Updated: 6 April (new: Charity So White report, write your own coronavirus style guide, how to communicate with furloughed staff).
Since I wrote this post on 3 March, everything has moved on. Coronavirus is dominating world news and the way we live and work has completely changed. I have been adding new useful resources as well as removing ones which are no longer relevant. I have kept the examples of charity comms for reference.
Whatever your size of organisation or purpose, you will be meeting to plan how you’ll respond internally and externally. There is lots of noise and misinformation about the spread of the virus with rumours and blame escalating. What are you doing to reassure your beneficiaries and keep your staff safe?
Here are some useful links and good reads to help you manage your own charity’s response.
Writing about Covid19 for beneficiaries
Information about the virus is changing all the time. Keep an eye on official advice which is being updated on a daily basis and share / incorporate it into your comms:
- NHS advice about coronavirus including an online symptom checker.
- Go to Gov.uk for updates on the government response.
- The Department of Health and Social Care have been sharing updates and advice such as short social media comms about good hygiene and this WhatsApp message to share with family and friends – “be a handwashing champion”.
- Government have issued advice for residential care, care homes and supported living.
- Confused about whether to use capital letters or when to abbreviate? The NHS styleguide now has a coronavirus entry.
Full Fact are working hard to fact-check lots of the information circulating. Are there any misleading memes or discussions circulating related to your audience or cause? It’s worth checking FF’s website to see.
Knowing what and when to communicate about coronavirus depends on what type of organisation you are.
If you are a health charity, one working with older people or one with public-access buildings, you may be sharing updates, especially if you are getting lots of helpline calls or forum discussions about risk. As there is so much misinformation circulating, this is your chance to be the go-to authority on the subject for people with specific needs and spreading good advice.
Dan Slee says that “we have all become public health communicators whether we like it or not”. In his post (The basics of communicating the coronavirus), he shares lots of useful tips about making sure your information is factual and shareable. And also notes that your comms need to go where the people are as rumour and misinformation circulate (see Enlist a team to play whack-a-mole with online rumour and How covid is playing out in Facebook groups).
Here are some examples of information charities have created for the people they represent:
- Charities representing people with underlying health conditions listed in the Government’s latest advice quickly responded by updating their information. This Twitter Moment includes examples from Asthma UK, Diabetes UK, Bloodwise and others.
- Older people are one of the at-risk groups. Age UK have been sharing updates via social media and have a prominent link on their homepage to their Age UK advice page.
- 19 cancer charities shared information under the One Cancer Voice group.
- Hospitals and care homes are issuing guidance about visiting. Hospice UK have shared links to statements from 13+ hospices across the country. (They also took part in a video call of 200 hospices to share plans and best practice – love this!)
- Information is available in alternative formats. Sign Health have produced a video using British Sign Language and subtitles to share information with deaf people. Mencap and Down Syndrome Ireland have produced easy-read guides.
- Doctors of the World have translated information into 21 languages. The Government have produced information about self-isolation and social distancing in Arabic, French, Mandarin, Cantanese, Polish and Welsh.
- Mental Health Foundation shared information about looking after your mental health during an outbreak and Mind wrote about coronavirus and your wellbeing, focussing on planning ahead for self-isolation.
- Young Minds produced information for young people as have Young Scot.
- Family Lives have advice for families in self-isolation.
- Self-isolation tips from Campaign to End Loneliness.
- Cruse have written a whole new section about dealing with bereavement and grief at this time.
- Amnesty International UK created a gif to raise awareness about the spread of hate and racism connected with the virus.
- Citizens Advice shared information about loss of earnings and statutory sick pay including for parents and self-employed people.
- Housing and homelessness – advice from Generation Rent and from Shelter.
- PDSA addressed questions from pet owners about the impact of the virus on animals and their owners.
- Good Things Foundation released information about accessing digital healthcare – to support people who may have to do this for the first time due to the virus. Using the internet to get ready for coronavirus.
Think accessibility – not everyone can read the text on an image. If you are sharing images with text on via social media, include a link to a web page where the same information can be read and/or repeat the text in your post. I have seen so many covid statements which are just images of text with no link (and probably no alt text). See more from @CovidAccessInfo (new account set up on 19/3).
Make information easy to find. Pin your tweets. Use hashtags (#covid19UK / #coronavirus etc). Clearly layout information so it is easy to read. Add the story to your homepage.
Only ever link to one page which you are keeping up to date. As the situation develops you don’t want people to be seeing old advice. They may be seeing old posts or looking at old emails but at least you’ll know they can click through for current information. Avoid PDFs for the same reason.
Clearly indicate information you have added or changed. You might do this at the top of your web page or by highlighting what has been added. See this example from Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Even if you don’t have infomation you have produced yourself, at this stage it is probably a good idea to have a page about coronavirus on your website which links to the key sources of information and something about the services you offer if there are changes to them. A quick random search found lots of charity websites showing no covid results in their searches.
