#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 for charities

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?

illustration of lots of people moving around a big space - maybe on escalators

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:

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).

Examples

Here are some examples of information charities have created for the people they represent:

Comms tips

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.

Tweet from Bloodwise UK. Very clear layout. Hashtags and signposting to sources of help.

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.

Website search results: says no items found

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:

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:

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?

Community response

Here are some examples of community and charity-run services:

Community Action Response - 5 steps

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?

Virtual working

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:

Fundraising

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.

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.
Image from FareShare's homepage with their covid19 appeal

Other good reads / useful links

Archive:

Examples of warmer comms from week 2/3 of the outbreak:

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.

Crisis comms – responding to a fundraising boost

A crisis comms situation doesn’t have to be as a result of an actual crisis. The same call to arms and comms skills need to be used when a story unexpectedly blows up. Knowing how and when to respond can be tricky.

This week, a Twitter thread generated a surge in donations to Epilepsy Society. Here Communications Manager Nicola Swanborough explains how an existing relationship with the family meant they were able to respond quickly and with sensitivity.

Amelia’s story

Hari's tweet: "I inherited a desk and drawers in my new job but didn’t have the key until today. When I opened it the stuff from the previous person was still inside it. Shuffling through I stumbled across the order of service for a 21yo girl, Amelia."

On Friday, Hari Miller found an order of service in her office drawer and used Twitter to share the moving story of Amelia Roberts who died at the age of 21 in 2018. In just five days, over £38k has been donated to Epilepsy Society in response.

The thread is beautifully written. It includes images of Amelia and insights into who she was as well as about her type of epilepsy which lead to her sudden death (SUDEP) at home. The sixth tweet is a link to the JustGiving page set up by her family which had then raised £80k and later, a link to how to join the Brain and Tissue Bank.

Today (Tuesday), the JustGiving total stands at almost £118k from 3400 donors. The first tweet in the thread has had more than 31k likes and 8k RTs and been replied to over 600 times. Hari and Amelia’s family have appeared on BBC Breakfast and ITV News.

The team at Epilepsy Society already had a relationship with Amelia’s family. They shared Amelia’s story and have set up a fund in Amelia’s name. But they weren’t prepared for the story to reach a new audience one year after Amelia’s death.

How to respond?

How should an organisation respond when someone’s personal story goes viral and becomes globally owned? In this case, it is Hari and Amelia’s story, not the story of an epilepsy charity.

But people are donating to Epilepsy Society because they have been moved by the story and want to do something to help. The organisation needs to be involved. They need to share their thanks, say what the money will do and use the exposure to raise awareness about epilepsy. It can be a sensitive call.

What Epilepsy Society did

Communications Manager Nicola Swanborough from Epilepsy Society explains what happened: “We first noticed that something was happening on Friday. We retweeted Hari’s thread and kept an eye on the JustGiving site. By the end of Friday, £5000 had been donated.

“We only have a small team but they pulled out all the stops to work over the weekend. They met Amelia’s family and made contact with Hari who posted the tweet.

“On Saturday when the scale of the response was still growing, we retweeted it again with a comment sharing our gratitude and thanks to everyone donating and sharing the story. Our CEO tweeted thanks too.

ES's response tweet: "This is a truly amazing and we are so grateful to Hari and all the wonderful people who have been touched by the tragic  loss of Amelia. Every donation will help us to understand more about SUDEP and how we can stop other young people losing their lives. Our heart felt thanks "

“We were very much aware that this was Hari and Amelia’s family’s story. There was a lot of media interest, particularly from the broadcasting media. We offered background support and a statement and issued a press release over the weekend.

“We also published a news story and reinstated Amelia’s story as our main homepage story. We needed to point people to somewhere they could find out more about her story and purpose of the fund.

Amelia's story is on the Epilepsy Society homepage

“The scale of the response has been exceptional. We have been trying to respond to individual messages from donors.

“We have shared our page about SUDEP as lots of people are talking about it. We know that the Roberts family are very keen to raise awareness of epilepsy, SUDEP and our research, so we are maximising opportunities for positive engagement.

“The story jumped from Twitter to Facebook early on so we have been using all our social media channels to respond to the story. We have kept our staff up-to-date through internal communications as we know that not everyone uses social media. We are planning to post a short video from our researchers thanking everyone for their support. We feel it is important for those who donated to hear about the difference their money will make.

“When it slows down we will review the way the story evolved and our response. We are very aware that we were lucky to already have a strong relationship with Amelia’s family which very much helped in ensuring that everyone was happy with public and media interest. This was a wonderfully positive, global response to a very sad story but throughout we were conscious that it is just a year since Amelia died and that this was also a very tough and personal time for her family.

“Throughout we have been grateful to them for their generosity and determination in sharing Amelia’s story in the hopes that it could save the lives of other young people in the future.

“We have a robust crisis comms plan in place at Epilepsy Society, but we could not have planned for anything on this scale.”

More about crisis comms

More about this story

Digital round-up – September 2019

Highlights this month: a lesson in crisis comms from RNLI, climate change comms, diversity in the sector, guide to wellbeing.

It’s overwhelming to try and keep up at the moment. Aside from UK and world news, this is a busy time of year for awareness days and campaign launches. Here’s a small snapshot of some of the best charity content and reads from this month and some from August too.

two men in a dark room photograph some neon artwork on a phone. pink and purple colours

How to use this round-up: Pick and choose links to read, or open in new tabs for later. Or bookmark this post. Even better, subscribe and get future round-ups direct to your inbox.

Content

Big campaigns

screenshot of Samuel L Jackson's ARUK film. He holds an orange.

Creative content

Reactive content

Celebrity endorsement of the month: The Hoff visits RNLI Penarth.

'we support the climate strike' drawing on office window. By Salford CVS

Did your organisation do anything to join in with the #GlobalClimateStrike either by joining a strike or sharing messages of solidarity or making statement about your own organisation’s commitment to addressing climate change? On a day where there was a global focus on the issues, it was good to see some (mostly environmental charities) pulling out all the stops. It was disappointing to see so many others saying nothing. Here are some examples of charities who joined in with the #GlobalClimateStrike.

Comms

It can be stressful and relentless being on the comms frontline. Your work is key to building and protecting your organisation’s reputation and impact, while also battling internal pressures. This month, Charity Comms launched A wellbeing guide for comms professionals authored by Kirsty Marrins with contributions from others sharing case studies and tips. It aims to help build resilience and look after mental health. Do have a read if you haven’t seen it already.

RNLI changed their homepage to include a striking image from one of their overseas projects

This month, RNLI faced a backlash then a rush of support, following a story profiling their overseas work. Their messaging on Twitter was an example of patience and warmth. The volume of incoming comments was relentless through the week. They responded by writing personal messages to thousands of people. Their initial tweet has been liked 44.8k times.

I wrote a short thread through the first day as the situation developed including tweets of support from other charities. Dan Slee blogged with more examples and UK Fundraising showed some of the ways people challenged the press story.

What was striking about RNLI’s response was that they took ownership of the situation and proudly communicated their values and mission. For example they changed the image on their homepage (see above) and shared beautiful images from their overseas projects on social media. They also did lots to connect with new and established supporters (see this tweet from Shappi Khorsandi, a thank you email and a thank you video from Dave at Poole Lifeboat Centre).

Would you be ready to respond to a crisis comms situation?

Also this month:

Digital – strategy, design, culture

CCDH advice - don't feed the trolls - graphic with 5 steps. 1=don't engage, 2=don't post you are being targetted, 3=if unlawful, record, report and get help, 4=block trolls, 5=don't let it get to you)

Fundraising

Screenshot from Age UK's website. Older man sits alone. White writing on a purple (cadbury coloured) background say Cadbury are joining Age UK to fight loneliness

People and organisations

There has been lots shared this month about representation in the sector. Here’s a selection of useful reads and resources

Also this month:

And finally….

Well done for getting to the end! Here’s some fun stuff.

Your recommendations and feedback

What did you read, watch or launch this month? Please share your recommendations in the comments.

Could you also tell me if these round-ups are useful. It takes quite a long time to put them together. How do you use the round-ups? Please share any feedback. Thanks!

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.

——

Did you miss July’s round-up? Catch up with more good reads!

Are you ready for crisis comms?

Would you know how to handle a crisis comms situation? A crisis can hit whatever the size or cause of your organisation. Many charities have never done any thinking or planning around crisis comms which can leave them vulnerable when one happens.

Official sign on a fence says "KEEP CLEAR. Access required 24 hours a day"

A crisis can take many forms. For example, it could be something that has happened internally (whether it is your fault or not) or a storm about something you do or are associated with (again whether true or not). Or it can be external, for example, a hot topic in your area of work which you are involved with, or something effecting your geographical community, such as a fire or flood. If handled right and in certain circumstances, you can come out the other side with new supporters or a stronger community.

