The charity sector is facing its toughest challenge to date. It is estimated that charities will lose at least £4.3 billion in funding because of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet many are seeing a rise in demand for services. They are such a vital lifeline to those with health conditions and those in need. But with many charities having to switch focus to their very survival, it's understandable that some projects may have been put on hold. One thing which should remain a key priority for every charity is its communications.
Strong communications has always been a vital tool for any charity, particularly for managing a crisis. But as we all navigate this unprecedented and uncertain time, now more than ever, it’s important to keep supporters and service users updated about the difficult decisions organisations are making. Will cuts need to be made to the services provided? How can supporters be informed and engaged to help? Many will be wanting to do what they can can – indeed initiatives such as the 2.6 Challenge and Captain Tom’s 100th birthday walk show just how many people want to do something to help those in greatest need and support the charities which help them – so charities must ensure they are regularly communicating with them during the pandemic.
But it’s not just about communicating the impact coronavirus is having on a charity. Good communications will help to keep the organisation’s vital work in the spotlight.
Some may feel in a world fully focused on COVID-19, as it should be, anything else will not get cut-through. But millions of people rely on charities in this country every day. For any to not survive would be devastating. Everything that can be done must be done to ensure this survival. Because when “normal” life resumes, which it will, it is essential that each charity’s work is on the radar.
So how can charities go about successfully communicating during the COVID crisis? Here are five top tips for navigating your way through this uncharted territory:
1. COLLABORATE WITH YOUR PEERS
One thing you can be sure of is that other charities are going through the same thing. Contact your peers in other organisations to talk through your challenges, share ideas and support each other. The charity sector is a wonderful place to be, so open that contact book and get chatting. You never know where it could lead and what helpful ideas you could learn and implement.
2. MAKE THE MOST OF DIGITAL TOOLS
You will have read endless blogs over the past few weeks about the different digital tools you can use for remote meetings and collaboration. Now you’ve had to stop all your face-to-face service delivery, think about how you can use these online tools to support your patients. There are some great examples of charities bringing patients and service users together through events like Q&As with medical experts, virtual tea parties and online communities. The digital age has revolutionised how we communicate. Embrace it. See this as an exciting new opportunity which can change things for the better for everyone.
3. COMMUNICATE HONESTLY WITH YOUR SUPPORTERS
Your supporters are a powerful asset and will fight your corner. Galvanise them. Be honest and open with them about what you’re going through. Keep them updated and give them opportunities to help support you. Whether it’s volunteering, spreading the word on social or donating, now is the time to unite them in their support of your organisation. Everyone is stepping up in this crisis. Don’t be afraid to ask.
4. TAKE THIS TIME TO REVIEW YOUR COMMUNICATIONS
Yes, it’s going to be tricky to secure media coverage for that awareness campaign you had planned, but communications shouldn’t fall by the wayside. Patients are still there needing support. What do they need to be hearing? What new or different support do they need to know about? How can you help them navigate the drastically changed healthcare system to ensure they stay well? Don’t be afraid to communicate a news story to journalists if one arises. If patients are being impacted, if lives are now more at risk, you must communicate that. And also use this time to get those important tasks ticked off your to-do list. Review your key messages, update your website copy or work on your stakeholder engagement plan. When the situation eases, you’ll be ready to get going again.
5. LOOK AFTER THE MENTAL HEALTH OF YOUR COMMUNICATORS
Charities are under immense pressure to keep delivering and raising income and your communications colleagues play a key role. Whether it’s trying to find the right words to tell beneficiaries there’s a shortfall in funding for services or supporting fundraising colleagues to bring their activities online, there is a lot for communications staff to manage. On top of that, staff are also having to get to grips with remote working and new technology, while many are managing childcare responsibilities and working reduced hours. Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down, both personally and professionally, so check in with colleagues and ask them how they are. It’s important to make sure staff don’t burn out.
These are different times and of course there are now different considerations leading the conversation. But it is still important to communicate and keep an eye on the bigger picture for when this crisis ends, and charities will be needed more than ever before.
Need help with a current charity comms conundrum? Each month we invite one charity to put its challenge to some of the top healthcare and PR minds during a FREE one-hour virtual brainstorm. Find out more and enter here.
And if you need extra support to help keep your comms on track through the COVID-19 crisis, contact us here.
About the Authors
Elspeth Massey, Core Collective Consultant and Head of Charity for The Difference Collective, is a former ITV news journalist and has spent more than a decade working in communications with charities including The Stroke Association, Samaritans, Beating Bowel Cancer and Parkinson’s UK.
Kellie Smith, Collective Consultant for The Different Collective, has 10 years’ experience working in communications. Her core skills are writing and editing, content creation and strategy. Kellie has worked with organisations including the Health Foundation, Contact the Elderly, Oxfam International and CLIC Sargent.