The temptation for hard-hit charities – especially for those supplying an essential service during lockdown and therefore unable to furlough staff – might be to just cling on and try to ride out this pandemic storm.
After all, we’re constantly being told, “It will pass”. But when typical sources of funds – fun runs, charity auctions, treks in exotic locations etc.. – have dried up, this is the very time for organisations to be “out there” keeping their profile high in the public consciousness.
This is more important than ever, as a study by Pro Bono Economics, reported in The Guardian, revealed: “One in 10 UK charities are facing bankruptcy by the end of the year as they struggle to cope with a £10bn shortfall caused by soaring demand for their services and lost fundraising income due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
But if there is a glimmer of good news, it’s that when belts are at their tightest, keeping a high profile can be done for practically no cost: by using the media to the max.
What the pandemic has shown is the power of the human story. The mind-boggling fundraising feat of Capt Tom Moore is the clearest example, but there are hundreds of other stories to be told, whether it’s the person climbing their stairs numerous times to raise funds, because Mt Kilimanjaro is off-limits, or the hospice nurse “going the extra mile” by turning up in a different superhero costume every day to lift the spirits of the children in their care.
From the public’s perspective, there’s clearly a huge willingness to support those doing great work, as the stampede to sign up as NHS volunteers showed.
People want to give, both of their time as volunteers, as well as cash itself, as Capt Tom discovered.
But when it comes to encouraging us to part with that money, it’s crucial we hear why it’s needed and how we should go about it.
That means charities have to be out there, getting their messages across, whether they’re huge, like the National Trust, or a small charity doing amazing work on the tiniest budget. Now’s the time to speak up and tell us: How has life changed for you? How depleted are the coffers? What do you want the public to do?
The smart ones have used social media like never before during the last few months, but there’s still an enormous role for traditional media to play, but only if charities have key people who are skilled and confident enough to engage effectively with radio stations, TV news programmes, and newspapers and magazines.
Training people to do those media interviews properly will maximise the benefit to the charity.
(If that sounds like stating the obvious, just think how many times you’ve heard a charity spokesperson on the radio who has not mentioned the charity’s name, or their website address or a contact phone number…). It’s what we call the classic missed opportunity.
The key is to be proactive, professional and available. Spot the opportunities, don’t wait for the media to come to you.
For example, if the Government is about to announce a change to restrictions for retailers, if your charity has stores, make your managers or director of retail available to talk about the impact of the changes on your organisation.
Or if you’ve completely changed the way you raise funds and done something unique, tell the media about it. Whether it’s been launching a weekly online fund-raising quiz or allowing all staff to work from home, the key ingredient is you’re doing something new.
If it’s new, it’s news.
We hear again and again about how people are switching off news bulletins because they seem relentlessly gloomy and yes, that’s true, but it’s clear the media recognise this and actually sense an appetite for more positive stories – stories about triumph over adversity and about amazing good deeds, like the one this week about a girl with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, who was not going to get to wear her prom dress after her school-leaving event was cancelled..at least until neighbours rallied round to throw a fabulous surprise celebration for her.
In “normal” times organisations and companies rarely see the media as a friend, but now, in these strange times, if you have people trained and ready to talk to journalists in the right way, with the right messages, those TV stations and newspaper hacks might just prove to be your saviours…