Help for not for profit and charity trustees

Comms II

I discussed the issue of who to communicate with in the last post. Here i want to say a bit more about what you communicate

I briefly discussed who you might want or need to communicate with in the last post and here I want to move on to what messages you wish to impart.

One of the difficulties most charities and not for profit organisations face is that they are often ‘in between’. By that I mean you raise funds from A to enable you to help someone, a group, or cause, B. Most commercial organisations by contrast, have a direct one-to-one relationship with their customers – you the customer, engage with a business to buy something and you give them money for it. This poses its own problems for charities of which more later.

So you have your list of who you want to communicate with. Now we need to look at two aspects to the ‘what’ message: what it is you want to say to them and, what is it they want to know from you. First, what do you want to say to them?

  • that we exist, especially true for a new organisation. The world of small charities is surprisingly crowded and there are lots of people striving for attention.
  • the problem you are trying to deal with or mitigate.
  • what your charity does. This is closely connected with the preceding bullet point but there is often a difference between the cause and the charity. Key here is saying how you can help.
  • where you do it, when you do it. In some cases you might need to spell out what you cannot do.
  • getting in touch and making contact.
  • seeking help and possibly volunteers.
  • there is one other point and that is integrity. It is an unfortunate fact that people are less trusting of charities now following various scandals, so you need to convey trust, honesty and integrity in your messages. People who work and volunteer for charities sometimes find it hard to accept that their desire to help and empathy for those they are helping, is not universally accepted by all. I suggest in my book it is valuable for charities to do some street campaigning if at all possible to give them an understanding of people’s responses to your cause.

What do they want to know from you? The list is much the same but is nuanced:

  • they might want to know how you can help them. This could mean defining your help a little or perhaps, giving some examples to make it less nebulous.
  • they are likely to know how effective you are. If I give you a pound, how much gets to the cause you say you are dealing with? Again, public attitudes are difficult here: they resent the salaries paid the CEXs of the larger charities despite the fact that these are often large and complex organisations and need good managers the same as a company. They often fail to recognise that all charities of any size need organisation, to prepare accounts, train staff, pay rent, insure, well, on and on … People sometimes seem to think that volunteers are ‘free’ and staff should work for paltry wages because it’s a charity. There is not much you can do about these attitudes but you do need to be aware they exist and that demonstrating effectiveness does help.
  • they might want convincing that you can actually make a difference. Some problems are so large that people think however much I give you, will you achieve much to dent it?
  • Isn’t charity X and charity Y doing the same thing [so why don’t you all get together?]. This is about differentiating your charity and being clear about what you actually do.

So these are some of the things you need to bear in mind when thinking about communications and marketing. This last set of points relate to the issue of the ‘in between’ problem I mentioned. You are asking someone to give you money to help someone, or something, else. They, the giver, is most unlikely ever to meet the recipient of the help. Unlike in a commercial transaction, they cannot physically examine the goods or read the publicity and come to some kind of decision on whether to buy. This is why trust, integrity and effectiveness are so important. It’s all connected with your brand: conveying to people through words, images and impressions that you are worthwhile and credible.

We’ve looked at who you are going to communicate with, what messages you want/need to give them and what they want to know from you. Three components. In the next post I will try and suggest how you do this.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee where some of these issues are explored in more depth.

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