Communications: Take media seriously, charities urged

Charities were urged to place more importance on their communications strategies at a recent international workshop organised by Acevo in Bologna, Italy.

The voluntary sector's approach to communications has improved over the past 20 years, but there is still work to be done, according to Susan Osborne, national campaign director at the RNID, who ran the seminar.

"When I first joined the sector 15 years ago, working for the Cancer Research Campaign, I had the impression it was amateurish," said Osborne, a former journalist who has worked for the BBC and as a PR in the private sector.

"Organisations weren't communicating with their stakeholders and didn't seem to be harnessing the power of the media.

"Although things have improved, the notion that by improving awareness of your charity you can grow your income eludes many charities. For example, when they are recruiting for the board of trustees, few choose someone with a communications discipline, even though it's vital to have that knowledge."

One delegate, Karen Wright, chief executive at Claire House Children's Hospice, commented: "The boards of most charities seem to want to concentrate on finance and operations. If a charity is strapped for cash, it might even rely on a volunteer to do its communications. But if you want your organisation to be known, you need to take it seriously.

"We have done reasonably well in this area, but this has mainly been down to luck, rather than strategy, which is not properly written down yet."

Osborne conceded that lack of resources can be a hurdle for smaller charities.

"Some of the bigger boys have got it down to a fine art." she said. "But that means there is a huge chasm between those who excel in this area and those who are lagging far behind."

The workshop was the first in a series of events designed to encourage charities in the UK to take a more creative approach to their communications strategies. Delegates from the UK and other EU member states were invited.

"British charities are often suspicious and afraid of the media," said Osborne.

"But in Italy, for example, this idea that the media is somehow anti-charity is alien to them. They understand that just because the voluntary sector says something, that doesn't mean people have to listen. There's a limit to how many stories the media is going to run about charities, so it's up to us to be creative.

"The UK sector needs to get real and be more open - after all, what have we got to hide?"

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