Focus: Communications - ImpACT puts a positive spin on things

A new body aims to generate more upbeat reportage of charities.

ImpACT, the coalition launched last week to improve public understanding of the sector, has set itself a tough challenge by attempting to change the way charities' work is reported by the media.

Although the organisation is still in its infancy, it hopes eventually to develop a dedicated resource that will act as a mouthpiece for the sector - not just when a damaging story breaks, but also to generate more positive publicity about charities in general.

Joe Saxton, the co-founder of nfpSynergy, who was involved in producing ImpACT's aims and key messages, said: "The problem with the media is that it always portrays charities as either angels or devils."

Alan Gosschalk, director of fundraising at Shelter and an architect of the scheme, agreed: "Studies show that the number of members of the public who strongly agree that charities should invest in fundraising in order to increase their income is just 9 per cent. It's not hard to see that this low figure must be due at least in part to media coverage of charities."

ImpACT, which has 85 charities on board and hopes to raise this to 100 by the year-end, has produced a document containing "honest answers to tough questions", which will be available to charities that join the scheme. But ImpACT accepts this will not be enough in itself to change the media's portrayal of the sector.

Saxton commented: "We need to increase the number of TV programmes about charities that are out there. We need to keep up a steady stream of stories about the day-to-day, bog-standard workings of charities. The problem we face is that it's nobody's job to do this at the moment, but we are looking at ways of finding the resources to do that."

Peter Gilheany of Geronimo PR believes that creating a "myth-busting unit" could be the answer. He said: "Until now, there hasn't been a single voice for the sector that the media can go to. Journalists are fairly lazy and do not want to go to four or five different people to get facts and figures."

But given the media's preference for sensational stories, is ImpACT fighting a losing battle? Gilheany thinks not. "I believe ImpACT can change attitudes," he said. "Look at the way stories concerning ethnic minorities are reported now compared with a few years ago. It can be done."

However, Gilheany tempered his enthusiasm with a word of warning: "Coalition members need to be realistic. Charities are a long way down the list of the media's priorities. ImpACT might also like to consider a strategy to educate charity chief executives about how the media really works."

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