A crisis can also be positive. For example, an unexpected growth, someone with a very high profile championing you, or some unplanned media profile.

Crisis comms planning

Whatever the situation, it pays to have done some thinking about the different situations which could affect you. How you respond in each situation may be different depending on how it could impact your reputation, your beneficiaries, your supporters, your employees, your partners etc. The scale of the crisis or how likely it is to escalate will also be a factor.

Can you list some possible situations which you would consider a crisis? Have any of these happened? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time and how have you documented this? What constitutes a crisis and what is business as usual?

If you are at the start of a crisis, would you know what to do? It can feel a bit ‘rabbit in headlights’ if you haven’t been in a situation like this before. It is good to plan for some of the logistics. For example:

  • Who should be on your crisis comms team? Do they have defined roles? Is there someone in charge?
  • Where should you meet?
  • What tools do you need? Such as laptops, phones, a big wall and post-its?
  • What channels would you use or avoid? (see using social media for crisis comms)
  • How can you work best as a team to keep other informed about what is happening?
  • What if it happens out of office hours? Do you have each other’s contact details or passwords? Would you respond from home or all go to the office? Do you have keys? Can you access the website or other channels remotely?

Building your crisis comms skills

Nothing beats actually being in a crisis to develop your skills. In my career I have lived through a few and can remember them very clearly. You learn a lot by being tested in this way. And if there is a next time, instinctive skills kick in.

Can you run a crisis simulation in your team? Can they write a press release under pressure and know how to get it signed off quickly? Do they know when they should involve the CEO or trustees? Have they got a collective tone of voice to be able to collectively respond to social media comments? Do they agree about when or how to respond to a fictional but possible situation? Can they make decisions quickly?

There are companies who run simulation sessions for organisations. I sat-in on one with Helpful Digital over the summer. They have their own secure platform where dummy tweets, emails, Facebook posts and a website can fully replicate the experience of being in the thick of a crisis comms situation. Brilliant to be able to experience a crisis without it being a real crisis!

Learn from others

Another useful way to build crisis comms skills is to look at how other organisations respond. Watch what they do. Would this approach work for you? For example, a few years ago Dogs Trust said that they felt more able to respond strongly to a negative press story after seeing how RNLI had responded to an earlier one.

Have sessions in your team meetings discussing other organisation’s approaches. Don’t just look at your peers. Think KFC running out of chicken.

There are lots of great case studies to read. Start with Brathay Trust – a lesson in crisis comms and Dan Slee’s recent investigation into the crisis comms around the Whaley Bridge dam incident.

[Take a look at RNLI’s recent response to negative press stories about them using 2% of their income to fund overseas projects to prevent drowning. The story broke on Sunday resulting in negative comments and people saying they were cancelling donations. By the end of Monday there were over 4000 replies to RNLI’s initial tweet. #RNLI_disgrace has been trending all day mostly now with messages of support and new donations. A few charities have also tweeted their support including Save the Children, Friends of the Earth and the Institute of Fundraising all with a strong number of likes.

RNLI’s approach has been to proudly defend their work putting their values and mission at the centre of their comms. They have responded to hundreds of people with a personal message, not just a cut and paste of a statement. It feels authentic. They even changed their homepage to show a powerful image of one of the projects in action. Read more about the story in this great summary on UK Fundraising.]

Look after each other

Being in the middle of a crisis situation is stressful and tiring. It can also be very draining to be dealing with an unpleasant situation, a barrage of unpleasant comments or challenging internal pressures.

Think about how you’ll look after each other during and after the event. There may not be time for lunch or to work on everyday projects. Everyone may need some time out and treats to keep them going.

Charity Comms’ new guide to wellbeing has useful tips about building resilience and spotting the signs of fatigue.

Your tips

What have you done to learn about crisis comms? What advice would you pass on? Are there examples of bad crisis comms we can learn from too? Please share in the comments.


Can I help you?

Please 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.

Using social media for crisis comms

How your culture, use of social media and the crisis itself influences whether you should use social media to respond.

This blog post was produced for Hospice UK following the HUK Comms Day in July. It is intended for hospices and healthcare providers but is relevant to others too.

chaotic hose pipe, swirling patter

What does your crisis comms plan say about how you’ll use social media? Does your social media policy or strategy (if you have one) include detail about how to respond to an emergency or high-profile story? Do you have the skills and processes in place so you could hit the ground running if you needed to?

