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How charity communicators are changing the world one campaign at a time

17 June 2022

“Big change looks impossible when you start, but inevitable when you finish” according to Bob Hunter, one of the founders of Greenpeace.

So, can communications change the world? Yes, says Adeela Warley, CEO, CharityComms: “We know the world is full of people who are passionate about the problems charities are here to solve. Great communications inspire and create opportunities to realise dreams – communications change the world.”

Here are some handy lessons shared by comms veterans who joined our ‘How charity communicators are changing the world’ seminar to talk about their favourite comms campaigns that are making a difference:

All of us can play a part in telling a story of hope: people need to hear stories of profound change to believe it can happen

The wonderful Brian Fitzgerald, once an activist and volunteer for Greenpeace for 35 years, kickstarted things with reflections from his work at the forefront of making change.

From stopping acid rain and reversing the destruction of the ozone layer to stopping the world from drilling for oil and gas in Antarctica. Brian’s central message was that we must communicate our success stories: “Those are exactly the kinds of stories we need to tell. Stories of victories and how quickly societies can change. Of how things that once seemed impossible, came to be. And how individual actions in the face of impossible odds, mattered in making those things happen.”

Brian continued: “Because stories are this incredibly subversive technology. They engineer the way we think…Stories tell us what’s right, what’s normal and what’s possible. And when people’s idea of what’s right, what’s normal and what’s possible changes – the status quo changes, the world changes… People need to hear stories of profound change now in order to believe it can happen in future.”

Find messengers who are authentic and credible and understand how to reach people – meet them where they are at

Shiryn Sayani, communications and campaigns manager at the Race Equality Foundation shared take home tips from a campaign she has admired from afar – Create not Hate.

This campaign is aimed at helping young people, who are underrepresented in the creative industry, unlock their potential – in turn increasing diversity in advertising – and addressing social issues they live with every day. It was initially set up by Trevor Robinson OBE in 2007 with a focus on gun and knife crime.

Shiryn urged us all to find messengers who are authentic and credible saying: “the fact that everything was created by young people and was based on their experiences, really leant a lot of credibility to the message behind it.”

She also added: “Often in the racial equality space, certain groups are labeled ‘hard to reach’ and they are actually not…they are just not being met where they are”. So, what does that mean for communicators? “Think outside of the box…in terms of how people are likely to receive and engage with information.”

Social change requires stamina – you need to keep on getting up!

Kirsty McNeill, executive director of policy, advocacy and campaigns, Save the Children UK, told us about the work of the Aid Alliance – a campaigning coalition that has made progress in building solidarity beyond borders.

Kirsty’s main tips included: make sure all of your activities are all mutually reinforcing and happen simultaneously, mixed research methodology is best and know your routes to market.

She said: “But the biggest lesson of all is you can do all of these things and still lose! You need to keep on getting back up. The things that are most worth communicating about, where your efforts make the biggest difference, are the places where we have the hardest work to do to convince people. So please be confident that your work is making a difference, that if you fight you will win, it may take some time”.

Help people to believe that they can be a part of the change that you want

Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs, Stonewall, highlighted the importance of making people feel personally involved in campaigns. By helping people see where they fit within the action you want them to take you can help nurture a sense of community that is invaluable.

Explaining how the long running Rainbow Laces campaign, which focuses on making homophobia in sport socially unacceptable, has used audience insight to understand what builds and constitutes peoples attitudes Robbie spoke about creating opportunity for people to get involved in driving change. He said: “The campaign had to be framed positively. And the campaign had to be actionable. So a campaign that was all about kicking or stopping or ending wasn’t going to work. People love sports. So we had to kind of say actually, this is about sport. We love it. We think it’s great. We’ve got to make it everyone’s game.”

Be led by people with lived experience and make campaign asks simple, realistic and achievable

Finally Paul Donnelly, head of campaigns & activism at Mencap gave a timely reminder that we need to be led by those with lived experience. Paul drew on the Treat Me Well campaign which calls for NHS staff to make reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities as a great example of this.

Central to the campaign was the tragic story of Paula McGowan OBE whose autistic son Oliver died in hospital following the administration of drugs, against his and his parents will, to manage what healthcare professionals perceived as challenging behaviour.

Paula led on a strand of Mencap’s campaign, giving her a platform and amplifying her voice to make systemic change happen in this area. They succeeded in getting the government to agree to provide mandatory training across the NHS.

Paul’s top lessons from the campaign included:

  • Be led by lived experience: “Paula and Oliver were the face of the campaign. Mencap took a step back and provided a platform for Paula to amplify her message…This is the future direction of campaigning.”
  • Storytelling is powerful: Paula “didn’t just tell the story of Oliver’s death. She told the story of his life…she reframed disability and autism… she bought Oliver the person to the fore and not his learning disability.”
  • Make the campaign ask simple, realistic and achievable: “We didn’t only ask Government to fix the problem. We offered to work with health bodies to find solutions.”

Keep an eye out for this event on-demand soon – everyone who registered for either the live event or signs up for on-demand will also receive a delegate bag full of useful resources to enjoy.

Banner image by: Brett Zeck on Unsplash

Emma Novis

senior events producer, CharityComms

Emma joined CharityComms in 2008 to help develop and grow the organisation. She has done everything from managing the website to running CharityComms' events portfolio. Today Emma is the senior events producer, developing concepts, formats and content for our flagship conferences and seminars.