Communications is often looked at as a ‘nice to have’ in third sector organisations. This is particularly the case for smaller charities, where the day-to-day of trying to stay afloat can cause volunteers to struggle to find the time for conversations around strategy and growth. Although the day-to-day is essential, the longer-term goals of any charity are what keep people motivated and engaged, and what will ultimately help a charity reach its potential and impact as many people as it can. Creating a platform that communicates a charity’s mission impactfully and eloquently, is one of, if not the most, fundamental components required to be successful; reinforcing the value of this in the charity sector is imperative.
The CharityComms 2020 report highlighted the heightened importance of communications in the charity sector, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a subsequent shift to virtual working. Even though prioritising comms was beneficial to organisations during this time, arguably brought front of mind by an immediate pressure to look at the need to adapt ways of communicating (67% of charities changed how they communicated with donors during this time) – as we move back to ‘normal’ and Zoom calls (almost) fade to memory, the perception and value of comms is now slowly being deprioritised once again. So how can we make sure that charities protect time to keep a focus on communications?
I’ve been involved in running the Scottish blood donation awareness charity, Give Blood 4 Good, since 2019. The charity was set up in memory of my friend Patrick Smith, who was a passionate LGBTQ+ blood donor. I was introduced to the world of comms in late 2020 when I joined Porter Novelli, and before this, I had no idea of the value that comms experience could bring to our small charity.
Two years on, we continue to raise awareness and increase the number of people regularly donating blood, where our work is estimated to have impacted over 6,500 lives. We’ve now reached a pivotal point that to take our charity to the next level and reach a wider audience, beyond family and friends; ensuring our communications strategy is solid has never been more vital.
Do you remember the 2015 ‘Missing Type’ campaign for NHS Blood and Transplant? If we need to be inspired by the value of good PR, this is it: In its first week, the campaign saw more than 30,000 new donors register to give blood – that’s around eight times the normal number of new donors that the NHS see sign up in a typical week, even today.
Most charities wouldn’t have the budget for something of this scale; however, Missing Type emphasises the impact that strategic, creative comms can have – and, particularly when it comes to charities and healthcare organisations, the good it can do for society. If this campaign could increase the number of people who donate blood by 30,000 in one week – that’s saving or improving up to 90,000 lives in total across the UK – smaller campaigns could still have a profound impact on so many people.
It’s important to note that good comms doesn’t only mean huge campaigns. Communications can help charities develop fundraising strategies, engage influencers, as well as provide support in the efficiency of the day-to-day running of the organisation. There is so much value it can give, even when money is tight – all it is, is knowing how to do this effectively. At Give Blood 4 Good, we’ve seen the way that even small amounts of positive publicity can make a difference.
Since I started at Porter Novelli, I’ve been inspired by the breadth of experience and the knowledge that my colleagues have. I’ve been able to take the skills I’ve learned from these people over the past 18 months for the benefit of Give Blood 4 Good, and have been encouraged to advocate for the need to prioritise communications in our activities. As I continue to gain experience and learn from my colleagues, I’m looking forward to seeing where we can take Give Blood 4 Good over the next few years.
I asked earlier how we can help charities prioritise their communications. Sharing inspiring case studies? Offering our time for free? There’s no easy, one size fits all solution, but for the moment, and with my own experience, I can recommend the original PR tool: word of mouth. If you see something organised by a charity that makes you think, tell people about it. And if you’re a comms professional, who is passionate about a particular charitable cause, I’d encourage you to reach out and offer support – whether it be for a one-off meeting or a longer-term role; the value of your knowledge and experience will be so appreciated and can go so much further than you could imagine.