When people talk of ‘brand awareness’, ‘PR gurus’ or the importance of ‘staying on message’, my immediate reaction is to scream ‘charlatan!’ and beat a hasty retreat. It’s not that I question the wisdom or value of having a good public image or doubt the benefits that positive media coverage can bring to an organisation; I just don’t like the way it’s so often disfigured by meaningless doublespeak and hollow corporate phrases. If you’d like a refreshing break from such talk, I’d recommend you come back to this office buzzword quiz (once you’ve finished reading this post, that is).
Like it or loathe it, though, good communication is a vital skill for any organisation. For fundraising charities, in particular, a good public image and friendly press coverage can make a world of difference. In recent times, it’s fair to say that charitable organisations in the UK have taken something of a bashing – from the debacle over Kids Company to the Age UK energy deals scandal, charities don’t have to look far to find examples of bad news stories. But it’s not just the headline-grabbing charities and behemoth INGOs that should take note. For smaller charities too, a successful communications plan is fast becoming a prerequisite. It generates greater awareness of the issue you are tackling and your role in doing so, the potential for new volunteers, staff or funders to join you and a chance to get your issue on to the agendas of politicians and policymakers.
Good communication skills, then, are a must-have for almost any charity, but don’t think that that means you need to go out and hire a whole new team just to handle it. With a little research and maybe a bit of training, you can go far. In South Africa, we’ve been trialling an approach to identify grantee needs in this area and then look at providing support to meet those needs. Some of our grantees there have been given access to social media training, a data journalism school and tailored support on how to pitch stories and increase the chances of getting that favourable press coverage that could make all the difference. To date, we have only done this work in South Africa, but we fully recognise this is something that our grantees in other countries could easily benefit from. If you think this kind of support would be valuable to your work, we’d love to hear from you.