Understanding Charities Group plans 'early warning system' to alert sector about negative press stories

The system would give charities more time to prepare and construct a coordinated response with others in the sector

The Understanding Charities Group, an initiative led by CharityComms and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, is planning to create an early warning system to alert charities to sector-focused news stories being planned by the media, according to Joe Saxton, founder of the research consultancy nfpSynergy.

UCG was established last year to help secure better treatment for charities in the media. Saxton is responsible for the group’s media task group, which has been working to generate more generic media coverage of charities and create a media rebuttal protocol since January.

He told Third Sector the early warning system would warn charities when a negative story was about to break, giving them more time to prepare themselves and construct a coordinated response with others in the sector.

Saxton said the system would take the form of an email or closed group on the professional networking site LinkedIn and that he hoped it would be in place by 27 August.

The UCG plans to host a media training day to help charities deal with the difficult issues that journalists, donors and volunteers ask about.

Saxton said that some people in the sector were already kept informed when media coverage was planned, but the route by which they found out was too convoluted, often resulting in inaccurate information being passed on.

He said that once the system was in place, charities’ press departments would be encouraged to inform the group when they were contacted by a journalist about a story.

Asked why the UCG had not implemented its media rebuttal system during the recent media coverage of charities since the death of the poppy seller Olive Cooke, Saxton said this was because the group did not yet have all the tools it needed in place. He said it would take at least another three months for the protocol to be ready for use.

The UCG has so far received funding and free venue hire from the NCVO.

Aidan Warner, senior external relations officer at the NCVO, said the umbrella body was considering transferring to the group several small financial commitments it received from several charities a year or two ago. The funding was originally offered tothe NCVO for it to carry out research into public attitudes to charities.

Warner said: "We haven’t taken them forward yet because we didn’t go ahead with the original plan of using them for the research. I expect we’ll go back to them shortly when we’ve firmed up the UCG work plan." He declined to say which charities had offered funding.

The UCG plans to complete a strategy detailing the objectives and when and how they will be met for each of its four task groups over the next month. The four task groups are: the media task group; a group that aims to engage with charities and create ways for them to engage with their audiences; a group that aims to create a narrative explaining how modern charities work; and a group that is researching the public, testing ideas and narratives out on them and is measuring the success of the initiative.

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