How charities talk to their supporters

Make sure that a charity's brand values apply to all beneficiaries and donors, says Vicky Browning

Vicky Browning
Vicky Browning

A lot of thought is being given at the moment as to how charities talk to their supporters. The first project of the Commission on the Donor Experience, for example, is a piece of research that focuses on developing language to improve the donor experience. One of the aims is to recommend the sort of language fundraisers should not use if they want to be welcomed and understood by donors.

Alongside how we talk to supporters is the question of how we talk about them. When we use words such as "target", "acquisition" and "cultivation", for example, we're not thinking of donors or supporters as people, but as commodities.

This is a disconnect many charities want to tackle. The homelessness charity Crisis, for example, has introduced a "supporter-in-the-room" policy to its fundraising culture. Staff and suppliers are expected to ask themselves these questions: "If one of our supporters was in the room now, how would they feel about what they saw or heard and how we spoke about them? Would we do or say anything differently as a result?"

Crisis's own beliefs and practices include recognising all homeless people as unique individuals and encouraging, supporting and nurturing people "to find their place in the world again for as long as it takes". Many charities have brand values that include attributes such as "compassion", "personal" and "caring". At its heart, the supporter-in-the room approach is about making sure that a charity's brand values apply to all beneficiaries and donors and are reflected in the language used, both to and about them.

Vicky Browning is director of CharityComms

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