Every sector communications face a challenge. But what about when that challenge could be to raise the profile of a charity that struggles to get its voice heard? Who is depending on you and you need to perform for?
There are over 150,000 small charities in the UK, according to the Charity Commission. A small charity is defined as having an income under £1 million.
However there are many charities with an income over £1 million which could be described as 'small' in terms of their staff numbers and available resources. In fact, there are almost 9,000 charities which (unhelpfully) fall in the £500,000 to £5 million income category. There are less than 2,000 charities with an income of over £5 million, so it's fair to say that small charities play a vital role in the sector.
Working for a small charity can be hugely rewarding as staff really do play a pivotal role - they, along with volunteers, are the lifeblood of the charity. I took to Twitter and asked those working in small charities what they felt was the most rewarding part, and this is what they said.
But of course, it also has its challenges: a lack of resources and enough hours in the day to carry their job out effectively being top of the list.
As a Communications professional, and having worked in small charities myself, here are three communications challenges that I believe small charities currently face and some tips on how they can deal with them effectively and successfully.
A lack of their own content
We live in an age of instant answers. Need to know something? Ask Dr Google... Or, if you're like me, ask Twitter (see above). With the rise of social media our appetite for information has increased, however we are attention poor and selective about what we read and watch. Small charities face the challenge of competing for our attention and cutting through the noise, but what do you do if you don't have enough of your own content? Here are four tips you can implement today:
1. Repurpose the content you do have. Take existing information, case studies and articles - can you update them with new statistics, edit them and add a different angle?
2. Curate other people’s content. Is there a video or a news article that would be helpful to your supporters? Share it on your social channels. It doesn't always have to be about your charity- relevant information from others should be shared. Just be sure to attribute it to the owner.
3. Ask others to provide content for you. Could you ask a fundraiser who smashed their target to write an article for you on how they did it? How about a guest blog post from a supporter offering their top tips for living with x, y or z? Or advice from an expert such as a nurse or lawyer?
4. Think about the format of your content. Could you make use of free tools such as Instagram, Vine, Storify and Audioboo? Here are some great examples of charities using Vine from fundraising to thanking supporters.
A website that's not working hard enough
Smartphone usage is on the rise. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, 53% of people access the internet using a mobile phone. Now I'm hazarding a guess here, but I would say that the majority of small charities do not have a mobile optimised or mobile responsive website. Here are some steps to improve your website now, on a shoestring:
1. Firstly, test your website on multiple devices such as smartphones and tablets to see what it looks like.
2. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights (in beta) to test which pages of your website load slowly. Chances are you have too much content on that page and if you have images or video, they are probably too large.
3. If you don't have the budget to optimise your entire website, the first thing to do is cut down on the content. Try to get headlines to less than five words. If you have ‘call to action’ buttons, ensure they sit above the fold and add padding around the buttons so they are easier to click on from a small screen.
4. If you have an annual fundraising event or campaign, consider creating a mobile optimised or mobile responsive landing page or microsite for them. You can find free templates online or consider using Wordpress or Tumblr.
Keeping on top of the latest trends
Most often the communications team in a small charity consists of one or two people who are responsible for PR, copywriting, managing social media channels, managing and updating the website, e-newsletters amongst other things. With all that to do, how do you keep on top of trends in the sector?
- Sign up for free sector events, such as BarcampNFP, Soundelivery soundtalks events and NFPTweetup. Sign up to groups that interest you on MeetUp. Most often these events have presentations on recent campaigns from other charities, latest statistics and the opportunity to network and brainstorm with your peers.
- Become a member of a professional body such as CharityComms or the Small Charities Coalition where you have access to a whole host of benefits, including training. There are also specialist networking groups, such as the Sole Communicators group I run with CharityComms, which meets quarterly and is free to members.
- Follow people in the sector who are ahead of trends and create a list of them on Twitter. For example, for all things mobile follow Paul de Gregorio, for marketing and fundraising follow Rachel Beer, for social media follow Jennifer Begg and Bertie Bosredon.
Working in a small charity is indeed challenging and can be quite lonely at times but it needn’t be. There is a wealth of information and support out there, you just need to be prepared to look for it.
Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant.