Focus: Communications - Voluntary bodies must learn to blog

Charities that fail to recognise blogging as a vital campaigning tool do so at their peril, according to the organisers of a seminar to be held later this month.

The seminar will take place in London on 13 July and has been organised by the Hansard Society, NCVO, ePolitix and Crisis. A blog - short for weblog - is an online diary on which readers can post questions or comments, although the blogger retains control of the blog and moderates contributions.

The seminar will look at the benefits and how to create and market blogs.

Crisis was one of the first charities to see the potential of blogging.

In a bid to raise homelessness issues in the run-up to the General Election, Crisis joined forces with the Hansard Society and set up a blog for homelessness campaigner Jamie McCoy.

Until four years ago, McCoy was homeless, addicted to heroin and illiterate, but he overcame his addiction, taught himself to read and is now a published writer. His website, at www. jamiesbigvoice.com, which could be accessed through links on both the ePolitix and Hansard Society websites and various MPs' own blogs, was a huge hit with national newspapers, several of which followed up issues raised by McCoy in his blog.

Martin Flannagan, director of communications and campaigning at Crisis, says: "Slowly but surely, the voluntary sector is getting to grips with the internet, but there are still no other grass-roots bloggers apart from Jamie. We helped Jamie create his blog because we are committed to giving people a voice. It was a logical step for us and should be a no-brainer for other voluntary sector organisations."

Setting up a blog is almost as simple as setting up an email account, says Barry Griffiths, e-democracy project manager at the Hansard Society: "Google has a package, www.blogger.com. It can be done in three steps.

You don't have to be an IT geek to do it. Once your blog is up and running, it's up to you to publicise it by installing links to other websites."

Charities should be aware that they have no real control over a blog, but Flannagan says this shouldn't be a problem. "If you are genuine about empowering individuals, then you shouldn't want to control them," he says.

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