Communications – it’s not all Digital!
Thanks to Third Force News for featuring my blog
If you work in charity communications you are a hero in my book. A master of juggling and getting results probably on a shoestring budget – I salute you.
Time and again I see smaller charities with dedicated communications teams (often one or two people) under pressure to keep up with digital trends on top of dozens of other communications tasks.
It’s easy to see why press falls off the to do list. But for any charity or social enterprise that depends on building trust and support, proactive media work is not a luxury add-on.
You have to earn it but getting into the media is still well worth the effort.
I have worked on powerful media campaigns that have helped save small charities from closure, ensured record numbers signed up to fundraising events and helped bring changes in legislation.
By making the most of press opportunities smaller charities can make their mark while also making a tangible difference to fundraising and wider objectives.
There has to be a shift in thinking. Let me be clear, I advocate social media. I am a fan (ok, an addict). Social brings unprecedented opportunities to the sector – but it’s not a panacea. You can still benefit from having your story told by professional journalists.
Start with strong message
Setting aside time regularly to build a positive media profile can work wonders, more so if you put it together with social and face-to-face activity.
Good stories well told about the impact of your services go a long way to keeping supporters and beneficiaries connected to your cause.
More than that – effective media relations is integral to fundraising and sustainability. That means press is just as important as marketing or a digital plan.
Research backs up what we know on a personal level; people support the charities they know about.
Take big brands like the British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK and Parkinson’s UK. They all dedicate resources to their media profile and achieve results time and again on regular campaigns like Race for Life or the Parkinson’s awareness week.
Their exceptional media work is inspiring. What they do best is hone the message: keeping it focused, clear and impactful.
Work that starts off as preparation for press coverage, however, can also give you content for social, case studies for your website, funding applications or your newsletter. You have created resources.
Size doesn’t matter
You don’t need a big team or budget to make a splash in the press. You do need a compelling story and the right journalist.
What’s more, you are already off to a head start, because your oragnisation has a wealth of authentic human stories at its heart.
Put time every week into developing these stories. Give it every cough, spit and emotion to help get across why your work is vital. Always ask, why should people care?
People need to get it. What difference does your work make to this audience and what are you asking them to do?
The important thing is to show the impact of your work. First identify an authentic story – then look at how and where to get it out on in press and other platforms.
Is it working?
Tapping into different platforms at different times becomes easier with clear messages and strong stories because you can better focus your efforts.
So before firing off that social post look at the message and the wider story; could it be in the press and then social, or is it an online campaign with a press element?
Getting that right first will pay off. Likes and shares are a win but you need to track what’s translating to repeat donations, new donors and volunteers or sign ups to fundraising events.
So, overall, forget about following trends; all you have to do is tell a good story. I guarantee, you will reap the benefits.
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There are lots of reasons why charities, particularly smaller ones, don’t do public affairs. But there’s only ONE good reason not to do it. ‘I don’t need to – there’s nothing I think should be changed that would help my cause!’ Who thinks that? Well, nobody.
Here’s an uncomfortable truth I hope will help you take action and see it make a difference: avoiding policy-makers might not only be holding your charity back, it might be holding back your cause, too.
Top five reasons charities don’t do public affairs and how to avoid the trap:
5. We’re only really about providing services – Okay, ask yourself this: if everything in public policy and law were doing all they could for the group you’re serving, would your charity exist (or be so busy)? Often policy-makers don’t know about the problem you are working with, and can’t help if the expert (that’s you) doesn’t clue them in. Get some local politicians in to see what you do. Nothing explains it like witnessing it.
4. But we’re not political/partisan – Thank goodness for that! If you want to improve a policy or legislation, your best chance is to get support from all the parties by setting out a reasonable, evidenced case. Being above the partisan jibes is an asset.
3. We’re so small, who cares what we say? – If you’re small, chances are that you’re covering a niche. Niche is brilliant! You’re the go-to gal/guy! Or you should be. Ever seen a new law come in that hits your niche in a way no-one thought of? The earlier you get engaged, the easier it is to make sure your niche doesn’t get overlooked.
2. We are funded by Government so we can’t lobby them! - Funders are not buying your silence. They are endorsing your work! So take it as a given they’d care what you think. Also, you don’t have to sling mud at them to get their attention. You can support their aims and suggest a better plan. Be a trusted partner – something you can’t achieve if you never offer your (did I mention expert) opinion.
1. We don’t have a budget/expertise/time for that - This is a very real barrier but it can be overcome if you find a creative approach. You could invest in a few hours of mentoring to boost your skills. Or target your activity if short on time – find one ally, an official or backbencher who is sympathetic. Give them a great idea and let them run with it.
Informed policy-making is better policy-making, as a general rule. You don’t need all the answers, or a budget for receptions, dinners and three weekends at party conferences. But if what you know could help make for better policy, reaching out can make a real difference.
Emma Beeby, Director of UnSpun Public Affairs, is a consultant with thirteen years experience in Scottish politics. She works exclusively with charities and social enterprises. Sometimes she writes comics. Contact her via Berry Red, or drop her a line (and don’t forget to ask to be added to her list for some forthcoming free how-to guides).
Scotland’s most vulnerable children and young people will be able to stay in care to 21 years old and get the support they need for longer.
After extensive lobbying by charities like Who Cares? Scotland led by young care leavers the Scottish Government announced changes this week that will help transform lives of future generations of youngsters looked after by their local authority.
It still amazes me when people I meet for the first time greet me with my twitter moniker “Ah, you are mediawummin!”
The more I use Twitter and work with clients to help them develop their social media strategy, the more I see the power it has to build relationships and amplify what we do offline.
The burning question clients always ask about Twitter is ‘what do we talk about?’ A good place to start is this. Offer something of value. I once heard a colleague describe the point of Twitter as to simply be a good and helpful person. This is something that has stayed with me.