Hot issue: Do charity communicators need a trade body?

Charity communications chiefs are due to meet next month to discuss IoF chair Joe Saxton's proposal for an Institute of Communicators in Charities, open to anyone whose job includes websites, policy, PR and media

NO - Amanda Powell-Smith, director, Forster Company

It is absolutely right that the work of charity communicators should be recognised and respected, but establishing a specialist institution is the wrong approach.

To be successful, charity communicators must place their work in the real world and be able to compete against high-profile and often big-spending initiatives from blue-chip companies and government departments. Yes, they do have challenges and circumstances that are exclusive to their charitable status, but to overcome them they should mix with peers working for private and public as well as not-for-profit sectors.

There are already several institutions that offer qualifications, training and networking opportunities, from the Chartered Institute of Marketing to the Institute of Public Relations or the Institute of Direct Marketing.

If a specialist forum is needed, it should be set up as part of one of these, not as a standalone - and potentially isolated - unit. Not only would this save on bureaucracy, it would benefit from best practice and shared learning from a wide range of disciplines.

Charities are rapidly increasing their professionalism and should be encouraged to see themselves as communicators first and charity specialists second.

YES - Caroline Diehl, chief executive, the Media Trust

Recent Exemplar research, conducted by the Media Trust and funded by the Home Office, asked this very question, and the response was positive.

A majority of respondents (58 per cent) wanted a specific membership or professional body that offered a career model, appropriate qualifications and networking opportunities. The study showed that few people working in the voluntary and community sector belong to existing trade bodies for communications professionals.

Communication is vital to our sector. Since we rely upon the financial support of government and the public, we - arguably more than anyone - must show accountability, openness and good practice. If a trade body helped to improve that by harmonising standards, it would be a good idea.

For more than ten years, the Media Trust has successfully delivered communications training and support work to 5,000 charities a year. It is crucial that the new trade body complements the work already being done by existing charity communications organisations and trade bodies. And we must ensure that new money is not wasted on set-up and overhead costs.

YES - Lucy Maggs, head of communications, Crisis

Communications work in charities tends to be seen as an add-on, a nice-to-have, a way to promote projects and fundraising and perhaps to get your chair or chief executive quoted in the newspapers every now and then.

A professional trade body would develop recognition in the sector for the enormous value good communications bring.

Charity communicators are effectively the eyes, ears and mouths of organisations.

They monitor and influence external audiences, from politicians and the media to the general public. At a time when the integrity of charities is constantly under question, it is particularly important for organisations to communicate clearly with the external world.

By promoting good practice and raising standards, a trade body would not only improve the communications of individual organisations but could also improve public trust and confidence in the sector as a whole.

NO - Gill Dandy, chair, Fifth Estate, Chartered Institute of Public Relations

We already have one. Fifth Estate, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations' charity sector group, has been in existence for the past 15 years.

I would agree that the professionalism and expertise of charity communicators deserves more recognition, but another trade body is not the way forward.

Although almost 50 per cent of Fifth Estate's 400 members are also CIPR members, the group has always been open to anyone in the not-for-profit sector whose job includes communications.

Voluntary sector communications have come a long way since Fifth Estate was set up to support them.

Last month, we launched our 15th anniversary awards to recognise and reward the hard work, skill and dedication of all those working in the charity sector.

This is the type of work I believe charity communicators should be supporting.

Time would be best spent furthering the work of Fifth Estate and consolidating resources.

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