Communications: the biggest stories of 2015

The outbreak of negative press coverage set big challenges for the charity bodies tasked with defending the sector's reputation

Negative press coverage dominated
Negative press coverage dominated

The Understanding Charities Group, led by CharityComms and the Council for Voluntary Organisations, held a meeting in January for about 80 charity communications professionals to discuss ways of strengthening public trust and confidence in charities.

The NCVO announced at the meeting that it was planning to spend £50,000 on a sector "newsroom" to encourage positive news stories about the sector.

In May, defending charities from accusations of poor practice, particularly in fundraising, became a priority. National newspapers ran prominent stories claiming Olive Cooke, a 92-year-old poppy seller, was "hounded to death" by fundraising requests, which her family subsequently refuted.

In the following months, critical front-page stories about the sector were published, including a Mail on Sunday undercover investigation in June accusing two agencies of using high-pressure donor recruitment tactics during a campaign for Oxfam.

There was also a Daily Mail article in July alleging that four charities were guilty of data and privacy breaches, and another by the same newspaper in September claiming that data sharing among charities had led to a man with dementia being conned by unscrupulous companies.

The Understanding Charities Group announced in July that it was planning to create an early-warning system to alert charities to sector-focused news stories. The following month it said it had not been ready to speak out in response to the earlier negative coverage; and in October the NCVO and Acevo agreed to take over from the group and work together to promote the sector to the public and journalists .

In November, latest research from the consultancy nfpSynergy showed that trust in charities had fallen to an eight-year low, following the negative coverage  in the national media. Researchers found that charities had fallen four places to 12th in the list of most trusted organisations and institutions and the proportion of people who said they trusted charities "quite a lot" or a "great deal" had fallen five percentage points in six months to 48 per cent.

In December, after six months spent looking for a suitable candidate, the NCVO said it had appointed Giselle Green, a former radio producer, as a "media network coordinator" for the sector, to encourage newspapers to feature more frequent, positive coverage of charities’ work. It said it had decided to appoint an individual instead of setting up a sector newsroom because it would be a better use of money.

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