Charity communicators need to ‘give power back to our audiences’

20 Nov 2020 News

Charities need communications strategies that empower their audience and don’t appear out of touch and defensive, according to a new book published this month. 

Who Cares? Building Audience-Centred Engagement Strategies in the Non-Profit Sector by Joe Barrell with Sarah Fitzgerald came out earlier in November is published by umbrella body CharityComms.  

Barrell is a former director of communications at Save the Children and founded a communications consultancy, Eden Stanley. 

“It’s painful to admit this, but our voice as a sector, seems less powerful today,” Barrell writes in the introduction. “Any conversation about ‘charity’ will often turn to truth and trust, misuse of personal data, safeguarding failures, overpaid arrogant CEOs, or dodgy fundraising practices. Even if these narratives are distorted and overblown, trying to win our arguments from that position is, to say the least, difficult.” 

He highlights how charities no longer have the monopoly on ethical behaviour and doing good, and suggests that the sector has not adapted well to the current environment. 

“Far too many have battened down the hatches,” he writes. This has led to charities being defensive when criticised and ultimately “paints a picture of a sector out of touch with mainstream opinion”. 

Take action 

Barrell urges charities to take action. 

He writes: “We need a proactive response, not just a defence.” 

This does not mean statements about transparency or “boasting about our low admin costs”, he says. 

“Instead, we have to show that the charity sector is still a fundamental part of how people, politicians, and business make life better, for themselves and for others.”

He suggests that to do this charities need to get closer to, listen to, and understand their audiences better, so that every thing they do “is aligned to their interests”. 

Joe Jenkins, director of fundraising and supporter engagement at the Children’s Society wrote the foreword to the book, said: “Now that the world has changed around us, we have to fully adopt engagement strategies that give power back to our audiences and put them in the lead. Anything less won’t cut it.” 

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