A hospice is not a sad place where people go to die

Every person mattersA guest blog by Esther Preston, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Ashgate Hospicecare

When we asked our community about their perception of hospice care, a common answer was ‘a sad place where people go to die’.

Whilst yes, a place for people to die is part of what we do, hospice care is so much more than that. There are many happy emotions amidst the sadness.

In the past we’ve talked about the number of patients we care for and how many home visits we make. We’ve talked about what a donation could buy, for example £54 could pay for a patient to attend our day hospice. All of which helps people to understand what their money was spent on but crucially not connect emotionally to the difference they made.

Our greater challenge is ensuring prospective patients see a referral to Ashgate Hospicecare as something positive. There is nothing sadder than hearing about a person who could have benefited from our services but was put off accepting a referral as they were worried about what that would mean for them.

This time last year, we knew we did great work, we knew we changed peoples lives, we knew we needed to connect donors to the difference they make but we were falling short. We couldn’t change the perception of the hospice being ‘a sad place to go and die’.

The power of real stories told from the heart

After working with several external agencies including Brightspot Fundraising, Revolutionise and Lucidity, we started to look more closely at how we could use real emotional stories to help patients, supporters and the wider community really understand what we do.

We wanted to help local people who had no experience of hospice care to understand;

  • The impact Ashgate Hospicecare makes on individuals and families
  • That a hospice is a warm and friendly place and not a ‘sad place to die’
  • How we help people to stay in their own homes
  • That a hospice is not a place to be feared
  • That every donation helps us care for the next person creating a link between how much we raise and how many people we can care for.

We asked people who had experienced hospice care first hand to talk on camera about the difference Ashgate Hospicecare had made to them and their loved ones. We didn’t want a script. We simply encouraged people to tell their story in their own words. Check them out for yourself here.

A thread that ran through every single story was how everyone felt that they were an individual and mattered to the staff. When we realised this, the title of our campaign became obvious: ‘Every Person Matters’

How we are making sure our whole community hears these powerful stories

We are working hard to make sure everyone hears these stories. We’ve integrated the videos into our website and other communications.

Every person mattersWe’ve used photo’s of the storytellers in each video to form a series of adverts, collection box wraps and leaflets. As well as engaging and inspiring our existing supporters we wanted to reach out to new supporters. We’ve started an outdoor advertising campaign that we hope everyone in the community will see which includes adverts on petrol pumps, buses and billboards.

Already we are starting to get anecdotal feedback about the difference that this storytelling approach is making. Tracie works in one of our charity shops. She has been recognised as one of the storytellers in the adverts. Recently she told me one of her friends had seen the advert on a petrol pump and then watched her video on our website, which inspired her to set up a Direct Debit to donate to Ashgate Hospicecare regularly. She said this wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t watched Tracies video. She was really pleased to have the opportunity to make a difference.

What next for Every Person Matters

We know that helping our teams understand this new approach, which is different because it is so much more emotional to how we have worked in the past is important. We are running focus groups with staff and volunteers to connect everyone to the problem that we, as a charity are here to solve. We show the story videos and encourage people to use these real examples as inspiration to explain in their own words what Ashgate Hospicecare does. It’s important to help them understand the reasons for this new approach; that real stories connect people emotionally, communicate messages, and make them stick. To understand the power of stories they must also experience the powerful connection themselves by telling their own stories.

What we’ve learned

We’ve learned the need to reconnect staff and volunteers to why they do what they do. Establishing a common purpose through storytelling is a big part of bringing everyone together. There is also great value and connection in hearing each other talk about what the hospice means to them.

The other learning for me personally, as someone who is impatient for change has been having the patience to repeat the same messages because it takes time to shift mindsets and bring people with you. I’ve also learned that sometimes I am not the best person to make the case, because I am too close to the cause, which is one of the reasons why working with external experts can have such an impact.

Most importantly I have learned to be uncompromising about the things that matter. It is our responsibility to be there for every person who needs us. Every person matters. Every patient I talk to inspires me to keep going to make sure that Ashgate Hospicecare is no longer perceived ‘a sad place where people go to die’ but a way of caring that is as unique and as inspirational as the patients we care for.

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