Published: 24 November 2011

Charities must distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable prejudice

nfpSynergy's Joe Saxton talks about how charity communicators need to work from the basis that we're all prejudiced

It’s easy to dismiss other people’s racism, sexism and other prejudices. It’s easy to sit in the charity sector and be amazed at other people’s crude and stereotyped attitudes. It’s easy to feel that somehow it is other people who are at fault, and if only we in the charity sector could persuade them to be more like us the world would be a better place.

We could do all of those things and be wrong. We are all prejudiced. We all create stereotypes. We use them every day. Indeed, I would argue that none of us would survive the day if we didn’t pre-judge people in our communications.

Acceptable v unacceptable 

I filter the world and the evidence. I can see only the good of people I like (and have a blind spot for the bad). I can see only the bad of people I don’t like (and have a blind spot for the good). Every day I use shortcuts to make sense of the world – and it’s called prejudice. The challenge is to separate the acceptable prejudices from the unacceptable (rather than those who are prejudiced and those who aren’t). 

The challenge for charities is to shift the line of acceptable prejudice in the direction they want it to move. In my lifetime (nearly 50 years) we have made huge leaps and bounds in moving the line on what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of race and gender. We have made big changes in the last 15 years alone on moving the lines in terms of sexuality.

Using empathy 

The reason this is important for charity communicators is that they are in the front line of changing people’s views about what is acceptable and what isn’t, and also about changing how and when people prejudge others. Changing the views of the public is one of the hardest and longest-term campaigns an organisation can mount. But whether you are a disability, health, international or environmental organisation, it’s a key part of long-term success: to change people’s prejudices.

My plea to communicators is to work from a position of understanding that we are all prejudiced and that we should all do more to judge on evidence not stereotype. And we can use that empathy to help understand how we can change people’s views to the issues we care so passionately about. 


Joe Saxton, driver of ideas, nfpSynergy

Joe Saxton is driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, and is the founder and Chair of CharityComms. Joe works on a range of specific projects particularly those looking at impact, communications or trusteeship. He also works on the overall direction and development of nfpSynergy.