Digital round-up – April 2020

Highlights this month: covid content, covid comms, covid language battles, covid fundraising, covid-driven digital services, covid burnout.

Well, March was intense. April was the same, but different. Now we are in May, it feels like a good time to review and reflect on the month just gone. This round-up, like most of the comms this month, is 98% coronavirus. Here are some gems you might have missed. Stay safe everyone.

Street art - Triangle with man in a hat walking across a zebra crossing. Says 'Virus' underneath. Looks like a warning sign.

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Content and digital fundraising

At the start of the pandemic in March, comms was focussed around hand washing and protecting vulnerable groups. As we moved into April, fundraising appeals, digital fundraising and lockdown coping strategy content emerged. It has been really inspiring to see so many creative campaigns turned round so quickly and made from home.

Most charities have built covid information hubs on their websites, very quickly writing lots of new content to meet the needs of their audience. These hubs are generally prominently linked from homepages and in some cases appear as a new item on top-level navigation. Here’s a selection:

Comms

Illustration of a Tank from Yasmeen Serhan's article

Digital – strategy, design, culture

Inaccessible tweet from 10 Downing Street. Uses image of a letter with no text description

It has been really worrying to see the rise of so much inaccessible information during this time from official sources, businesses and some charities. The accessibility of official information provided by No10, DHSC, PHE and even the NHS has been especially poor at a time when it matters most. This was covered on Channel 4 News.

It has been particularly noticeable that so many organic and promoted tweets used images or gifs of text to share statements and complicated information. These generally appear with no alt text or link to an html version of the information, or text version in a thread. The information is therefore inaccessible to anyone who can’t view images. There have also been lots of videos without subtitles and without voice overs.

Clearly this has been a pressured time to release information as quickly as possible. But accessibility matters.

Fundraising

2.6 challenge image. boy in a superhero costume

People and organisations

We’ve all had to rapidly adjust to this new way of working. It has been tough. Not least because of the technological learning curve and the loss of face-to-face contact, but also because we are all dealing with big additional mental loads as we come to terms with the situation we are living and working in. The home schooling, the loneliness, the worries about food and health and the future and our loved ones. There’s lots to deal with.

There was a flood of ‘top tips for working at home’ type-articles at the start. And now, there are more about recognising that wall-to-wall Zoom calls and WFH (especially when your home isn’t set up for this) is very draining. If you are finding it hard, or your team’s motivation is draining, this is normal. Here are some articles which it might be worth sharing internally. You are doing great. It’s ok to have off-days. Working life is likely to be like this for a while.

The current situation has lots of implications for long-term outputs. Organisational strategies have been parked and business as usual pivoted. It’s a challenging time for senior leaders and trustees.

Sector

And finally….

Lavender field in Kent

I am missing train trips and walks in open countryside. I have been sharing some virtual walks and adventures including Cornwall, a sleeper train to Spain (and back) plus the lavender fields of Kent.

If you want to transport yourself to other places at a deeper level, take a look at Radio Lento podcasts. Get some headphones and listen to 30-minute soundscapes of woods, rivers and birds. Perfect for meditation, some quiet before sleep or just switching off during the day. Subscribe via your podcast provider or get updates via @RadioLento.

Your recommendations

What did you read, watch or launch? Please share in the comments.

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with content planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes. I can help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection.

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Did you miss the last round-up? Catch up with more good reads from a time before lockdown.

#WalkWithTom – raising money ‘for the NHS’

You’ll have seen that 99 year old, Captain Tom Moore (@captaintommoore) has been raising money by walking the length of his garden. Initially he set out to raise £1000 to mark his 100th birthday.

Today (17 April) the total on JustGiving stands at a staggering £17m. JustGiving have done an amazing job to process hundreds of donations per second. The story has been all over the media and donations have come from 52 different countries.

Captain Tom Moore's JustGiving page - total is on £16m

People want to support Tom and give something to the NHS at this impossible time when we need them most. But as the story has grown, the messaging about how and where the money will be used has been lost. As with any windfall fundraising on this scale, transparency is needed about who gets the money and how it will be spent.

Tom’s story

The public is heavily invested in Captain Tom and most will know that this money is going to the NHS in some way. It gives us a good news story, a heroic person to connect with and reassurance that the NHS has much-needed extra funds. All good.

But as with other huge windfalls the sector has seen, there comes a responsibility by the recipient charity to be transparent about where the money is going. Most of the coverage has focussed on Captain Tom, the total he has raised and the progress of his garden challenge.

There is little mention that the funds are going to NHS Charities Together for them to distribute to their NHS charity members – not ‘the NHS’.

