Brands are used to harnessing the power of content marketing. Now charities are waking up to its potential to change hearts and minds.

In 2016, charity donations in the UK topped a staggering £9.7 billion, according to Charities Aid Foundation research.

That’s the good news. But now for the bad news – fewer than 50% of those surveyed trusted charities to do the right thing with the money they’d donated. And according to another piece of research by independent think tank New Philanthropy Capital, the UK public would part with £655m more of their hard-earned cash if they had access to transparency.

The traditional “Give us ‘x and we’ll do ‘y’” marketing messages are too simplistic to convince a sceptical public. And while hard-hitting ad campaigns tug at the heartstrings and persuade people to make ad hoc donations, they don’t build long-term relationships.

It seems trust and transparency are the way to win hearts and open wallets – and this is where content marketing really comes into its own.

Like smart for-profit brands, charities can engage the public on a more emotional level by storytelling across multiple channels.

Supporters have two key questions: “What do you do with our money?” and “How is it making a difference?” When they’re rooted in real experiences, a charity’s answers can be extraordinarily powerful. Authentic, surprising, moving… the stories they can tell are marketing gold dust.

Twenty years ago, Bookmark helped set up StreetSmart, a charity that fundraises via restaurants to support homeless charities. Homelessness is a complex issue, but the fundraising mechanic is a simple one: in November and December restaurants add a voluntary donation of £1 per table to diners’ bills. Over 20 years, the charity has raised more than £8m.

In its 20th anniversary year, StreetSmart decided to celebrate this achievement and raise awareness of the ongoing need for fundraising. The charity told its story in a printed book, 20 Years, 20 Stories.

The stories were human ones: how the charity was founded, what inspired restaurateurs to sign up, the charity workers who worked at a local level with homeless people, people who’ve experienced homelessness and who’ve turned their lives around. Their stories were moving and inspiring in equal measure.

Giving these stories even more poignancy were the remarkable portraits by photographer Giles Duley, whose work largely focuses on humanitarian issues and the effect of conflict on civilians. Shot against a simple sheet as a backdrop, his pictures have an extraordinary dignity and speak volumes about the power of the human spirit.

Amplified across social media, the rich content of 20 Years, 20 Stories speaks to existing and potential StreetSmart supporters in a language that connects at an emotional level. A language that’s hard to ignore.