2009: the year in charity communications

Our round-up of the key news stories


A year ago, most charities had never heard of Twitter. By the end of 2009, there was no shortage of communications experts claiming that organisations with no strategy for the social networking site were falling off the radar.

Charities were among the first organisations to embrace Twitter. They recognised its potential to help them organise supporters, publicise their causes and to talk directly to opinion-formers – in 140 characters or less. The #charitytuesday search term gave charities the opportunity to promote themselves. In the US, charities experimented with 'Twitanthropy' fundraising – with limited success.

Digital strategist Thomas Gensemer, one of the web gurus behind Barack Obama's online election campaign, set the cat among the pigeons in February when he said email newsletters to charity supporters were a waste of time. He said organisations should instead send short, personalised emails to supporters giving instructions about participation.

A proposal from the advertising authorities to end the ban preventing charities from comparing themselves with other third sector organisations in adverts caused debate in March. The proposal was part of a consultation on the wider advertising code which closed in June. The results are expected in early 2010.

Barnardo's forced the Daily Mail to pay out a four-figure donation after controversy broke out over the way it reported comments by chief executive Martin Narey about Baby Peter, it emerged in June. Barnardo's complained to the Press Complaints Commission about a story with the headline "'Baby P would have grown up to be a feral, parasitic yob,' claims leading child campaigner".

Narey said the story failed to make it clear that he had used the description only as an example of how society might refer to disadvantaged children. The complaint was withdrawn after the Daily Mail made the donation and wrote what Narey described as a "gracious" letter of apology.

Two surveys published in the summer showed there was work to do on improving the public's perception of charities. A YouGov poll commissioned by chief executives body Acevo revealed that there were widespread misconceptions about the sector, particularly with regard to finance. Sixty-one per cent of respondents thought charities spent more than 20 per cent of their income on overheads, and 16 per cent thought they spent more than 50 per cent. The correct average figure is 12.5 per cent.

A Charities Aid Foundation poll also revealed that charities could be missing out on donations and volunteering time from young people because they were not communicating effectively with them. Eighty-five per cent of the 10 to 16-year-olds polled thought charities should work harder to engage them, and many more said they would like to help charities – by giving either time or money – than had already done so.

The question of what the charity formed by the merger of Age Concern and Help the Aged would be called was finally put to rest in November. The charity, formed in April under the legal name Age UK, spent six months and the best part of £100,000 coming up with a new name and then announced it would be... Age UK. But we can't use the name yet, because the charity is not going to be known as Age UK until after official launch in the spring.


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