The scandal spotlight has swung from betting bankers, hacking newspapers and expense-account politicians to charities, and our sector is being battered and scrutinised. The latter is fine because no charity should fear donors and others having real insight to how they operate.
In his timely BBC Radio 4 programme on the sector, Matthew Taylor probed whether larger charities were just big companies with fat-cat salaries, growth strategies and slick PR that tars the entire sector when it comes unstuck. Action for Children told Taylor it "doesn’t exist to grow; it exists to support children, young people and families. Everything we do is focused through that prism." How can charities take the best ideas from the private sector without becoming too corporate – as some might see it – and losing sight of what we do differently?
Companies have become important partners for many charities and the best ones have credible social and ethical policies. But the private sector also competes with charities for airtime, public attention and money. We can borrow neat ideas and be as professional as any well-run business in our finances, communications and more, but charities are fundamentally different from profit-driven corporates and, if we forget this – at our peril – how will people know the difference? Ask your communications team. They will distil why you exist and help all involved to communicate your aims, values and the all-important difference made. And when things go wrong (which they will), whether it’s a drama or a real crisis they will help tell your story with authenticity.
Comms professionals are not optional extras for when a crisis hits the fan; they are as essential to charities as good HR and financial staff, showing how charities are business-like but are not here to build market share and grow income for shareholders.
Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms