Stella Smith: We have plenty to shout about but in the right way

If there's one thing to learn from Brexit and Trump, it's to talk positively about ourselves, writes the consultant

Stella Smith
Stella Smith

At some time in our working lives, we all experience one of those discussions in which the debate goes round in circles and you just wish someone would cut to the chase and get the job done.

So although the success of the Brexit and Trump campaigns took many of us by surprise, it is easy to understand the appeal. Both campaigns capitalised on widespread frustration with the debates of a political elite. Their leaders offered solutions (not always based on fact and evidence) that brought a fresh energy and hope to many people who had become disillusioned with the status quo. As we wait to see what Brexit and a Trump presidency mean in practice, what can the sector learn from the two campaigns?

Certainly there must be something we can learn about communicating and influencing. After all, many charities have very successfully challenged the status quo and achieved excellent results, being the driving forces behind new legislation and schemes to protect vulnerable people.

So we have plenty to shout about, but somehow we haven't quite articulated it. The Brexit and Trump campaigns highlighted how the promise of positive change can inspire people to action better than warnings about consequences.

There are no easy answers, but charity communications do often focus on the dangers of the world, the plight of refugees or the perils of global warming, and much of it is created in order to raise money. It might be time to consider how we communicate the positive aspects of what we have achieved and how we convey a clear, vigorous message of change.

Campaigns should also prompt the sector to look at stretching its circle of influence to the many people who clearly feel they have been overlooked for too long. We need to get better at influencing outside our core constituency of Westminster and the major donors and funders.

Diversity in the sense of involving people of different genders, religions, ethnicity, sexuality and so forth is often high on the agenda. However, there are many people who might be of the same gender and ethnicity but whose values and world views are very different from our own. We have to acknowledge and work with this.

As Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said in a recent Third Sector blog, it might be time to challenge our assumptions and make sure our politics do not prevent us from working alongside people who think differently from us.

And perhaps in this post-truth reality we have to acknowledge that what we think is important about our work might not be what sparks commitment and inspires public action. Long-term strategies, facts and evidence are important to us in putting together our fundraising cases, measuring impact and checking our internal operational efficacy. More important to others is that we get on with the job we set out to do, and say so.

Perhaps if there is one thing we should learn from the events of 2016 it may well be just that - let's talk less about the consequences of underfunding and more about our drive, commitment and the positive change we have achieved and will continue to achieve.

Stella Smith is a consultant and facilitator

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