their organisation the best chance of thriving in such challenging circumstances. The most direct way to deliver that is to hear about it from the people we support. If you are not convinced you have the resources to do it, be reassured by the examples of small charities like the Child’s i Foundation and the Family Holiday Association. They have made great use of digital storytelling to raise awareness and funds.

How to tell your digital story: key points

Be clear about your message, who it is aimed at and what you want them to do – ie donate, sign a petition, spread the word, etc.

All good stories need a structured plot for the audience to follow. Your digital story should fit in three to five minutes, so use storyboards to figure out who and what you need to tell your story.

With a clear message and structured plot in place, write the script, making sure you leave plenty of space for the picture to tell its story.

Low quality recordings may sound ‘authentic’, but can also irritate, so invest in decent recording equipment, such as the Edirol R-09. It will also make editing easier.

Think of good opening and closing shots and take several shots of each ‘thought’ in your story. Try to avoid too much posing – get people looking natural, then follow their lead and shoot. Your subject shouldn’t be in every shot, so have a good mix of photo types eg wide angle, mid range and close up. Landscape images tend to work better than portrait.

If you haven’t taken the photos, check what permissions and credits are needed, along with copyright clearance. You may also need consent forms if working with children.

Some digital stories use background music to set the mood. Royalty free music is widely available from sources such as Getty Images Music.


Top five apps for digital story-telling and collaboration

1. Video: When you’ve put it all together, upload your movie or slides to YouTube and Vimeo, and point your supporters towards the link.

2. Slides: You can also turn your digital story into a more traditional presentation and share it via Slideshare‘s free online service.

3. Audio: Use Audacity to record and edit audio interviews. It’s free and will work on Windows, Mac and Linux.

4. Picture editing: There are plenty of free options ranging from web based picture editors like Aviary, Picnik, and Photoshop Express Editor to free software such as Gimp.

5. Video editing: Software such as iMovie, Photo Story or Movie Maker will do all that is required.

Where to go for help and support

Lasa Knowledgebase provides plenty of advice on harnessing the power of audio and top tips for blogging and podcasting. Check us out on Vimeo.

Miles Maier

London regional ICT champion, Lasa

Miles Maier is the London Regional ICT Champion – providing London’s voluntary and community sector with voice and representation to funders and policy-makers. Before joining Lasa, Miles helped to develop ICT projects in East London.