Published: 10 September 2014

Why we need a narrative for the charity sector

Lionel Allorge. Creative Commons

Public trust in charities remains high, but there is no room for complacency in an atmosphere of negatively charged media and political attitudes towards charities.

Issues such as the rights of charities to campaign, levels of CEO pay, fundraising methods and administration costs have all caused ructions in the press and Parliament that could be damaging to the way charities are perceived by the public.

What's more, recent campaigns from Kenco (tackling gangs) and Always (girls' self-esteem) show the blurring of lines between corporate social activity and charities' traditional territory, bringing into sharp focus the need to articulate what makes us different. 

Charities must be proactive about upholding public trust.

Supporters and beneficiaries have the right to ask charities questions about our impact and how we go about our work, and we have a duty to respond to their questions. This also gives us more opportunities to build public understanding of charities, both in terms of the overall contribution of charities to the fabric of life in the UK and more specific areas around how charities actually work – for example, why many charities employ staff, what ‘admin costs’ actually cover, and how we allocate our resources – as well as communicate our impact.

As part of a cross-sector plan developed with NCVO and other bodies, CharityComms is looking to develop a new ‘narrative’ for the charity sector. This is an opportunity to get on the front foot: to be proactive, not just reactive; to be positive about charities' unique and invaluable contribution to the fabric of the UK’s society, not defensive.

NCVO consultations with sector CEOs suggest that most feel individual charities are best placed to communicate with their supporters and beneficiaries, but many also believe that developing a stronger narrative for the charity sector and sharing ‘lines to take’ would be helpful.

CharityComms is convening a round table to take forward the development of a narrative for the sector, to work towards giving charities tools to help them to be more proactive in upholding public trust.

The initial meeting, on 1 October, will include members of sector bodies such as NCVO and the Charity Finance Group, as well as the Charity Commission, New Philanthropy Capital and practitioners from charities including Scope, Action for Children, the Disasters Emergency Committee and more.

Following this meeting we’ll be looking to widen participation in this initiative across the sector. I’ve already had emails from people interested in being involved – do feel free to contact me on vicky@charitycomms.org.uk if you’d like to take part or just be kept up to date with progress.

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.