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Cutting through charity comms jargon to the essentials

25 October 2016

With clarity, purpose and our audience in mind. That’s how we communicate in charity comms, right? Well, not always. And not speaking the same language can hinder the causes we work for.

Your membership proposition, for example, might be my brand story. Another charity’s message matrix could be completely different to the content in yours. What your organisation calls a brand model could be part of my charity’s brand guidelines. 

It’s confusing when we all have different names for key documents that are supposed to help us make our organisation’s vision a reality. Staff that could benefit from using them might not because they don’t understand that the resources will help them do their job better – and reach more supporters. Or, you might end up having a suite of overlapping, contradictory and competing core communications resources. 

Speaking the same language

Our sector is working on producing more integrated communications – when all methods of marketing work in unison across an organisation. Speaking the same language and reducing our suite of core communications resources can help us do this. Then it will be easier to produce consistent communications, better share expertise, and learn from others.

The following five charity communications resources are fundamental ones. Spend time getting them right and make sure everyone in your charity understands what they are, where they can access them and how they can help.

1. Boilerplate copy

Who is your organisation? What do you do? And why do you do it? Those are the three things your boilerplate copy should tackle. This is a short, medium and long description that all staff can use to explain your organisation to different audiences. It’s surprising how many charities don’t have this copy. Without it, you can guarantee your communications will all convey different messages to similar audiences. That will reduce your awareness and recognition and have an impact on how people respond to you. 

2. Brand guidelines 

Consider combining all your editorial guidelines into one document which will explain how writers, designers and others can adapt words and images for your different audiences. Instead of having a separate style guide, tone of voice document for print and digital and brand guidance, put everything together. People are more likely to adhere to guidance when it’s all in one place. It should be clear, concise and might be focused around channel and audience.

3. Case for support

This is a document that includes key messages, statistics and case studies which evidence why you do what you do. It could cover your different services, campaigns and areas of expertise, breaking down the impact you make in each. It will also include calls to action for different audiences so that you can align what you ask people to do across your organisation. This is certainly a living document and needs to be updated regularly by one key owner.

4. Pen portraits

All your communications need to be focused on the audience they’re aimed at. Who you think these people are, what they do in their spare time and why they do or don’t support you, might be completely different from the reality. Create pen portraits after asking them these questions. These are profiles of your audiences based on the characteristics they have in common and can include everything from where people live to how they feel about your cause. If you have the funds, it can be really helpful to get these done professionally and then divide your audiences into groups so you can target them better. If budget is tight, start by emailing your supporters a SurveyMonkey questionnaire with 10 key questions so you can find out more about them.

5. Communications strategy and plan

Plan what you want your communications to achieve, when, how and why. According to the CharityComms book Make it matter, a communications strategy focuses on what your communications will do and why. It should be in line with your charity’s organisational strategy and updated every three years. Your communications plan needs to explain how you will make the aims you’ve outlined in the communications strategy happen and when.

Trina Wallace

copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.