OPINION: Look to the media to educate

DEBRA ALLCOCK TYLER, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

Voluntary and community organisations don't realise how positive and important press attention can be.

Last Saturday, I was interviewed by BBC Radio Solent, as a precursor to two hours of radio phone-in about the public's right to know how their donated money is being spent. It became very clear to me how little understanding there is about the context and work of voluntary and community organisations.

There was no mention of local charitable activities or community groups.

Mostly, the examples were the well-publicised build-up of reserves by the RNLI and Guide Dogs for the Blind and whether it was "morally responsible

(sic) to fundraise in those circumstances.

It reinforces the point that most people, when talking about charities, tend to think of the big ones which, while attracting most of the income, don't necessarily do most of the work.

It also highlighted the lack of public understanding about the need for sustainability. I made the point that most responsible organisations must have a commitment to sustainability so that they can continue to provide their services in the longer term. This is even more important when your organisation serves people, groups or environments that are in some way disadvantaged. Failure is then not just about loss of employment or financial loss, but about depriving some needy group of help. Yet it was very difficult to get this message understood.

There is a big job of education to be done, and this is where positive relationships with the press can be very helpful. Unfortunately, apart from marketing or fundraising activities, many organisations prefer a low profile and believe that media coverage is often more damaging than otherwise.

But if organisations in our sector, particularly the smaller ones, generated more press attention it would help us to inform the general public more about issues such as the need for responsible, long-term funding. And it might lead to a better understanding that voluntary organisations have as much, if not more, of an imperative to survive than private or public sector organisations.

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