Creating case studies


It’s one of the most common communications mistakes made by third sector organisations. When describing what they do, they focus on either their inputs (the resources they have spent doing their work) or their outputs (the actual work they have done), rather than their impact – i.e. what has changed as a result of their work.

But showing the impact of your work is crucial – this is what funders, supporters and potential service users all want to see, and it’s what makes people remember you.

One of the best and simplest ways of showing your impact is by producing compelling case studies.

What is a case study?

A case study is simply a recorded example of how your organisation has affected the life of a beneficiary. It could be a piece of writing, a video or an audio recording, and it can be used throughout your communications – from a blog post to a funding application.

Creating case studies is about more than just the writing or recording – regardless of their format, all case studies require preparation and all follow the same basic rules.

Here are my five top rules to follow to create compelling, impactful and memorable case studies.

Rule 1: Find someone with a good story

You know that your organisation does great work, and that’s what you want your audience to know about. What example sticks in your mind when you talk about your work? Which service users / beneficiaries are you most proud of helping?

If you don’t have an example to hand, call someone working on the ‘front line’ of your organisation. Those working most closely with your beneficiaries are likely to have a wealth of examples of people they’ve helped, that they will be delighted to share with you.

Rule 2: Meet face to face (or at least make a phone call)

We’re all used to email as the first point of contact, and let’s be honest – it’s easier to bash out a few lines than to actually arrange a meeting.

But you will get a far better insight into your chosen beneficiary’s life if you can talk to them like a human. If you can’t physically meet up, a phone call is your next best option.

Rule 3: Ask the right questions (and listen!)

You need to leave your meeting with a few key pieces of information:

  • What was this person’s life like before they became involved with your organisation?
  • What was their future going to look like at that point?
  • What happened to bring them into contact with you?
  • What has your organisation done for them?
  • How has their life changed as a result of your organisation’s work?

To avoid your subject giving you answers that are too short, try to ask them open questions. For example, “Tell me about what life was like for you before you found out about the End Homelessness Charity”, is better than “How long were you on the streets?”

If you’re writing your case study (rather than filming it), make sure to use a voice recorder so that you can go back and listen to the answers – this also helps your subject to feel comfortable and listened-to (rather than you frantically scribbling notes as they are talking).

Rule 4: Find a hook

Once you’ve spoken to your subject, you will have a good idea of their story. What’s the one part that really stuck in your mind, or surprised you when they said it? That’s your hook – the opening lines of the case study that will entice your audience to read/watch it.

For example, “Mike knew he had a problem when, halfway through building a garden trellis, he suddenly forgot how to make a right-angle” is a more interesting opening than “Mike was 57 when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.”

Rule 5: Make it snappy

Whatever form your case study takes, it needs to be concise. Editing is your friend! It’s a good idea to produce two or even three versions of your case study – a short, medium and long version, so that you can use it across all your channels, i.e. short for a Facebook post, medium for a press release and long for your website.

But remember, even your long version should be as snappy as you can make it – the less waffle it contains, the more impact it has.


There are of course many other ways that you can make your case studies stand out, but if you follow these five simple rules, you should be able to produce something that really highlights the impact of your organisation’s work.

If you need some help with finding and writing case studies, or if you’re interested in having a storytelling workshop delivered to you and your staff, drop me a line. I’m always happy to have a chat, no strings attached!

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