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One year in: Coalition and charities

11 May 2011

We need to rethink our key messages and our communications with government, says nfpSynergy's driver of ideas Joe Saxton

So here we are after one year of a coalition government. There's a lot of talk and analysis of how well they have done. What about the charity sector? That’s a hard question to answer.

Two big things have changed in the last year. Firstly, government spending has been cut and the sector has been subject to those cuts. Many organisations have lost funding and seen their income fall dramatically. The recession had little impact in comparison to government’s plans to reduce the deficit.

The real problem for the sector is we are used to government being the source of funding for much of what we do, and when the money dries up we are not quite sure what else to talk about. And for want of a better idea we continue to bleat about funding cuts. Yes, funding cuts are devastating for those organisations involved, but the sector isn’t being singled out.

Rethinking key messages 

We need a new mantra. We need to have our own ideas about what the relationship between government and charities should look like. We are so used to making money the focus of our messages and substance of our dialogue with government that as a sector we tend to be left speechless when we need to talk about something else. We need to rethink our key messages and our communications with government.

The second big thing was the idea of the Big Society. Here was government with a big idea about the sector – rather than the other way round. We are like an ancient people whose ruler announces a plan to build a shiny new town for the people. We stood in awe of these plans. We were flattered by the attention from the great leader. But we’re still waiting to see what the town looks like.

In limbo

One year on, the grand idea of the Big Society is a laudable goal – but government has not put any flesh on the bones, nor has the sector been given ownership of the plans. We are all in limbo.

So after one year the work of charity communicators is badly needed. We need to work out what the sector wants from government when money isn’t centre-stage. The sector needs to find a new voice. We need to put better communications and better ideas at the heart of what we want to say.

Joe Saxton

driver of ideas, nfpSynergy

Joe Saxton is driver of ideas at nfpSynergy, and is the founder and Chair of CharityComms. Joe works on a range of specific projects particularly those looking at impact, communications or trusteeship. He also works on the overall direction and development of nfpSynergy.