Published: 26 July 2019

Sensitively telling other people’s stories, and getting the most out of them

Our small press office is very busy and we often need to find the right person for an opportunity at the drop of a hat. While our hundreds of amazing media volunteers make that possible, we have simple processes on our end to make sure that we get the right people in the right places.

Along with charities such as Anthony Nolan, we avoid the term case study where possible. Our volunteers are so much more than their story. Here’s our tips for managing them:

The right person for the job

Each story and person we work with is unique, so we spend time getting to know our volunteers. This starts with the first interview. Where possible, face-to-face interviews are preferred (or Skype). We give lots of time, to really get to know the person and ensure they feel supported and confident that we will look after them and their story.

We cover basic details which saves us time and ensures we find the right story when we need: what are their working patterns? How do they prefer to be contacted? Are there any opportunities they wouldn’t want to take? Not everyone will be up for going on national TV/appearing on social media etc, so find this out at the start.

This interview can establish if this is the right volunteering role and if it’s the right time. For some, it can be too soon and it is actually support the person needs. With these people, we ask if they want us to check in with them in a few months and point them in the right direction. However, many women tell us sharing their story can be a step in their own emotional recovery with the process being cathartic or signalling turning a corner. If someone does get emotional during their interview, we reassure them that it’s totally normal and will always follow up with links to our support services.

Sometimes, volunteers disagree with charity policy points and it’s much better to find this out in the early stages instead of during an interview! If this happens, we’ll try and see if there are other ways to work with them. Their story could be used in a report, or to help with a grant application for example.

Day to day

Knowing the person, instead of thinking of them as a ‘story’, means knowing which opportunities will suit becomes more instinctive. Some media volunteers do so much for us that the whole of Jo’s is on first-name terms with them. 

Showing how much you value your media volunteers can be as simple as If they have a hospital appointment or something coming up, putting a reminder in your calendar to drop them a line to check in.

We decided it was appropriate that only the Communications team can access our volunteers’ full stories as they give us so much detail. It also means we can manage how many approaches they are getting, especially if they are going through a tough time.

Take the time to support volunteers through interviews. Interviews that can seem small when you’re used to dealing with the media can be huge to other people. We don’t have the resources to offer official media training, but we always provide tips and a pep talk. One of the most important things we empathise is: their role is to tell their story and no one can do that any better than them. They’re not a spokesperson who is expected to know all our key messages, statistics and charity positions. We’re clear with journalists on this too and give our volunteers lines for if interviewers go off track.

However prepared you are, sometimes interviews don’t go to plan and it’s hard not to be affected by comment sections on some news articles. Helping people see the positives in their interviews, as well as the impact they are having is a great way to mitigate this. Feedback and thanks can’t be forgotten. If there were any specific comments made on social media, or in the office, pass them on! 

When the going gets tough

Working with media volunteers is rewarding, but can be really tough. It can mean listening to someone break down because you’re the first person they’ve ever talked to about their situation, or maybe the worst: hearing that one of your volunteers has passed away. This is why it’s so important to support staff through the process. 

Before an interview, we chat as a team and check the person conducting it is comfortable. If a call has been difficult, we’ll talk it through. It might be a learning experience or just a really sad story. The person who took it might need to take a break, do something lighter or speak to a member of our Services team.

Ensuring our team is in the right headspace for these calls is also important. We address the fact that aspects of the job can be hard at times and work closely with our Services team to ensure staff are equipped with the tools to deal with it. Just knowing that support network is there can make it much easier.

Impact

There are four people in our Communications and Public Affairs team. This spans all aspects of digital, campaigns, policy and media, as well as working with media volunteers. Our time and resources are pretty stretched!

However, through investing time into our approach, we are able to:
• Act quickly to find the right person for an opportunity
• Improve our understanding of the patient experience and care pathways
• Identify new campaign areas or areas for reports
• Make sure that the volunteer has a rewarding experience and feels truly valued


Kate Sanger, head of communications and public affairs, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Kate leads on communications and public affairs activity at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Stories are at the heart of the charity’s work and her team are responsible for all aspects of digital communications, media relations, campaigns, public affairs and branding. Previous roles include public health policy and communications and working in a PR agency.

Amy Reddington, communications officer, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Amy joined Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in 2018. She works closely with our media volunteers, alongside the media, and on campaigns, to raise the profile and spread the word about cervical cancer and how it can be prevented. She’s always thinking about new ways to tell powerful stories and support the people they belong to.