As someone who aims to work as a communications expert within the third sector, I feel that the challenges charities are currently up against are becoming more and more relevant. With budget cuts from the government and the public struggling more than ever, demand for support from charities is growing. However, with public trust having hit rock bottom, charities have a real challenge on their hands to raise funds and continue providing this much needed support.
A controversial issue, which stems from public perception, is how much money charities are spending on their promotional and marketing activities. Personally, I believe that without marketing and PR, charities would have a real struggle on their hands. Surely without anyone to shout about an organisation’s work, their supporters or their fundraising activities, the opportunity to make their desired impact lessens.
I recently came across an interesting talk from Dan Pallotta that is definitely worth a watch if you have a spare half an hour. In it, he discusses how non-profits are being judged on how little they spend as opposed to their effectiveness and how much of an impact they are making.
For this reason, I think that charities should be given a little slack when it comes to how much they spend on promotional activity. But with trust in the third sector at an all time low, how can the communicators within charities tackle this issue?
Arguably more important than ever, the need for charities to be transparent about their spending, actions and activities is vital. Social media provides people with the outlet to express their frustrations, particularly, I’ve noticed, on the sponsored posts of large, national charities. It’s important that these grumblings are handled in the first instance and, if possible, taken offline.
Engaging supporters through social media and other forms of communication is vital, even just so that they choose your charity over another when it comes to fundraising! Q&As, peer support forums, and putting their vision in the hands of supporters can be really beneficial and make supporters feel a part of something – which I think is the main challenge to overcome. Having a friendly, approachable tone can be the difference between them choosing a huge charity or a small, local one.
Having a focused and clear strategy and vision seems like quite an obvious thing, but can sometimes be overlooked in smaller charities with very little budget for PR. It’s drilled into us at university how valuable PR and marketing can be as a strategic, high-level business function, and it’s only now that I am getting into the workplace that I am understanding just how right they are.
Making sure everything you do is consistent with your organisation’s branding, tone and wording can have so many benefits to your organisation. Not to mention, having a place where anyone can see all this information (linking with transparency and engagement!) means trust is automatically boosted.
Times are hard for third sector organisations. But I think that with time, ethical PR and a good vision, public trust will once again improve as people realise the value these organisations can really have.