This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.

The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

How to digitally dig your charity out of a hole

This opinion piece is over 8 years old

Jim Bowes says digital communications offers charities plenty of opportunity to rebuild public trust after a rocky 2015

Charities have had a tough time of late, with unfavourable headlines in the UK media questioning the integrity of a number of causes – and there’s no sign of this stopping any time soon.

This has had a negative knock-on effect for charities – including the vast majority that have not been at fault – and has made exploring new funding avenues even harder, in an already tough funding climate.

David Cameron has since announced a crackdown in this area, including the establishment of a single, new fundraising regulator that will be overseen by the Charity Commission. The sector should see this as an opportunity to work together to improve, something which hasn’t been done enough in the past.

Jim Bowes

An empowered communications team should always speak with confidence and personality

Jim Bowes

The charity sector is facing an uphill battle in regaining the trust of the public and reversing the negativity that has hurt its reputation. This will be an ongoing process for those affected, but a strong, well thought out communication strategy, with digital at its core, will help charities to achieve this goal much faster.

This will only work, however, if charities are able to provide consistent, timely and targeted messaging to supporters, journalists and policy makers alike. With this approach, recent negative press – which has been overzealous at best and, at worst, unfair – can be turned in to positive action to regain public confidence.

Firstly, charities could benefit from being data savvy. Poor data handling has been at the heart of many of the complaints made against charities. In order to ensure personal data is being managed appropriately, charities need to become much more user-centric.

This not only involves listening to their audience, but also understanding and implementing the kind of data management that their supporters want – rather than pursuing strategies that solely aim to get as much data as possible. Ensuring consistency with data and privacy statements and questions where data is captured is also vital; charities should ask people to opt in – not opt out of – receiving marketing communications and have a consistent way of collecting consumer data.

Charities also should ensure they are communicating effecitvely. The way in which charities communicate with their supporters and the wider public will be under scrutiny for some time; how they are communicating is likely to be just as important as what they are saying.

Charities should therefore aim to have an open and honest approach to their communications. If something goes wrong, they shouldn’t try to hide it. Such an approach will serve organisations well when tackling tough problems – and when talking about their positive achievements too.

It’s also important to have timely, effective ways to deal with feedback, criticism and praise on social media – this is an extremely public forum so it needs to be handled appropriately. It’s crucial that this recent bout of negative press doesn’t cause paralysis through bureaucracy; an empowered communications team should always speak with confidence and personality.

Internal communication and how teams work together inside the charity are just as important for delivering consistent communications externally. If an organisation is carrying out similar pieces of work in multiple teams and the results are not understood holistically, it will be impossible to speak with a single voice externally.

Lastly, charities should also consider ways of increasing transparency in their digital communications. Simple and effective ways of doing this could include having a regularly updated blog to keep people informed of recent successes, as well as a steady flow of news coming from inside the charity.

Regardless of any negative press, charities must continue to demonstrate how much good they are doing and the difference they are making. Organisations shouldn’t be afraid to use these successes to bolster their fundraising efforts, but must also show that they are listening to feedback and making changes in response. As part of this, there needs to be a common way for charities to come together and commit to a universal standard that all of their supporters can understand.

Jim Bowes is chief executive of digital agency Manifesto.