Don’t include information about the current number of cases or deaths. This instantly dates your information and shows that it is not up-to-date.
As the situation develops, you may need to use more effective and urgent ways to communicate your messages. Plan ahead now. Are you able to use video or audio or other methods to respond to a crisis comms situation? Might you need to devote your entire homepage to the story? Can you send out mass emails to your stakeholders? Are your crisis comms processes up-to-date? See this thread from Gemma Pettman sharing crisis comms planning tips.
Check your scheduled messages. For example, do you have messages scheduled which are promoting events which are likely to be cancelled? Be aware that the situation could change over the coming days / weeks.
Start planning ahead. We are now moving from the crisis planning stage into a more widespread experience of the virus. This means that your comms needs to be less about explaining the virus and how to respond to the changes we are all making. The next comms stage is describing our ‘new normal’ of operating and communicating about ill or dying colleagues, volunteers and stakeholders. See Coronavirus comms – planning ahead.
New: Think about your language. How you talk about the virus and its impact on your beneficiaries and organisation will change. Write and share a mini styleguide to include standard phrases which you use, as well as ones to avoid. This post about how language changes through a crisis and how to frame your comms is useful. 8 tips for framing covid19 – Ella Saltmarshe.
Running your organisation
Internally you will be looking at the impact of a wider spread of the virus and what this might mean for how you operate.
Here’s some of the current advice:
- NCVO have detailed advice and will keep their page live.
- NCVO’s new post shares what they are doing to support charities and volunteers through coronavirus.
- Guidance from The Charity Commission.
- Tips for leadership through challenging times – ACEVO.
- Coronavirus and governance: What charity trustees need to think about by Dan Francis of NCVO. And What can Chairs do? from Association of Chairs.
- Zurich have produced a risk assessment guide – Organisational Resilience: Guidance on Pandemic Planning.
- Small Charities Coalition shared a special bulletin using some of Zurich’s questions, to help small charities consider their response.
- Museums Galleries Scotland have shared information for their members about staff / volunteer anxiety and hygiene at heritage sites.
- LGA have a resource for councils.
- BOND have a page for NGOs.
- DHSC have created a live dashboard of cases by UK region.
- Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees – acas. Simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.
- COVID-19: guidance for employers and businesses – gov.uk advice about how to prevent the spread of the virus at work and what to do if someone has a suspected case.
New: Charity So White have written a position paper sharing the ways coronavirus can impact BAME communities disproportionately. It calls on charities to consider that in their response and includes five key principles to guide them.
It’s useful to see other organisations’ internal plans if you need to write one yourself. Some have shared theirs publicly:
- See this from FutureGov.
- Chloe Stables has examples of what charities are doing to prepare and respond in this thread.
- This short post from Russell Findlay shares his organisation’s own planning process.
Reassuring staff and volunteers that you are prepared is key. Internal comms must play a vital role. What internal comms systems do you use? Do they work to reach everyone? There is some good advice in this post by Rachel Miller of All Things IC.
New: Rachel has also written this. How to communicate with furloughed colleagues.
What about your events or meetings? Many have been cancelled / postponed or changed to online. Here’s how Bond announced the cancellation of their annual conference.
Digital service delivery
What does the situation mean for the services you run and the support people in your community might need? What might you need to do more of or change?
For example, can you move face-to-face services , online? What different services could you offer to expand to support people through a scary and challenging time? Are you able to run digital events or make fun content to entertain?
- Open source guide to digital service delivery for charities, created by Third Sector Lab and SCVO. Includes examples and best practice.
- SCVO have also produced a guide to new service delivery models (as part of their Covid19 resource hub).
- See also Charity Digital Code and CAST’s 10 digital design principles.
- Free access to Slack.
- Getting started with video conferencing – The Catalyst have shared three guides (to Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype Video).
Here are some examples of community and charity-run services:
- British Red Cross have a link from their homepage about the different ways they are helping with coronavirus.
- St John Ambulance have a pinned tweet saying they are ready to respond.
- Homeless Link have shared advice for people working in the homelessness sector.
- The Cares Family have suspended face-to-face activity and will find new ways to offer support.
- Give Blood are asking people to continue donating as usual. As are the Trussell Trust.
- Community Action Response launched to encourage everyone to support their communities, particularly vulnerable and isolated people during the crisis. Here’s a thread explaining the five-step process by Eden Project Communities.
- Keep an eye on the VCS Emergencies Partnership.
- New: National Emergencies Trust launch their coronavirus appeal.
- Mutual Aid UK are developing resources for local support groups.
- Communities are rallying round – see Kind Bury.
If you are a community volunteering charity, how are you keeping volunteers in touch with how they might be needed? And reassuring them about measures you’ll be taking to protect them?
More people are switching to virtual working as a way to reduce risk. It can be a real shift for an organisation if you are not used to working like this. Here are some useful links:
- How to help staff adjust to remote working – Zoe Amar.