Windfall fundraising

Think back to the Claire Squires Fund in 2012 which raised £1m for The Samaritans, #ThumbsUpForStephen in 2014 which raised £5m for Teenage Cancer Trust (until a few days ago holding the record for the most raised by an individual through JustGiving), or #FinishForMatt in 2018 which raised £380k for small charity Brathay Trust).

Each of these was a high-profile news story which prompted a wave of love and action by thousands of donors. Each charity had to respond to this event happening outside their control and quickly communicate their plans about how they would use these large unexpected funds.

For most, donors were responding to the story of Claire, Stephen and Matt, wanting to do something. The cause was secondary. The charities had to get the right balance of letting the story drive donations but at the same time making sure it featured prominently in all their comms (such as website homepage, social media, email marketing). They had to connect with and educate a new audience about their work, and as the size of windfall became clear, make and share plans about how the money would be used.

#WalkWithTom has additional complications as we are all connected to the cause. But in this case, there is also complexity around the messaging of who is holding the money and how we think about the NHS and how it is funded.

About NHS Charities Together

NHS Charities Together is an umbrella organisation for the NHS charities. There are more than 250 across the UK, although only 140 are members. Most hospitals and Trusts have one (see list of NHS Charities Together members). They operate a bit like a school PTA which raises money for ‘extras’ not covered by council budgets.

Most people don’t know or need to know about NHS charities, why they exist and what they pay for which is different from the government funded frontline NHS. But actually this matters. In recent days I have seen lots of people talking about this story, confused (and sometimes very angry) about how and why this money is ‘going to the NHS’ which we pay for through our taxes. Some have raised concerns about the precedent it is setting for people thinking they are donating to the NHS.

Lots of the media coverage simply says that Tom is ‘raising money for the NHS’. Even the Chancellor said it in this message! Most reports don’t mention specifically that the money is going to NHS charities and how it will be used. Maybe people may assume the money will go on PPE and ventilators? Maybe it is too technical to explain or gets in the way of a good story?

But we are once again left in a situation where the technicalities of how charities operate are a mystery to most and the lines are blurred between charity and public sector services and who pays for them.

Hopefully as the story moves away from Tom’s garden, it will focus on the difference this money will make. And explain where it is and where it isn’t going. If the media, simply said that the money is going to NHS charities, rather than ‘to the NHS’, it would be a good start.

How the money will be used

Unfortunately, not much has been said about how the money Tom has raised will be used yet. NHS Charities has been celebrating Tom’s achievements and the ever growing total. They probably haven’t got time to do more. They are only a small organisation and they are running several other campaigns and fundraising efforts of their own.

NHS Charities’ own appeal on Virgin Money Giving has raised £27m (including £26m raised offline from major donors). This appeal gives examples of some of the ways the money could be used including:

  • wellbeing packs for NHS staff and volunteers
  • covering staff / volunteer expenses such as car parking, travel and accommodation
  • communication devices for isolated patients
  • mental health support for staff, volunteers and patients
  • helping patients leave and remain out of hospital.

These sound like very valuable ways to use the funds but what does this look like with £44m+ behind it? Will only member charities get support or all of the NHS charities? How will this be allocated? Is this more than enough to cover these activities or is more needed?

It must be a complicated challenge to allocate this amount of money quickly across hundreds of partners in a crisis of this scale and under such pressure. But donors and the press need their ‘what now’ story about the impact of these generous donations.

Good comms is key

As with any massively successful fundraising appeal, attention will turn from the event to how the money has will be used. Here, questions will be asked about the speed of getting the funds to where they are needed.

Hopefully NHS Charities Together will be able to give clarity through their own comms and press outreach about their intentions for this unexpectedly large amount of money. As well as the numbers, it would be good to see stories about impact to give a human context. We need more good news stories.

There have been some comms on this including a slot by the Chief Executive on Heart FM and a few of the NHS charities tweeting themselves such as Awyr Las Charity in North Wales.

The hashtag #ThankYouTom is already being used by people. Maybe the NHS charities could share their stories of how the money has been used in their hospital using this?

Update

This Civil Society article (NHS Charities Together appeal raises £55m for members (17 April)) gives some detail about how the money is being spent.

Some of the same information is also in the mainstream press. See How will Captain Tom Moore’s £14m be spent to help NHS workers? (Huffington Post – 16 April) and Covid-19 appeal to benefit NHS staff through array of charities (The Guardian, 16 April).

Captain Tom’s fundraising was closed after his 100th birthday. The final total was over £32m.

NHS Charities Together raises £100m through Covid-19 appeal – UK Fundraising.

Read more

For more coronavirus-related fundraising and comms, see April’s Digital round-up.

