Stacey Harris, senior brand manager at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), recently spent six months volunteering as a communications manager at not-for-profit healthcare organisation Project Hope UK. She did this through GSK’s PULSE programme, which allows staff to volunteer for 3 – 6 months at a charity. CharityComms caught up with her to find out about her experiences.
You started your role at Project Hope UK in January 2010, what did the job involve?
My role was mostly focused on increasing awareness of the organisation in the UK. But I also helped launch The Thoughtful Path, a ten-year initiative in Munsieville, South Africa, aiming to transform the way children are supported.
The Thoughtful Path was launched with the Munsieville International Children’s Cup, a full replica of the FIFA World Cup with teams made up of vulnerable children from that community. We blogged about it, created videos and got the kids to write stories and updates.
Leveraging that activity using social media helped keep the programme top of mind: people saw what we were doing and how it impacted on the lives of the children and the community.
How have you worked on promoting it?
We’ve done a lot of work locally in South Africa with the South African media, and we’ve had a lot of local and national media coverage there.
Here in the UK, it’s been a lot of word-of-mouth; budgets are very tight, so we haven’t been able to do much traditional advertising. You have to look to do things a little differently, tapping everybody to pass it along to friends.
Have you made any major changes to the way the charity communicates?
Project Hope UK does not have a PR person in-house, and before I came along they utilised the skills and talents of the internal team to drive messages out. Although they had been doing a great job, in order to really drive up awareness they needed to leverage the skills and talents of PR professionals.
Have you got any tips for charities who might feel they can’t budget for working with external agencies?
Charities are their own best advocates, and they must constantly look for opportunities to promote their organisation. Join professional networks and volunteer to speak at professional engagements, as these are good ways to raise your profile.
But sometimes you have to ask an agency for the gift in kind – and you’d be surprised at what you get. One of the things I was able to leverage was some very gracious work from advertising agency Grey London.
Or you get volunteers who have experience or expertise in certain areas. Don’t dismiss the strength of the volunteer network – look for people who have great experiences that can help boost you. Challenge them.
You have to leverage more. You leverage your contacts, your volunteers, you ask questions around the office; you never know who people might know.
Were you shocked by the difference in resources between GSK and Project Hope UK?
It wasn’t a surprise. Whether it’s the private sector or the voluntary sector, you have to do more with less. Coming into an organisation that has a lot less, you have to become more resourceful. You get a lot more creative, and you can't be shy about using your contacts. You must also focus and prioritise because you don’t have the ability to make a blunder the first time around. When you have less money you have to be more definitive and decisive, and that’s a great thing to learn.
In a private corporation, you don’t have the same responsibility to tell people how you’re spending money. How would you tackle negative views of what charities spend donations on?
Trust is key. It’s important that everybody works very hard to be transparent about what they’re doing, their projects, their funding, their staff. Everything. I think you have to confront it head on, and be upfront about saying, 'look, this is how much we are spending on overheads'. Maybe the sector should take out a study to say ‘what are our overheads in relation to some of the private sector overheads?’, in order to get people to think differently; it is unrealistic to expect charities not to have overheads.
Stacey returned to GSK inspired by the third sector, especially the creativity, focus and determination to deliver to high standards despite budget limitations. The PULSE programme isn't about private sector experts teaching charity workers how to be more business-like: the knowledge and skill sharing is reciprocal. In Stacey's view: "It’s always good to look outside of your industry, whatever that is, to see what is going on."