Help for not for profit and charity trustees


the difficult issue of communications. with whom do you wish to communicate?

All charities and not for profit organisations are keen to get their message out and the issue of marketing, communications, or comms as they are increasingly referred to, is frequently a hot topic in such organisations. I’ve stayed off this topic because there is so much stuff on the subject that adding some more seemed like a waste of time. Having recently read some articles and advice, which in my view fell far short of what was useful, I decided to put my two penny worth in.

The place to start is what messages to you want to convey to whom? What actually are you trying to achieve by having a programme of ‘comms’? Quite simple questions … well you might think so but in practice, they can be difficult! So let’s start with ‘who’. Who do you want to communicate with? We can then move on to what do you want to say to them.

Each charity will have a different range of individuals and organisations so providing a comprehensive list is not possible. So the following are some examples:

The Public

A bit of a minefield this as the numbers are great, most will not be interested and the cost of reaching them, prohibitive. However, if you are engaged in something like emergency relief (and the Turkey/Syria earthquake had just happened as I am typing this) the public may well be a target since coverage of that event has been extensive and harrowing. Normally though, for a small charity, the public is out of reach.

A professional audience

Many charities work with a ‘professional’ audience which might include clinicians, GPs, social services or housing officers who, in one way or another, are coming across those who you are trying to help. They may well be useful referrers and even if not, it would be wise to keep them up to date with what you able to offer. If you are involved in environmental issues, there will be a different set of people.


This can include staff you want to employ, volunteers or trustees you want to join you. They are all key to helping you run the show. They will have distinct needs and wants so the message to them will be different.

Clients; users

There may be other words you use for this group but it is basically, for people charities, those you are seeking to help.


I will add those for completeness but in reality, funders are usually communicated with directly and via their own application forms and the like. I will just make one point though: applications to funders need to focus on the how you are going to do the project you are applying for, as well as the what. There can be a tendency to over egg the ‘what’ aspect and rather overlook the interest of the funder in knowing ‘how’ you will do it and account for the money.


There may be another group depending on your activity. A regulatory body perhaps?

Starting with who? is in my view more useful than what it is you are trying to say. It is also usually a pretty easy exercise since it is likely you and your colleagues will have a good idea of the people and organisations you are dealing with or can be of help. I haven’t posed the question where? since it should be clear from your strategy the areas you are operating in and it might even appear in the Articles.

It is worth asking though ‘is there anyone else or any other organisation we need to consider’? It can be all too easy to slip into a rut and list the familiar names. But times change, new kids arrive on the block so you do need to do a bit of horizon scanning from time to time.

So that’s it for now and in the next post I hope to go to the next stage and thing about what messages you are going to convey to each group. I will leave you with the basic thought that one message does not suit all. Obvious you might think but take a look at your existing materials – printed and electronic – and say what audience it’s aimed at.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee. Riverside

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