Emotional storytelling adds personal touch to Red Cross' fundraising efforts

Making the American Red Cross more relevant every day, not just during catastrophic disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, is one of our biggest challenges, and our new Storytellers campaign is designed to let others tell the Red Cross story for us.

Making the American Red Cross more relevant every day, not just during catastrophic disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, is one of our biggest challenges, and our new Storytellers campaign is designed to let others tell the Red Cross story for us.

Most people only think of the group after a major disaster, but donations of time, money, and blood are needed every day to fulfill our mission to prevent and alleviate suffering in emergencies.

Working with our agency partner, BBDO, we decided to give a voice to people who are helped every day by the Red Cross. We captured their deeply personal stories and used them to form a multimedia program designed to educate and engage, and ask for volunteers, contributions, and blood donations.

To get authentic stories, we turned these people into filmmakers and photographers. We distributed nearly 300 Storytellers kits with a camera and a journal. We had no idea what content would be returned, but having people recount their personal experiences in their own words was much more effective than putting them in front of a camera crew with a pre-arranged script.

We received about 250 hours of film, more than 2,000 photos, and approximately 100 journals – powerful and personal content that allowed us to create more than 50 videos, advertisements, PSAs, and more. The materials are on our website and social media platforms.

The launch of the campaign in late November required some agility and adjustment. Originally, we'd planned a different campaign, but decided after Superstorm Sandy to move away from a traditional ask for financial help. Instead, we accelerated the initiative and showcased stories from families impacted by disasters – big and small.

The campaign included stories of gratitude and hope from families helped by the Red Cross after Sandy.

Media outlets that ran Storytellers PSAs included A&E, History, ABC, Fox, Lifetime, Food Network, Time, Money, and The New Yorker, resulting in total impressions of about 600 million. The American Red Cross website saw a 5% increase in traffic in December 2012 compared to the prior year. The initiative contributed to our most successful year-end fundraising effort ever and nearly doubled the previous year's results.

With Storytellers, we created a strong connection with our constituents nationwide and demonstrated the work we do.

Peggy Dyer is CMO of the American Red Cross.

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