Sarah Dillingham: Essential tips for creating great case studies

The knowledge management leader offers her advice on how to make the best use of them

Sarah Dillingham
Sarah Dillingham

Charities and not-for-profit organisations increasingly need good case studies to highlight the successful work they are doing, show return on investment on supporter time and financial donations, and help raise profile across key media and social media outlets.

But they might not be given priority because many organisations simply do not have the time available to write case studies or manage them effectively.

Done correctly though, case studies are an effective way to engage new and existing audiences – because, ultimately, everyone loves a good story and the stories you share paint pictures, evoke emotions and give the good work your organisation does; a sticky power that remains in people’s minds.

Making sure you have the right processes in place will set you on your way.

Be prepared

Make sure that you identify your case study opportunities early, so that you can address any barriers in plenty of time. Remember to:

  • Obtain permissions from any organisations you mention in the case study;
  • Distribute consent forms to beneficiaries so that you can tell their individual stories in depth;
  • Obtain sign off from your own organisational hierarchy. Try not to leave everything to the last minute – as this will give you less wriggle room for creative changes later on.

Speak to your audience

Some not-for-profit organisations take an academic approach to writing case studies - writing in-depth assessments of each decision. While this creates a useful record, a highly technical case study might prove off-putting to certain groups that you are trying reach. Judge your writing approach wisely.

Your objective is to communicate success to new and existing audiences. When in doubt, tighten up the narrative to create a shorter case study that people are likely to read all the way through.

Tell the story of the problem you were trying to solve, detail your processes and highlight the results succinctly.

Be clear about the impact that you had

If you’ve had an amazing impact, make that clear both qualitatively and quantitatively. Hyperlink to project budgets and outcomes for statistically orientated audiences that would like an opportunity to delve deeper.

Perhaps you could also link to a story about an individual beneficiary that would appeal to a more emotive audience.

Visual impact: The sine qua non of third sector case studies

Case studies are a marketing tool like any other and, as a result, the visual story you tell will be as essential to its success as the copy you produce.

It is sometimes hard work to secure all those essential permissions to use certain images, but good images can have a powerful effect in supporting and communicating your key messages nicely.

Finish on a call to action

Make sure all your contact details are clearly seen and that you have a bold link to your JustGiving page; or a ‘Share’ button to amplify your great story across social media.

Good luck - and I hope your case studies prove to be important material that your organisation can make good use of.

Sarah Dillingham is a knowledge management leader and founder of

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