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Making the case for comms

15 March 2022

In our line of work, resource can be scarce, and teams overstretched. But how can we overcome this? Well in a nutshell we need to get better at describing and proving our value.

For those of us working in small or medium charities, it can be hard to show senior leaders how valuable comms can be at helping the charity reach its objectives. There’s often a feeling that comms is a ‘nice to have’, and resource is put towards it only as the charity grows much bigger. As a result, comms can often be under resourced and overstretched.

CharityComms’ recent survey showed 85.5% of us said we typically work over our contracted hours. And that we felt comms was less valued than it was during the height of the pandemic. But if only we could adjust the perception and show that if we invest early and well in our brand and comms, growth will follow.

So how can we make a strong case for comms?

1. We need to get better at articulating our value to colleagues who don’t know

We know that good communications is crucial for growth. But not everybody we work with does. We need to make sure we don’t pull any punches if we’re asked why comms is needed: that without it, people won’t know who we are, they won’t understand what we do, and they won’t care enough about why we do it.

Good comms can lead to more donations, valuable corporate partnerships, more volunteers, and great people applying to our jobs.

There are many examples of when great comms has led to incredible results, like the Natural History Museum campaign that embraced humour and the language of memes to engage young audiences, leading to the most visitors it had in 145 years.

But without the big wins of donations or programme delivery directly attributed to our work, it can be hard to prove how comms can fuel growth until it happens.

2. We need to get better at backing it up with evidence

I’ve worked with and for many charities, big and small, during my years at youth charity Impetus and in roles before it. The question of what we should measure is always high on the list of topics when we get-together with our comms peers. We want to be able to confidently answer the questions: ‘To what end? What did our comms work actually lead to?’

At Impetus, I’ve taken us through the most thorough communications strategy process in our history and I still don’t have the answers, but I think we’re getting much closer to them.

Monitoring day-to-day metrics – web visits, press coverage – is important for helping us track and improve our performance of specific activities. It helps to benchmark ourselves too by speaking with peers and keeping an eye on what’s good for the sector. For example, at Impetus, team-wide knowledge of the sector performance for newsletter open rates has often helped reassure us (and colleagues in the exec team) that although 30% sounds poor, it’s pretty good compared to the average!

But these metrics don’t illustrate our role in the big wins. What we really want to know is; Do our target audiences know who we are and what we’re about? What do they think of us? Will they advocate for us? I think we can get solid answers to these questions by:

  • Tracking brand performance among our existing supporters

We should ask our stakeholders what they think of us, regularly. At Impetus, we’ve included the question ‘How likely are you to recommend us to others on a scale of 1-10?’ in a biennial survey. This net promoter score helps us measure our performance through our audiences’ eyes. We also interview a select group of stakeholders across our range of audience groups. This helps us to understand what we’re doing well and what we need to improve in terms of our brand performance.

  • Monitoring brand recognition and reputation among our target audiences

It’s tricker to find out if our target audiences know who we are if they’re not directly engaging with us. So, paying for market research (e.g. nfpResearch Charity Awareness Monitor) can tell us how well-known our brand is while social media sentiment analysis can help us understand how it’s perceived.

3. We need to be realistic about what can be achieved with greater capacity

We need to demonstrate what we can achieve with the capacity we have versus what we can achieve with more.

This might mean tracking how much time we’re spending on certain tasks. A daunting prospect I know but being honest and realistic doesn’t make us ineffective, it makes us better at managing our time!

Clarifying our objectives and selectively saying ‘no’ to work that falls outside of them is important. It helps us manage our workloads of course but also builds credibility internally.

More capacity doesn’t have to be an intimidating ask like an extra full-time member of staff. There are many options, like outsourcing to agencies or paying for interim support from a freelancer or temporary role. It’s about proposing what we need to achieve more.

Perhaps if we support each other to get great at this as a community, we’ll see comms becoming viewed more as a strategic lever than a support function. Which will translate into increased budgets, people power and salaries!

I’d love to know what techniques have worked for you in making the case for comms. Please reach out on Twitter or via lizzie@lizzie-communications.co.uk

Banner image: Agnivesh Jayadeep on Unsplash

Lizzie Pring

Communications consultant, Freelance

Lizzie has spent 15 years creating and leading marketing and communications strategies for the sector, most recently for youth charity, Impetus. She specialises in strategy, brand and messaging.