Animation can be a fantastic way to tell a story. Arthur London’s awareness campaign for Dementia UK is a beautiful example.

But I guarantee it was not created on a shoestring. And the thing is, the type of animation within the grasp of most charities is, in my view, far better suited to imparting information than creating emotional engagement.

So the decision on whether animation is the right approach for a film must, as always, be informed by the capital-P-Purpose. What is it that you want your audience to feel and then do, when they watch this thing?

If you want them to feel better informed, animation could be the way to go. It imparts data in a way that is far more dynamic than a graph or a slideshow. Try to keep it short though: without a story or a central character to connect with, it can tire quickly. (And please can we move on from cookie-cutter ‘RSA whiteboard’ animations now?)

However, if you want your audience to be moved and engaged, approach with caution. As a guiding principle, authenticity trumps graphical representation. And achieving emotional authenticity in animation is no mean feat.

It’s not infrequent for charities to ask me about animation because they feel constrained in some way by the type of service they deliver. Maybe the people they work with have really difficult stories to tell and don’t feel comfortable being identified on screen. Perhaps they are living with conditions that limit them and the charity is cautious, not wishing to impose upon their goodwill. Perhaps the work is delivered in remote areas, throwing up logistical challenges for a filming trip. And of course sometimes there is a legal requirement – for example Looked After children who must not be identified.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to let your film company solve the problem. Don’t decide before the job has even begun that you must have an animation: there may be other routes to explore. Brief your team on the purpose, explain the challenges, and let them do their creative thing. It’s what you’re paying them for.

For example, if it is truly impossible to find someone to appear on screen, can you record audio only with them? If you have a decent recording of a story ‘from the horses mouth’, you have the start of something. Using an actor for the visual storyline alone is a possibility, and won’t blow a production budget – whereas using even the most talented (and expensive) actor to voice someone else’s words never sounds quite right.

And also, please do gently check that your organisation isn’t making assumptions on service users’ behalf. Often, those in the front line of service delivery are highly protective – and rightly so – but benefit from support in how to ask someone to participate in making a film. And in our experience, often, people in incredibly difficult circumstances are very happy for the opportunity to help a favourite charity in this way: it can be comforting and deeply rewarding to help others in a similar situation in this way, not to mention the enjoyable change from daily routine. And it is always possible to make firm agreements around specific practical considerations such as how much time they can give, what accommodations should be made etc; any professional production company will honour these to a fault.

Animation has its place, and done well it can be an incredibly emotive art form. But too often it is a treatment of last resort, given insufficient budget, and raises more problems than it solves. When it’s mediocre, the technique can easily take over: just as your audience don’t particularly want to hear from you as a charity, or from me as a writer, they’re equally disengaged by average animation.

In fundraising we’ve all heard the truism that ‘people give to people’. Presenting them with animated illustration is to add another layer of ‘interference’ between the potential supporter and the end user. Who is, after all, the very person we hope they will choose to give to.