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Put yourself in their shoes

15 March 2013

When planning an internal communications campaign for your charity there’s a temptation to think staff are just staff. The reality isn’t that simple.

Communicatiing effectively is all about knowing your audience. You need to know what they like and don’t like, what they already know about your project and what their current attitudes are towards it, what motivates and inspires them. This audience knowledge features as a matter of course in marketing and public communication campaigns, but how often is detailed audience understanding included in internal communication?

Groups of staff and volunteers

In my experience, most charities have a varied internal audience. If you are planning an internal communication campaign, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the different audience groups within your charity. These may include fundraisers, researchers, practitioners, finance clerks, shop staff, trainers, customer service staff, IT programmers – I could go on. In a very broad sense, you will often find a charity’s employee base will cover three general areas: the professional services (finance, HR etc.); the fundraisers; and those who are directly delivering the core service (nurses, practitioners, researchers etc). Whatever their role, it is likely people joined the charity because they believe in the cause and want to help make a difference. But this can all too easily get lost among the daily grind of invoice processing or product distribution. The physical environment they work in will also have an impact on the way they communicate and the things they want to hear about and discuss. For example, if they are working in a hospice, spending their shift caring for patients, the time and accessibility of communications will need to be targeted accordingly.

You also need to think about your volunteers. You probably have volunteers engaged in a range of activities, from retail volunteers to street collectors and office interns. Each of these groups will also have very different reasons for being involved with your charity, they will be inspired by different things and they will have different beliefs. All these things will affect their willingness or ability to take on board and engage with your communications.

Use engaging stories about the impact you have to reconnect your people – staff and volunteers – with the real reason for being there, to remind them how they make a difference every time they process an invoice efficiently, meet their shop fundraising target or befriend one of your vulnerable service users. Never underestimate the powerful motivational pull of your cause internally, as well as externally.

With so many different groups, you can build a picture of the way they work and the way they communicate to act as a guide for your messages and the communication channels you use. This is an important part of your communication planning. As with your marketing and PR campaigns, without understanding of your audience you’re likely to miss the mark.

Do your research

Decide on the main groups within your staff and volunteer body and consider your project from the perspective of each one. Take time to consider:

  • What are their needs and motivations? Why do they work (or volunteer) for your charity? What do they hope to get from their time with you? What inspires them?
  • What topics do they want to know about?
  • What do they already know and/or understand?
  • Who do they listen to?
  • How do they like to receive communication?

If it helps, you can put up a picture of each group on the wall, stand it front of it and really inhabit their perspective. I have found this approach works well, especially if you are not used to planning internal communications campaigns. Of course, you can also gather this insight by asking your audience the questions directly – carrying out internal market research.

Finally, for each group think about what they want to know about your project and what you want to tell them. Not necessarily the same thing, but if you are aware of the difference, you can address the gap in an appropriate manner.

If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, know your audience, your key messages and the right channels to use you’ll end up with a successful campaign.

Sarah Browning

Kindness cheerleader and communicator, Browning York Ltd

Sarah is a communicator and kindness cheerleader. She set up the Time for Kindness Instagram account and website to amplify stories of kindness. If you’d like to part of rebalancing the narrative and sharing those stories, get in touch You can find details of Sarah’s work with organisations that have a vision of a kinder world at