Published: 12 January 2016

How have you been #changedbycharity?

Image: http://park-life.org/

My friend Rona is mildly obsessed with my sex life.

Although she knows I’m happily married, she spends lots of time dreaming up exciting extramarital affairs for me, with colleagues, strangers – even the poor postman. Rona is 87 and housebound, so her absurd romantic fantasies give us both a good laugh when I see her each week for tea, chat and crosswords (note to my husband: they are just fantasies, honest).

I met Rona six years ago via Contact the Elderly, the charity which organises volunteers to host monthly tea parties for lonely elderly guests. My involvement with the group – as a driver, a tea party host and quite quickly, a friend of the guests – has changed my life in lots of positive ways, and has also changed Rona’s. She’s too frail to come to the tea parties anymore, so now I pop round to hers each week to hear more about what I’m not getting up to with a series of handsome fellas.

We all know how media coverage of the sector was dominated by negative stories in 2015. Isn’t it time we made more noise about how the world is being #changedbycharity? I work for a charity and with other charities, but I also volunteer for one charity, donate to a handful of others and have had my life touched in many ways by many more, from the canal paths I cycle on with my kids (thanks Canal & River Trust) to the information I got from British Heart Foundation when I found out my mum has heart failure.

As part of my work with the Understanding Charities Group, we’ve been talking about how charities can get on the front foot with positive stories about the extraordinary work we do and the impact we have.

I’ve written about how we’re developing a positive narrative for the sector: we’re now about to test this with the public through focus groups to try and make sure we’re creating something charities can use that resonates with their audiences. But all this work takes time.

Promoting #changedbycharity is something immediate we can do. I know that starting a twitter campaign to promote our good work isn’t the final answer. It won’t necessarily reach the same audience that read the negative media coverage and we face the echo-chamber risk of charity sector folk all talking to ourselves. Good news is never as easy to get picked up by the papers as bad. And while the negative coverage appears to be ongoing, it isn’t particularly spiking as I write, and Twitter activity works best when it’s resonating with an immediate story. 

But it’s something. UK charities employ over 800,000 people – and we’re all part of the ‘general public’. If we within the sector start thinking about ourselves as not just charity workers but also charity supporters, volunteers and beneficiaries, couldn’t we each think about how we, personally, have been #changedbycharity and start spreading the word?

More like this
Matthew Sherrington writes about why we need #changedbycharity in Third Sector 
Find out more about the Understanding Charities Group and the key messages

Vicky Browning, director, CharityComms

A former magazine journalist, editor and publisher, Vicky has headed up the CharityComms team since March 2010. She is passionate about CharityComms' vision of putting effective and inspiring communications at the heart of every charity's work for a better world.