The recent succession of bad press concerning the charity sector; from the charity fundraising debacle in 2015, to the closure of Kids Company – not to mention the continuous stories about ‘overpaid charity bosses’ and unethical fundraising – is bringing the charity sector into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
There are over 160,000 charities in the UK who employ a large number of dedicated communications professionals working diligently to promote the work they do. However, it can sometimes seem that the majority of the really big media ‘splashes’ that you see in the media focus on the scandals followed by the fallout of charities trying to firefight their way out of them.
The level of scrutiny that charities are being put under by the media is intense and is changing how the public view the sector. A quick google search of the word ‘charity’ in national press tells a depressing story. Headlines like MP throws charity boss out of parliament after row over residents, Three bosses of charity for homeless Army veterans are arrested on suspicions of secretly pocketing public donations and Charity regulator investigates organisation preparing young people for an apocalypse are currently all on the first page. A perception of charities being full of corruption and deception leads the sector to feel down on itself, constantly looking over its shoulder.
It has become increasingly rare to see very positive articles about charities in the national press which is why it was so refreshing to read the recent Financial Times story about the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust is the world’s second largest charitable foundation and co-founder of the Human Genome Project. The article praises the Trust’s commitment and dedication to medical research and new drugs discoveries. It also shows just how much of an impact a positive charity story can do for the sector. However, this article feels like the exception.
It is not all gloom and doom and the sector is producing positive stories. However, the narrative is being overshadowed by the scandals and the constant drip-feed of negativity takes away from the real purpose of charities and undermines the invaluable work that they do, from eradicating disease, to racial equality, to wildlife conservation – there are charities doing amazing things and they need to have their stories told.
At The PR Office we have been lucky to work with a range of charity clients creating positive campaigns such as the Shabbat UK, which saw the largest mass participation event ever organised for the Jewish community in the UK, as well as our work with national drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity, CRI, in pushing out our campaign about the dangers of ‘legal highs’.
Where there are examples of bad practice and mismanagement it is surely right that these are exposed. In the long term it will make the whole sector stronger, as it has with other industries in the past. As communications professionals working in the charity sector, rather than criticising journalists for doing their jobs, we need to take steps address the issues that charities are having as well continuing to push out the positive stories of which we are all proud. Over time that will resolve the issues we are having and promote transparency.
We are fortunate as a sector to have fantastic links to media. The CharityComms platform AskCharity has been a great boon for charity press officers and consultants everywhere for many years, connecting journalists who are after a good story with charities that can provide them. The Understanding Charities Group provides another channel for generating positive news. It is aimed at improving public understanding of how charities work, increasing positive media coverage of the sector and in turn, improving public trust and confidence in charities.
Every charity needs to take responsibility to ensure that the next scandal is not coming out of its boardrooms and invest in the positive stories that can change the narrative over time. In the long term, I believe, the sector will benefit from the scrutiny it is currently enduring. But for now, it isn’t going to be easy.
Talia Cohen, Account Manager