Great charity PR: substance, not spin

Great charity PR: substance, not spin

Good PR is about trust and credibility says Michelle Middleton


With the nights now drawing in fast and the feel-good factor of the Olympics becoming a distant memory, it seems the country has returned to its default attitude of cynicism. This is never more apparent than when you’ve read the national headlines with their depressingly familiar tales of woe.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The Olympics have not only provided an alternative template for Britain but have also shown us the media does and still can provide positive news coverage. Inspirational stories of human courage and athletes making it against the odds filled our TV screens, airwaves and newspaper column inches.

However, the fourth estate’s cynical outlook re-emerged almost as soon as the flame in Stratford flickered out.

But there is one lesson we as fundraisers and communicators should learn from our Olympian heroes: never give up. While the media generally looks on the dark side, we should never forget it is our duty to communicate the huge amount of first-class work fundraisers do to help make our world a better place.


Learning curve

Recently, the Institute of Fundraising held a conference on PR and communications. It was an illuminating day and I was deeply impressed with the level of debate. I came away brimming with ideas on how we as a sector can embrace both communications and PR.

However, it is important to note good PR is not the solution to all of our problems as fundraisers. It is also a dangerous misconception that PR and fundraising are intrinsically linked. Increasing the coverage of your organisation won’t automatically mean that your number of donors goes up too.

High-quality communication is essential to help fundraisers on their journey from making the big ask to money in the bank. Intelligent PR helps build your organisation’s key messages and develop its corporate narrative. And in these tough economic times, using good PR to sell your cause to potential donors has never been so important.

It is a competitive world and the marketplace for charities is tougher now than ever it was. People have less money to spend on themselves and their families, let alone a charity. As fundraisers we need to meet this challenge head-on. To do this, our sector needs to invest in PR skills and techniques. To make that big ask, you need to have a media presence.

This means looking at how to communicate effectively. It also means making sure the beneficial things your organisation is doing is told in a newsworthy way. We need to find smarter ways to ‘market’ our organisations as well as gaining a deeper understanding of our current and potential audiences. Creating an integrated communications plan – one that includes your marketing and social media channels – does not have to feel like rocket science. And it’s not necessarily expensive either.


Play it straight

Understanding and segmenting your audience and figuring out how to reach them is crucial. Targeting your campaigns gives you more bang for your buck. But most importantly, your brand and its reputation are key.

The bad old days of deception and manipulation from a Machiavellian spin doctor have passed. The new so-called spin technique is: keep it straight. Good PR and communication is not just about telling the public what you do and why. It’s about credibility.

All too often PR is viewed as all spin and no substance. Pulling the wool over people’s eyes will eventually catch out the spinner. And where would that leave your organisation’s reputation? Reputations are hard won and easily lost. So it’s best not to gamble with them.

It’s all about building trust. If the public trusts your organisation it will reap huge dividends, not only for your organisation’s income stream but most importantly the good cause you are working for.



Michelle Middleton is marketing manager at the Institute of Fundraising


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 22, October 2012

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