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Engagement strategies for charities: top takeaways

1 May 2020

Joining CharityComms in a period of deep uncertainty where we are all adjusting to working from home has been strange to say the least.

After meeting my colleagues via zoom, onboarding virtually and finding my feet I was excited about our first virtual conference – Engagement strategies for charities in a Coronavirus dominated world and beyond. Here are my top takeaways.

1. We are all facing challenges personally and as a sector

Organisations are having to flex their services online; projects are on hold and we are looking at new ways to support each other. Individually we may be juggling children and pets, or we simply might not have a suitable workspace. In addition, we need to ensure we are understanding our supporters and providing the services they need currently.

A great example of a charity adapting to the crisis is The British Heart Foundation who have changed their priorities from direct fundraising to providing detailed informative content e.g. behind the headline pieces. By doing this they have achieved huge engagement by responding directly to what their audience wants.

Similarly, another charity that has been quick to pivot to user needs is Crisis who asked corporate partners to assist in providing phones to the homeless so they could run their vital services remotely and stay in touch with the vulnerable people staying at hotels.

2. Too much content can be overwhelming

We are being flooded with information, from emails on how our local takeaways are operating to messages from CEOs. As we are pivoting as companies and rewriting comms plans it is crucial not to change who we are and lose our purpose. It is important to keep our supporters informed but with relevance that adds value, staying close to the audience and their needs.

One organisation who are doing this well are The National Deaf Children’s Society who recently launched a series of webinars to support families. They found that people are concerned about their financial situation, so their online events have been tailored to that and have received incredible engagement.

3. Wellbeing is a top priority

In this changeable time where we must “keep our head up even if we don’t know what’s coming” it is important to ask for help, while being understanding of the struggles your colleagues may be encountering. Most are not able to work at 100% and are realising it is difficult to strike a work-life balance. Shree Rajani from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity summarised it perfectly “We’re not just working from home; we are working through a pandemic from home”.

Discussions moved towards how leaders can support their staff. And Dan Metcalfe from Wellcome Trust made an important point when he expressed that when it comes to leadership “Health comes first!” and we need to empathise, share a sense of community and keep in touch with regular video catchups.

4. We are all in this together

The light amongst the darkness is that the pandemic has brought us closer together. It has paved the way for more authentic communication. We now have an insight into our teammates home lives – their house décor, their furry friends. This casual and open interaction has changed the way we view our work lives.

We are beginning to prefer and appreciate genuine content. For example, Gym instructors and personal trainers are running raw, unedited live classes from their homes. This will end up shaping the future of comms.

Despite the loneliness felt throughout the lockdown, having over 400 delegates coming together for a shared purpose provided that feeling of being part of something that many of us have been craving.

5. Focus on moving forwards

During this period, we need to take our feet off the pedal a bit and not lay stress in a future that is unpredictable. As Cian Murphy from nfpSynergy pointed out, “it is important to remember even as a small charity that “If people support you then they think you are essential – don’t go into hiding and think that people don’t want to hear from you. Keep talking to them; they are still going to be there.”

Internally charities need to collaborate in creating a strong message moving ahead by building upon existing content. It is worth investing time in scenario planning like Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity who have created two comms plans – one for now and one for after the crisis.

And as Joe Barrell from Eden Stanley said “Don’t revert to old habits later – keep innovating and developing and listening. The story is going to be different, so adapt, reframe and build new propositions…We need to demonstrate new relevance post-pandemic.”

For more about the event check out the events page.

Image: Jamie Baird – Twitter 

Adel Hanily

digital content officer, CharityComms

Adel is the digital content officer at CharityComms, managing the social media channels and supporting content planning. She has a background in various sectors including event ticketing, PR, and charity content. She is passionate about communications and helping those with personal or physical barriers to succeed.