Third sector communications professionals often complain their work is undervalued. Yet few feel equipped to spell out how critical communications really are. What’s needed is a robust, outcome-focused strategy – which a new book by Eden Stanley and CharityComms is designed to help develop.
If you’re somebody who works in charity communications for a living, you’ll be familiar with the argument: communications are a nice add-on, a great way to report on what an NGO does, but finally, they’re an optional extra, and usually the first budget to be cut during lean times.
But organisations that see communications differently – not as peripheral, but as a central plank in their organisational strategy – are organisations that succeed. Some of the best-loved and most successful charity brands are a case in point: like Macmillan, Save the Children and the National Trust. Each of them have made communications core function – in quite different ways – and each of them is delivering huge impact in public engagement. It’s no fluke, and Make it matter, Creating communications strategies for the non-profit sector, offers insights and advice on how these, and other, organisations have achieved great things.
‘The aim of this book is to equip communication professionals in non-profit organisations with the tools and knowledge they need to develop strategies that work – and in doing so, help their colleagues understand the vital strategic role communications can play in fulfilling their organisation’s mission,’ says its author, our own Joe Barrell.
And he’s not alone, as case studies from leading lights in the charity communications world like Friends of the Earth’s Adeela Warley, Anthony Nolan’s Richard Davidson and Macmillan’s Hilary Cross detail.
‘A communications strategy is a framework within which the whole organisation can develop its communications so that the impact of those communications is maximised,’ says Adeela.
‘For it to be successful it needs to be owned and understood by the whole organisation. At times our communications team has been very much a service function, but when we’ve had a strategy we’ve become more of a strategic driver in the organisation, and that’s how we’re viewed now: as a strategic function.’
That process of making your strategy gain support across the whole organisation is a vital one, says Joe, and one that is only achieved if your strategy is tightly linked to your organisation’s aims:
‘That strategy needs to be based on solid principles, to be well researched, to be geared to audiences – and to be measured against an agreed framework for achieving and demonstrating impact.’
And above all, it needs to be simple:
‘The process of developing it can feel stodgy and complex, and usually means grappling with some difficult questions. But the final output should be clear and straightforward. The clearer the strategy and the easier it is to understand, the more people – inside and outside the organisation – you will take with you.’
And the sooner you’ll find communications is perceived not as a fringe function, but as a centrepiece that can propel your charity forward to far greater heights.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the ideas from Make It Matter in more depth in this space. Check back each week for more updates, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to join our newsletter mailing list and get alerts straight to your inbox. You can also hear Joe speak about impact measurement at CharityComms’ Stats that Matter workshop on 23 April.
And here’s the Christmas ad: Penguins, eat your hearts out!