Adeela Warley: Let 2020 be the decade charity communications move from 'cacophony to symphony'

Finding ways to work together in solidarity rather than competition will enable charities to focus on the most pressing issues of the new decade

The 2019 Turner Prize was shared by four artists who persuaded the judges not to choose any one winner. The artists wanted to make a collective statement in a time when there is "already so much that divides and isolates people and communities."

The gesture made me question whether charities locked into a competitive pattern – racing to the top of the brand index, to secure the most media coverage, the most supporters, the highest income, the bulging trophy cabinet, the greatest share of public attention.

Is tackling poverty more important than finding cures for cancer? Is solving the climate crisis more important than eradicating child abuse? Of course not – yet our communications can pit causes against each other and force audiences to choose.

Campaigning coalitions have secured major change, but this can also be a painful experience with long debates about consistent messaging and brand share.

So perhaps we need a radical shift in our communications approach – as Nicky Hawkins at the Frameworks Institute describes it: "the move from cacophony to symphony".

By creating unifying frames and repeating them often, we give people the chance to actually hear us. We join the dots and show people we are all pointing in the same direction with our eyes firmly fixed on the bigger prize.

This doesn’t mean parroting the same messages in the same way. Within those frames there is plenty of room for creativity, innovation and tailored messages, but the difference is that the sum will be greater than the parts.

Communication is power and, by finding ways to work together in solidarity rather than competition, we can focus that power on the most pressing issues of the new decade.

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms


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