Charities put money into group to help combat negative media coverage

The Understanding Charities Group has raised £16,400 from charities and an accountancy firm

Negative media coverage
Negative media coverage

The Understanding Charities Group has raised more than £15,000 in funding from charities including the British Heart Foundation to carry out research into how the sector can best educate the public about the way modern charities work.

The group, which was launched in 2014 by CharityComms and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to tackle negative coverage of the sector, has received £5,000 from the BHF, £2,000 from the MS Society, £2,000 from Arthritis Research UK and £1,000 from the accountancy firm Kingston Smith.

CharityComms and the NCVO also contributed £5,000 and £1,400 respectively.

The group spent the funding, which comes to £16,400, on helping charities explain how they work and why they do what they do.

Vicky Browning, the director of CharityComms who is leading the project, told Third Sector the narrative was tested on the public through focus groups in which participants were asked for their views on the concept of having a narrative as well as its tone and language.

She said the bulk of the research was carried out on a voluntary basis but the testing stage required funding in order to pay for specialist agency support and for focus group facilities.

"This has been funded by a few different organisations that are interested in hearing people's concerns about charities and ensuring we respond to them," she said. "It's important that we understand attitudes to charities so we can better target our messages and resources."

She said the group was producing a resource pack for charities to encourage them to use the narrative with different audiences.

Chloe Stables, external relations manager at the NCVO, said a narrative that charities could use to help explain how they work would be presented to a group of charity chief executives at a meeting hosted by the NCVO and the charity leaders body Acevo in June.

A website aimed at telling the public how charities work was also being created, she said, and would be launched in the early summer.

Asked why the BHF decided to contribute to the initiative, Carolan Davidge, director of marketing and engagement at the heart disease charity, said commissioning the work as a group was more cost effective than having individual charities do it.

"We want to properly understand the public's attitudes to the charity sector, to identify any issues they might have so that we can respond as a sector," she said.

Nick Brooks, not-for-profit partner at Kingston Smith, said he was motivated to support the project after observing increased press criticism of chief executive pay levels, as well as issues including their campaigning, fundraising methods and administration costs.

A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK said the charity provided the funding so that it could better understand people’s attitudes to the sector, which it felt would enable it to have an "open and honest dialogue" with people to address their concerns.

The Understanding Charities Group has been planning to produce a narrative for the sector since January 2015, when it published a briefing document saying this would be a positive, proactive way for the sector to talk about itself that would show charities as an innovative, exciting and dynamic part of society.

"We hope this will help charities tell their stories better in the context of the wider sector," the document said.

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