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Director’s update: improving the public’s understanding of charities

20 October 2014

There’s a strong feeling within a lot of charities that the sector needs a positive narrative to improve the public’s understanding of what we do.

We’ve now set up the Understanding Charities Group, a cross-sector consortium which aims:

  • To improve the understanding of the public, donors and other stakeholders of how charities work
  • To improve the public’s trust, empathy and engagement with charities
  • To increase positive media coverage of the charity sector as a whole and better tackle the negative
  • To achieve this by combining collaborative action by the sector with the activities of individual charities.

At a meeting on 1 October, we agreed four broad strands of work that need doing.

Strand 1: Creating a narrative for the sector as a whole: We want to produce a positive, proactive narrative which explains how modern charities work and why they do what they do.

Strand 2: Engaging with charities: We want to engage with charities of all sizes, find out their challenges and create ways for them to engage with their own audiences on this issue.

Strand 3: Getting more generic media coverage for charities and creating a media rebuttal protocol. Charities need to reposition the way we talk about the sector with the aim of generating more generic media coverage. At the same time, we want to help charities develop a common narrative around areas such as staff salaries (including CEO pay), fundraising methods, admin costs and issues of effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

Strand 4: Researching and understanding the public and measuring success.

You can download the background briefing document for the Understanding Charities Group. We’ll be holding a half-day seminar on 23 January at NCVO in Kings Cross to discuss these work strands and the future of the initiative. More details to come, but do let me know if you’d like to be involved.

What else has CharityComms been up to?

  • Taking a diverse approach

A report in August on diversity in charities by ThirdSector magazine echoes our own efforts to reflect the diversity of UK society. We’ve become more proactive when recruiting speakers for our events to try and encourage a wide range of voices to be involved. We’ve also done a diversity survey of our trustee board, the results of which will feed into our recruitment process for new trustees which will kick off in January.

  • Vital statistics

We held our AGM in September, a fleeting event where I presented our achievements and ambitions to an audience bribed to attend by free wine. One particularly enthusiastic attendee shyly admitted an unexpected interest in the facts about our activity. So for @scotbower and others, here are a few choice stats from 2013-14.

  • CharityComms held 34 events including conferences, workshops, seminars, special interest groups and networking sessions, with 2,217 people attending (up from 1,650 the previous year)
  • 87% of attendees said they had acquired new knowledge or enhanced skills relevant to their job
  • Over 2,700 charities have signed up to AskCharity, our free media-matching service.

See the full presentation and download our 2013-14 annual report.

  • 2015: an event-full year

Looking to the future, we launched our calendar of events for 2015 last month, based on extensive consultation with our members. We’ve tried to reflect the spectrum of comms activity you’re engaging in – from storytelling to integration, social media to internal comms, brand development to video – and much more. As always, the content reflects the challenges you’ve told us you’re facing, so there should be plenty there for everyone. We look forward to seeing you at our events next year.

Vicky Browning


Vicky became CEO of ACEVO, the charity and social leaders’ network, in January 2017, helping to empower our inspiring sector leaders to make the biggest difference they can to their beneficiaries, their organisation and to society. Vicky was previously CharityComms’ director for nearly seven years.