Morgan Phillips: Anything but 'meh'

Charities need to produce content that is full of emotion and that moves people to act, writes our guest columnist

Morgan Phillips
Morgan Phillips

The last thing you want anybody to feel is nothing. We’ve all seen charity marketing that we have very quickly forgotten. Let’s face it, we’ve all created it too, contributing to the noise.

At Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference this week, I met Ravinol Chambers from Be Inspired Films. He advises organisations on how to make great films. He told me: "People don’t share videos; they share feelings." It’s obvious when you think about it. The reason you share a video, or article, or photo, or GIF, is that it made you feel something: happy, sad, excited, angry, nostalgic or any number of other emotions. You want someone else to experience those feelings too. Watch, feel, share.  

The advice is clear: emotion is vital; it triggers a response. Shares and likes are good, but the ultimate aim is an action such as a donation or a commitment to volunteer. After all, that helps us to achieve our purposes.

Two years ago, my mother-in-law was taken by breast cancer. It was a long and brave fight – the words you usually hear – but it was frustratingly bureaucratic too and occasionally very fraught. Things might have turned out differently. We’ll never know. For my beautiful wife and wonderful brother-in-law it was utterly consuming and it left us all with scars. Two years on we are still healing.

The feelings come in waves and waves and waves. Tidal waves, breakers, ripples and, from the very deepest and darkest waters, the tsunami – rare but brutal. A wave hit me at the conference – not a tsunami, but one that caught me unawares, and I couldn’t stop it flooding over me. In the end, I just let it.

I was in a workshop about charity videos at the conference, surrounded by people I had never met before. I didn’t look around the room. I couldn’t see through the tears, but I suspect I wasn’t the only one who had been moved. The trigger was the short film One More Minute by Child Bereavement UK.

As I watched it I couldn’t stop thinking about my wife and how very precious it would have been for her to have one more minute with her mum, 60 seconds to tell her one more thing.

One More Minute has been incredibly successful for Child Bereavement UK. It has transformed the scale and impact of what it does. Not only did it prompt thousands of people to share their videos, to "share a feeling", but it also triggered them to talk about their own feelings too.

I work for the Glacier Trust, a charity that supports vulnerable Himalayan communities in Nepal. It’s a cause that can evoke a wide range of emotions. Every time I visit our projects I experience sadness, anger and frustration, but also joy, hope and excitement. I try my hardest to convey those emotions in my work. I don’t want people to feel nothing when I tell them about our work. I don’t want them to watch it and go "meh". Anything but "meh".

Knowing what to do is one thing, but doing it well is another. So I find myself asking how can I take the feelings I have experienced and turn them into stories that generate those same feelings in others?

The good news is that we don’t need to do it alone: there are thousands of film and literature graduates out there to whom we can turn for help. There could be one lurking in the most mundane corner of your office. Remember, the author Harper Lee was an airline reservation agent when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird

Morgan Phillips is co-director of the Glacier Trust, which provides training and support in some of the most remote villages in Nepal

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