Interview: Jamie Matthews

The campaigns researcher at CharityComms is currently analysing a survey of recent changes in charity communications

Jamie Matthews
Jamie Matthews

In 2008, Facebook had less than a fifth of the number of users it has today, Twitter was only two years old and the UK had just entered recession.

"A lot has changed in the past four years," says Jamie Matthews, a campaigns researcher at CharityComms, a membership body for charity communications professionals. "It's timely to test out the anecdotal sense that things are happening against some data."

CharityComms has done just that in its first communications benchmark survey since 2008, which was open for responses up to 20 March.

The 2012 survey has new sections devoted to the boom in social media and the recession. It also looks at topics covered in the 2008 version of the survey, such as the importance of communications within charities.

Matthews expects social media and communications for mobile devices to have shot up in importance and print media to have experienced a relative decline.

Branding is also likely to have become more important since 2008 because, he says, "it is less and less of a dirty word".

Internal communications will also have become more significant since the last survey, which is to be expected at a time when some charities have the tricky job of maintaining the support of their staff while making cuts and job losses.

There were bound to be charities that cut communications budgets during the economic downturn, but Matthews thinks there might have been a general increase in communications spending.

"I get the impression that more charities are able to invest in communications," he says. "Some areas of communications that were once seen as off-putting to donors, such as branding, are increasingly seen as important to the ability of charities to fulfil their goals."

In 2008, almost a third of respondents thought their trustees did not know or understand a lot about communications, and 19 per cent thought communications was not respected in their organisations. Since then, says Matthews, charities have recognised that communications can help with core work, such as fundraising and campaigning, rather than simply representing a cost.

Social media has turned communications into a dialogue between charities and their supporters rather than a monologue. Those charities that succeeded in creating this dialogue would also be the most likely to get offline results, such as increased donations, from their online communications, says Matthews.

He thinks communications professionals find it easier to measure the impact of their work than they did four years ago and this has helped them to demonstrate the importance of communications to charity trustees and senior managers.

At this stage, Matthews' thoughts on what has changed in charity communications over the past four years are based on anecdotes from practitioners. Those seeking hard evidence will have to wait for the results of the survey, which will be published in May.

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