Whether it is a newborn overcoming a heart condition or a single parent struggling with debt, real-life case studies always make for powerful and engaging stories. But given how sensitive and emotional these personal journeys are, uncovering them can take a lot of time and effort.
There is one obvious place where people go when they struggle - their local charity. Whether it is health, money, domestic violence or any other challenge that life throws at us, charities have wealth of stories to share and are more than keen to work with journalists.
Some charities even have a dedicated staff who source real-life stories and work with the media - they are called stories managers.
But there are some golden rules when it comes to sourcing real-life case studies. We caught up with Nicki Wedgwood, case studies officer at StepChange Debt Charity, to talk about how journalists and charities can best work together.
Be upfront about the deal breakers...
Give as much detail as you can when looking for a specific type of case study.
If you want to speak to a woman or someone in South Wales, say so. Include details about whether the individual needs to be named and pictured. This saves everyone's time and helps manage expectations.
..but be open to suggestions
"I might be sitting on a fantastic case study that hasn’t found a home in a publication just yet,” says Wedgwood.
Some of the best stories in her charity’s database cover many topics and a flexible approach may reveal unexpected angles.
Be honest about the turnaround
This should not need reminding. If you are on a tight deadline, let the charity know so they can prioritise their workflow.
Talk about the rules around featuring a spokesperson
"To be blunt, it helps us prioritise requests," says Wedgwood.
"If there isn’t an opportunity, it doesn’t mean we want to help you any less, but letting us know upfront saves a bit of back-and-forth when I could be calling your ideal case study to take part in your piece."
Understand their priorities
Charities must put their clients first, so if they need to double-check some details before passing someone over to you, they will do their best to let you know.
Wedgwood said that although she tries to avoid giving case studies that have to remain anonymous, sometimes this is essential.
"Some of our clients might have spoken to the media before and had their benefits sanctioned, for example," she says, adding that she never promises that those people can read their story before she sends it to the journalist.
Remember that they want to help you
If the charity has not got a case study that fits your brief, it is often not because they do not want to work with you but because they do not want to waste everyone's time.
People often want to speak to the media to raise awareness around an issue or share their experience. If it is not the right fit this time, do check back as you never know what story you may discover next.
How to find them
With some 166,000 charities in the UK alone, there is no one place where you can find case studies, so here, Google is your friend. Searches like 'real-life stories charity' are a good place to start as many organisations have a page dedicated to real-life stories.
You can also pick up the phone and call your local charity if you cannot find anything online. Many of these stories deserve to be told and you have a unique opportunity to come up with an original and engaging pitch.
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