Published: 1 July 2010

Seven things we learnt at Fit for the Future: Developing a Communications Strategy in a Changing World

The coalition government. Budget cuts. Slow recovery from the recession. When putting together your charity’s communications strategy you need to consider them all.

The recent CharityComms conference on developing a communications strategy helped charity communicators to think about key issues as they put together their strategies.

Here are seven things we learnt during the day.

1. Consider the six Cs.

In the opening plenary session, Betty McBride, Policy and Communications Director at the British Heart Foundation, confessed that her charity’s communications strategy fitted on one single A4 sheet. The strategy is based around what she calls the six Cs: cause, climate, customers, colleagues, collaboration and communications. Betty said that you must figure out what you want to say, who you want to say it to, get colleagues on board in order to say it and come up with ways to best get your message across together. “Only then can you come up with your communications strategy,” said Betty.

2. Think beyond The Guardian.

Betty McBride admitted that when the British Heart Foundation gets coverage in national press, like The Guardian, she does tend to wave the cutting in front of her boss’ eyes. But she warned delegates: “Don’t sell the idea of coverage. The objective is what you should talk about.” So while it’s nice to get coverage for your charity in the national media, if it doesn’t meet your objectives, whether it’s targeting women at risk of heart disease or reducing smoking, it hasn’t done its job. Getting coverage which meets your objectives and reaches your target audience should be what your communications strategy prioritises.

3. It’s okay to be relaxed about strategy.

Katie Tait, Head of Online at Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres admitted that her team were stalled by words like “social media strategy” and “campaign” while they were putting together the charity’s first online strategy. They were too scared to start tweeting and felt that Facebook had gone “feral”. But then, with the support of digital agency Vexed, they decided to just go for it. Don’t let strategy intimidate you – “just engage”, Katie advised. Their aim was to create a virtual community of service users and be themselves. As a result, they managed to create a strong central presence on Facebook, as well as support regional centres to set up their own pages, driving visitors to their main site and rallying support for the charity’s activities.

4. E-communication is all about relationships.

“It’s about being seen, being friendly and being helpful,” said Sue Fidler, Director at charity IT consultancy Sue Fidler Ltd. She advised delegates to not only take advantage of the free or cheap communications opportunities on offer in the online world, such as Flickr, Twitter or blogs, but to take advantage of the fact that people are already using them: encourage your supporters to talk about you online in forums, groups or networks. Charities need to accept the fact that donors choose to engage in the online world, said Sue – and they need to be responsive to their donors’ preferences. Reach out to donors using the medium they are most interested in.

5. Be aware of netiquette.

If you’re going to embrace social media, there are some things to be aware of before you start, advised Rob Dyson, PR Manager at Whizz-Kidz. “Create a space for people to ask questions – and answer them,” said Rob. Crucially, Rob, who is responsible for his charity’s social media activities, said he never deletes messages they don’t like, criticises or dismisses anyone. If there isn’t enough space to address a criticism – Twitter’s 140 character limit can be difficult – remember that you can signpost users to different parts of your organisation, and website. Talk like real people, and “have fun and be creative,” said Rob.

6. Think small.

Trust is a complex issue, but Jonathan Baker from charity research consultancy nfpSynergy made it easier to understand. He shared recent research into what factors influenced public trust in charities. Jonathan explained that there will always be some factors outside your control. For example, people are likely to trust charities whose work has affected their own life or those organisations that have been around for a long time – but gaining trust is not totally out of your hands. nfpSynergy research shows organisations with descriptive names, such as The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association or Teenage Cancer Trust, have greater levels of support. People also trust a charity if they have “heard the name”. Small, simple details matter when building trust, so don’t overlook them.

7. Research, monitor and measure.

Rachel Beer, Founder of marketing agency beautiful world, stressed the importance of research when deciding what digital tools to use. It may feel like everyone in the world is using Twitter, but that doesn’t mean your target audience will be. Using a tool like Google DoubleClick Ad Planner, a free media planning tool, you can identify which websites are popular amongst different audiences. Once you have an online presence, advised Rachel, make use of one of the many free online analytical tools – Twitalyzer, Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics – to measure your impact.


Trina Wallace, copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.