Adeela Warley: What a camel library can teach us about putting people first

Listening to and communicating with audiences will help charities stay relevant in a time of great demand

Sometimes a news story can truly capture your heart. For me, it was recently the joyous photographs of a camel named Roshan, currently serving as the mobile library for villages in Pakistan where Covid-19 has closed schools.

The dromedary library was the brainchild of two sisters: one a government minister, the other a headteacher. It is a project that speaks of determination, ingenuity, and compassion.

Without doubt these qualities are reflected in the work of charities facing up to the pandemic, finding inventive ways to communicate with and serve those who need us most.

It has not been easy, and there are definitely winners and losers as the government, media and the public focus on domestic issues over global causes.

Research into the pandemic’s impact on charities by the market research agency nfpSynergy shows we are increasingly a nation that thinks “charity begins at home”.

So, how can charity communicators help ensure their cause is seen as timely and relevant? By staying close to our existing audiences, who care about what we do.

Central to Parkinson’s UK’s pandemic response was to set up cross-organisational teams to gather and share insight – mapping patient anxieties and needs to develop new, cross-channel content, and providing trusted information to patients unsure about the safety of vaccines.

As Charlotte Jackson, associate director and head of engagement and comms at the charity, says: “You don’t need specialist data skills, you just need a person who cares about listening.”

Those behind the camel library listened to parents and children who were eager to learn, and missed school. Instead of hoofing it, they responded with an idea that met that need – a principle worth following, whether you’re challenged with communicating local or global concerns.

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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