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In tough times, what messages should charity communicators be sending?

11 February 2011

PR manager at the Institute of Fundraising Diana Mackie wonders how charity communicators can do more with less

Our sector is continuing to see some tough challenges for communicators. The need to sustain levels of trust and confidence in our charities is still apparent, in the knowledge that funding remains tight and competition intense.

The most recent research carried out by the Institute of Fundraising, Charity Finance Directors Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers into the state of our sector shows that charities are afraid that they will lose £1m of statutory funding this year. Added to this, almost all surveyed charities have seen a decrease in income over the last twelve months, and approximately 40% are seeing an increase in demand for their services at the same time.

The value of charity brands

How do we, as charity communicators, address this imbalance whilst continuing to champion the good work of our organisations? We need to allay the fears of colleagues and supporters. One thing we should not be apologetic for is the need for skilled staff – be they fundraisers or professional communicators.

We need to achieve support and buy in from increasingly technologically savvy donors, in brave new ways. We are competing with the big consumer brands for people’s disposable income. So, this means the value of our charity brands are still crucial, and reputation key.

Keep innovating

Sadly, giving to charity isn’t intuitive and money doesn’t grow on trees. It’s interesting to note that there was far less reference to the flip side of giving, ‘fundraising’, in the Government’s recent Giving Green Paper. Is it timely to remind donors of this – that for our beneficiaries’ sake we have a responsibility to investigate new fundraising techniques and forms of communication? Charities can’t afford to stand still or rely on ‘tried and tested’ methods of asking for money or seeking publicity. Is this why so much of our communications have moved online?

As charities, we aspire to professional standards and our approaches certainly need to keep pace with the communications techniques other sectors employ. But we are also fortunate to benefit from goodwill and the resource of volunteers – to name but two benefits of the voluntary sector – and this should also frame what we say and how.There remain no ‘easy answers’ or ‘quick wins’ to fundraising in 2011. How innovative and thought-provoking are we prepared to make our communications? 

Diana Mackie

PR manager, Institute of Fundraising