Opinion: Talking across borders needs a lingua franca

Geraldine Peacock, chair designate of the Charity Commission, but writes in a personal capacity

"Without proper communications, the reach and impact of many corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives is being wasted," said International Visual Communication Association chief executive Wayne Drew following the recent Clarion Awards, held to recognise effective communications within the field of CSR.

It's true - without effective communications, the impact of any initiative, whatever the sector, is severely compromised. Effective communications are at the heart of what we all do. And yet, the communications industry itself can be so riddled with its own specialised vocabulary that it is impossible for an outsider to follow what is being said. How's this for a PR industry headline: "Qinetic appoints FH for B2B push"; or what about "Natrol hires H&K for marcoms job"?

While every industry has its jargon, it is an irony that the communications industry, while providing clients with tools to ensure clarity, precision and openness, seems not to practise what it preaches.

The voluntary sector, of course, has its own language, which is evolving as the sector develops and works across traditional boundaries - a new kind of voluntary Franglais is emerging. But will it cling to its roots and retain the language of volunteers, members, supporters and beneficiaries, keeping "fundraising" and rejecting "income generation," continuing to "do good works" rather than "build capacity"? Or will we adopt the language of the public and private sectors with whom we increasingly work so well, talking about "product sets," "customer bases" and "performance improvement"?

The answer, of course, is both. I don't mean by talking with forked tongues, but rather by becoming multilingual. We need to talk the language most appropriate to the situations we find ourselves in and to be able to translate that into plain English.

Our linguistic fluency is an indicator of how we adapt and do business in the future. It demonstrates the sector's ability to be flexible and catalyse new initiatives in difficult situations while in search of the common good. It's part of our added value.

By talking the right talk and using with ease the appropriate language with different stakeholder groups, we can also tap into resources that might otherwise have been beyond us. Let's get learning.

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