- How to work remotely in a time of coronavirus – The Catalyst.
- A useful post from Beth Kanter about how to facilitate effective virtual meetings.
- How to run a virtual away day – Olly Benson.
- How to run a virtual online conference – Fundraising Everywhere.
- The ultimate guide to working from home, by freelancers who know – Freelance Heroes.
- Thread of tips about working from home by Jon Arnold based on the experience of Tiny Tickers who operate remotely.
Fundraising is being hit hard.
The London Marathon has been postponed until October (announcement 5pm Friday 13th March). Read this thread by Russell Benson with great tips and alternative options for events fundraisers if you haven’t already. Here are a few examples from charities responding to the news in case you want some ideas.
- The Institute of Fundraising – advice for fundraisers.
- Peter Lewis of IoF – how fundraisers are responding and possible impacts (13 March). Detailed post looking at specific areas of fundraising including events, community fundraising and charity shops.
- Tobin Aldrich – A proper crisis. “But what we really need to do is to plan. How are we going to have the maximum impact in supporting our beneficiaries throughout the crisis and after it. And how are we going to fund it.”
- New: Pandemic fundraising: what to expect and how to succeed in the months ahead – Better Fundraising.
- UK Fundraising have curated a list of funding sources.
- CFG – coronavirus and your charity’s finances.
- Good Finance have created a resource hub for social enterprises and charities.
- The Fundraising Regulator have advice about fundraising events: “All charities should now be thinking about what they will do if their fundraising event needs to be cancelled or postponed.”
- Many funders such as London Funders are adapting the terms for the charities they support. LF say “we want to offer reassurance that we stand with the sector during this time”. See also Esmee Fairbairn and Corra Foundation. This thread by Max Rutherford had lots more examples.
- Howard Lake of UK Fundraising wrote advice for fundraisers about the challenges ahead and how to be prepared.
- Matt Haworth is offering his Digital Fundraising Book (PDF) free of charge.
- Shelter had to cancel their flagship Vertical Rush event but have encouraged participants to do the event their own way – now as a #VirtualRush!
- Bowel Cancer UK include advice for fundraisers in their FAQ update.
- Uncovering the secrets of virtual events – Just Giving.
- Voluntary sector leaders collectively wrote a letter to the Chancellor to act to address the financial impact of coronavirus on the sector.
Sarah Goddard is building a collection of resources for the fundraising sector including template appeal letters for hospices and smaller arts organisation from Mark Phillips.
Charities are launching appeals:
- This from Kemp Hospice was released very early on.
- Asthma UK have added a donation ask at the end of their information page.
- Age UK Camden have put out an appeal to help them to support ‘an increasing number of anxious older people who are reaching out to us for help’.
- FareShare – Help us get food to vulnerable people. Donate online or ‘text MEAL 10 to 70480 to give £10’.
- New: JustGiving have shared some of the campaigns on their site.
Other good reads / useful links
- Joe Freeman looks at how social platforms are signposting to trusted sources of information in his Week Notes 35.
- NHS takes action against coronavirus fake news online – 10 March.
- Don’t spread misinformation. Use the SIFT technique. The simplest way to spot coronavirus misinformation on social media – Will Oremus.
- BBC article of 5 coronavirus graphics
- ‘Urgent advice’ needed to protect rough sleepers amid coronavirus outbreak – HuffPost UK.
- WHO joins TikTok to fight coronavirus misinformation – engadget.
- Coronavirus: charities rally to help older people in self-isolation – Guardian.
- Why we should care: Common questions and answers about covid-19 – Dave Troy.
- I’m seeing lots of threads on Twitter of people with existing health conditions talking about self-isolation. This Channel 4 News clip shares one story.
- Coronavirus why you must act now – Tomas Peuyo shares data about the spread of the virus. Scary but important post.
- Data protection and coronavirus: what you need to know – guidance from ICO.
- Twitter release a #handwashing emoji.
- Many health charities shared information as the news spread. Look at examples from Asthma UK, Sue Ryder, Diabetes UK, Cystic Fibrosis Trusts, Sickle Cell Society, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Eczema Society, MS Society, British Liver Trust and more gathered in this Twitter Moment from early March.
- Download resources from Public Health England – includes posters, leaflets and guides.
- 16 March: new advice was added for people who should take stringent social distancing measures.
Examples of warmer comms from week 2/3 of the outbreak:
- Oxfam made a lovely hand washing video.
- LGBT Foundation also shared an alternative mantra to wash your hands to.
- Shakespeare Theatre Company in America shared lines from Macbeth.
- Monster Supplies – the shop from Ministry of Stories – promoted their tins of escalating panic product.
- Make your own office handwashing poster using Wash Your Lyrics.
Have you read anything else useful I should add here? Or seen examples? Let me know. I’ll add more useful links here as I find them.
Thanks to Charity Digital who published a version of this post on 10 March.