Charities are facing a huge struggle right now. Ministers recently warned that many charities in the UK could be on the brink of collapse as a result of the corona virus crisis, and that the sector overall is estimated to lose a total of £4 billion in funding.
Charities are not only affected by a reduction in public donations as individuals themselves come under financial strain. They will also be directly hit by the cancellation of sporting and fundraising events over the coming months, such as the London Marathon. ‘The Independent’ reports that St John Ambulance, which is helping NHS efforts to fight coronavirus, will have no funds left by August unless the Government steps in with a cash injection. In fact, two in five charities warn they have just six months to survive before they run out of money, unless they get external support.
Central funding to help charities hit by the coronavirus outbreak is due to be announced. We’ve yet to see if it will be enough to take the pressure off at a time when charitable organisations are needed more than ever. Whatever government support they receive, charities must continue to focus on stakeholder engagement – even whilst under intense operational pressure themselves.
At a crunch point like this, describing what your charity does is no longer enough. Charities need to harness this moment, and use their communications arsenal as a way of impactfully and purposefully engaging the general public with their work – and with the stories behind the struggles they are now facing.
To drive understanding, empathy and engagement, all of which will boost fundraising, charities should be showing audiences the direct impact that coronavirus has on the work that they do. Not only those faced by the charities themselves on a practical level whilst delivering the advocacy or care they provide – but also the negative impact of the crisis on the causes and people they support.
Change, loneliness and isolation are familiar to many of us right now – either as a direct experience or for people we know. For those with learning difficulties however, they can be key triggers for extreme anxiety and other potentially serious issues, at a time when the usual frontline support networks have no choice but to work with them in very different ways. Kisharon is a charity supporting people with learning difficulties and their families. Beverley Kaye, Kisharon’s Creative Head told us, “adults and children with learning difficulties need structure and routine. Remove that, and they and their families can go into freefall. Communicating our issues and challenges is vital, so that our wider community ‘don’t forget’ why our charity needs their support more than ever before. Communicating our needs and funding crisis will allow us to stay in people’s minds so that we maintain our relevance today and, more importantly, our relevance in the future. Today we are not in regular fundraising mode. Like many charities, we are fighting for the futures of all the learning disabled people we support. So, we are pushing our message more widely to connect and engage within different avenues that our stakeholders also engage with. At the end of the day, communications has reverted to old fashioned skills – talk, pick up the phone and don’t hide behind e mails”.
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC shares these challenges as a frontline charity for children. He explained “The NSPCC relies on voluntary donations for 90% of its income so we are hit heavily when fundraising activities cannot take place. The needs of children cannot be postponed in the same way, leading to an immediate mismatch between the activity we had planned for children and how we planned to fund them. As we grapple with a rapid shift to remote working, our stakeholders are facing similar disruption in their lives and their livelihoods, so being sensitive to their circumstances matters – as does our continued determination to be there where we can for the children who need us”. Like Kisharon, the crisis has meant additional risks for those the NSPCC supports. Peter adds, “closure of the schools leaves many children more invisibly vulnerable – those at risk of abuse and neglect in the home; those spending ever longer online unaware of risks they may be taking. Working face to face with children has been challenged and for some of the most vulnerable we work with, that regular connection with their skilled social worker has until recently been the most important moment in their week”.
Peter recognises the importance of communication at this time after giving some space for stakeholders to come to terms with the overall situation first, saying, “we will want to draw attention to the risks of an erosion, or even a collapse of vital support for children and young people, which is why charitable giving – if people can – is so important. I am in awe of frontline staff, including our own, who are there bravely every day engaging directly with those in need”.
Giving real insight into the challenges charities are now facing offers the best chance of encouraging donors to give. Here are a few headlines for charities looking to use purposeful communications to drive fundraising at this difficult time.
- Think about how this crisis specifically impacts the cause or issue you support over and above the challenges faced in usual times – and explore these challenges to tell your story. What can you tell your fundraising target audience that they might not have realised or considered?
- Be as transparent as you can about the issues you yourselves face as charitable organisations, and what you need to survive, whilst giving consideration to your cause, especially if it includes vulnerable people who rely on you.
- This is the time to be authentic – communications which give real insight will touch those who want and are able to help you.
- Develop an emergency content plan for this period. Give consideration to the amount of communications you are sending out, getting the balance right, whilst ensuring a cross platform approach that is adapted to the current times. Where are your donors now, what are they doing, and how would they like you to reach them? This may well be different for each charity.
- Try to create an umbrella campaign as an over-arching theme to address your needs right now, as opposed to sending out disconnected pieces of communication.
- Be inventive in how you create content. User generated video, personal blogs…but all still well produced so your key messages are clear, and robustly sit within your content plan. It’s never been more important to cut through the communications ‘noise’ and stand out.
- Ensure your communications are relatable to your audience. What can you say that will be meaningful for them now? Ensure your communications are always within the context of the crisis, so they feel relevant and that they take into account that your donors, stakeholders etc might be undergoing their own challenges right now too.
- Finally, time is of the essence; how can your comms plan be achieved in the fastest way possible, without compromising on quality or impact?
Please get in touch with us if you’d like to talk about communications issues facing your organization right now.
Happy to see how we can support you with during this difficult and unprecedented time: email@example.com
Call us on +44 (0)20 8445 8324