Communications institute to launch in defiance of critics

CharityComms, a new charity communications institute, is to be launched in the autumn with a brief to promote best practice and effectiveness among voluntary sector communications staff.

Penelope Gibbs of AskCharity, which will become part of CharityComms
Penelope Gibbs of AskCharity, which will become part of CharityComms

After repeated delays, the launch has been made possible by the decision of 15 large charities, including Cancer Research UK, the NSPCC and the British Heart Foundation, to pay subscriptions of £3,000 each.

This has provided funds to employ Norma Johnston, former global communications director at development charity Plan International, as interim director, and for the development of a website to be launched next month.

The need for such an institute has been questioned by Fifth Estate, a sectoral group of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and by the Institute of Fundraising's PR in Fundraising special interest group.

Johnston said: "We're not reinventing the wheel or treading on anyone's toes. We're filling a need that has been out there for some time."

CharityComms is an initiative led by Joe Saxton, chair of the Institute of Fundraising and founder of research company NfpSynergy. "We are ready for lift-off," he said. "People are genuinely interested, or they wouldn't have put the money up."

A prospectus for the organisation says CharityComms aims to develop codes of best practice and establish qualifications and professional development standards.

It will also manage AskCharity, the website that puts journalists in touch with charities and which plans to extend its services to MPs and Whitehall officials.

AskCharity was set up by the Voluntary Action Media Unit, whose £450,000 lottery funding ends in December. Penelope Gibbs, the unit's director, said the move would give CharityComms access to AskCharity's 4,000 contacts.

Ian MacQuillin, founder of the PR in Fundraising special interest group, which had its first meeting last month, said: "I don't believe there's a demand for the institute, and I don't think it will fill a gap. I was surprised to find that it doesn't include fundraisers in its definition of communicators."

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