Coronavirus comms – planning ahead

As we move into a more widespread experience of the virus, our comms will change. So far, we have been in a full-on crisis planning stage. We have been mobilising to work from home, digitising our services, getting ready to do the work which is needed, fundraising and campaigning under #EveryDayCounts.

Now, the situation will change as we hit the peak with more cases. More of us will get ill, know someone who is ill or who has died. At the same time, we will be feeling the impact of increased financial and practical pressures individually and on our organisations.

How and what we communicate on behalf of our organisations and between ourselves will change. The leadership team should be setting the tone and framework for this. Work with them to plan now what this might look like for your organisation.

Graphic of brightly coloured houses

Here are some resources and thoughts which might help you to plan for this stage. Effectively we are all working through a constant crisis situation.

External comms about your work

What you say about your organisation at this time, clearly depends on the work you are doing. But your comms need to be agile. The situation is changing rapidly. The priorities for your organisation and your audience have completely changed and will continue to do so. What are you able to predict with confidence and what scenarios are likely to be ahead?

Is your comms process working in the current situation? If not, what needs to change to streamline publishing? For example, who is deciding on and approving messaging? Where are the bottlenecks and can these be removed? Who is identifying new content you need to create to cover subjects people need to know about? Are you able to turn this round quickly but to the same quality standards?

Your audience is likely to be flat-out and also needing to switch off. So, the volume of your comms, the range of topics you are covering and the channels you may use, will be different. Streamline what you are doing as much as possible so you are sharing the same messages across the channels you are using.

Do you have time to respond to people’s comments and questions via social media? People may be lonely / bored / frightened and more likely to reach out this way, than before. Are you set up to deal with this type of ‘customer service’? Who do you priorise if you have limited time? It can be helpful to have a playlist of common responses and links which you edit as needed.

Keep one place updated as your primary information source. Many organisations now have a coronavirus section on their websites where they share resources and information about their services. Create a go-to place if you haven’t already.

What does your content mix look like? Is it appropriate to share good news, fun stories or reassuring content? People will need cheering up. Think about your tone of voice. Make sure what you are sharing is appropriate for the general mood / news.

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 by Ella Saltmarshe about how language changes through a crisis and how to frame your comms is useful. 8 tips for framing covid19. And the NHS styleguide now has a coronavirus entry.

Beware of sharing misinformation or yesterday’s news. Things are changing rapidly. Only share current and official sources of information.

Don’t forget about accessibility during this time. Everyone needs to be able to access important information. For example, don’t share images of text, gifs of videos without text descriptions and / or links to an html version. Use subtitles on videos.

Scheduling messages may be risky at the moment. We just don’t know what is ahead.

Comms about your people

How is your comms set up to deal with bad news about colleagues, volunteers or the people you work?

For individual cases

  • How will you receive the news? Are you checking in with each other? Do you have contact details for next of kin?
  • How will you tell people the news internally? Who will do this?
  • Are there some people you might need to share the news about publicly, such as patrons, founders or trustees? If so, do you have a template for biographies or tributes? Do you have appropriate photos you can use?
  • Do you have ways that people can come together online to share their stories and memories of that person? For example, through a hashtag or in-memory board? How will you curate or share these with the person’s loved ones?
  • In the absence of funerals and with so many people working from home, not seeing each other, the usual ways of coming together to grieve are not possible. What can you do to help people mourn within your organisation?

For multiple cases

  • How will you keep track of people within your network who have died? Will you manage a list? Who will look after this? How might you need to use this now and later?

Tone of voice

What is your internal and external tone of voice talking about death? Do you use euphemisms like ‘passed away’? Or talk in a more matter of fact way? It is a good time now to work this out if you haven’t already. The NHS health writing style guide has just added an entry to clarify how they write about death and dying. They use direct language.

Internal comms

What systems do you need to put in place to help people process bad news? This can be really hard especially when everyone is working remotely. Good internal comms is key.

Regularly review whether your internal channels are working well. Is everyone engaged? Are your systems making things easier or adding more stress?

How can you add some light relief? I have seen people starting their team conference calls with a quiz or tours round their homes or with a fancy dress theme (such as a hat). Other people bring their children or pets on the calls to say hi.

Useful resources about mental health

Look after yourself and your colleagues. This thread from Matthew Sherrington about managing your team through a crisis – organising, communicating, taking care of yourself and others, is full of useful tips.

Here are some other useful links.

Useful resources about grief and bereavement

Other resources

Have you read anything else useful I should add here? Or seen examples? Or got tips. Please add in the comments or let me know.

See also: Coronavirus comms for charities.

Look after yourselves please. And wash you hands.