Charities have consistently been in the headlines this year. Some cases such as Oxfam, GOSH and Alder Hey were front page news for weeks. Charities such as RNLI and Dogs Trust had to set the records straight when journalists mis-reported stories about their work. We live in a time where people can voice their opinions loudly.

In crisis situations (which can be bad or good), social media can be well used to promote your side of the story, to connect with supporters and to even turn a story around. But to get it right, you need to fully assess the situation to work out how to respond. What you do depends on having a culture and framework where social media is a well-oiled comms tool.

Deciding what to do depends on the crisis and your approach to social media.

Different types of crisis

For the comms team or social media officer, a crisis occurs when they have to drop everything to work on the issue. Therefore a crisis can take various forms. For example a crisis can be:

  • an organisational crisis – physical incidents (fire, flood, power cut, bad weather etc) / patient incident / funding crisis / fraud / malpractice / data breach / high-profile patient / patron in the news
  • a crisis in the local area – as community-based organisations, should you join in with local issues? If a local crisis hits (such as a big accident, fire, local celebrity scandal) do you have capacity or the inclination to connect with local people or show solidarity?
  • social media ‘crisis’ – this means something which is primarily on social media. This could be something you have started yourself which has ‘gone viral’ or a hashtag you need to join in with, or a patient documenting their illness which includes the care you are giving them.

How you respond depends on the situation. And the culture and community you have created around your comms.

A social culture

Does your organisation primarily use social media to broadcast? This means that your Twitter or Facebook feeds are effectively noticeboards announcing events or news? There is no interaction or engagement.

Or is your social media, social? An organisation with fully social channels typically does many of the following:

  • receives and responds to comments – building relationships with supporters
  • comments on other people’s messages – this means they follow and listen to others, responding where relevant
  • connects with local people and businesses away from their own channels – either in other forums or groups, or joining in with social media ‘events’ like #BirminghamHour
  • being creative with social – joining in with trending or topical issues
  • using storytelling
  • trusting staff and volunteers to use social media in their work (this is especially key if you had to draft in colleagues to help out in a crisis)
  • building a group of followers who stand up for the organisation.

If you have a social rather than broadcast approach to your comms and social media, when a crisis hits, you will be in a better place to respond. Partly because you’ll probably have a bigger audience but mostly because you will have an engaged one.

Comms planning

Key to responding well is planning. Have you done a training exercise around a crisis situation? Have you brainstormed situations and standard responses? Even if these scenarios never occur, it is useful to have done the thinking so you can apply it to a different situation.

It is essential to have done thinking around:

  • your tone of voice and housestyle. How is this different on social media? How would your press statement work cut and pasted on to Twitter? Do you need to change the jargon or simplify the message? What images could you use?
  • your integrated comms – how will you use different social channels? How will this integrate with your website, print and email comms?
  • processes around publishing to social media, including monitoring and responding out of office hours. Do you have a list of who uses social media in a professional capacity to represent your organisation so you can get hold of them in an emergency?

I have produced a set of questions to help you work out whether it is a good idea to respond or not – see Crisis Comms Questions (PDF). There are no right or wrong answers and not every question will be relevant. This is intended to help you think about the situation either as part of your crisis comms planning in ‘peacetime’ or if you are in a live crisis.

screenshot of questions about whether to take action or not

Examples

In addition to well documented crisis, played out on social including Oxfam, GOSH, RNLI and Dogs Trust, here are some examples of hospice crisis comms in action.

St Giles Hospice – #MakeFredFamous

Some of the tweets received to #MakeFredFamous

91-year old Fred attends St Giles Hospice’s computer group. The team asked people to wish him happy birthday via their Twitter feed. It took off!

To date there have been 45k retweets and 40k likes and thousands of people sent birthday messages. Fred was featured on local news and radio.

The team worked out when to calm the situation down and regularly checked in with Fred that he was ok with the attention. Fred signed off the press release. The coverage helped them to tell people about a different aspect of their work as Fred wasn’t a patient.

Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall

Sample of tweets responding to a theft at Thorpe Hall

When someone stole donations from the hospice last Christmas, the team wrote an open letter to the thief on their website and promoted it on the social channels. This inspired people to do something to help.

Local people, businesses and community groups rallied round and gave donations. The story got on the local news. The hospice was overwhelmed by the response and over £5000 was raised.

Thorpe Hall could have said nothing about the incident but by approaching it in a positive way, the story spread and inspired people to get involved with great results.

Useful reads

See also 5 digital comms tips for hospices – a blog post from 2015 with some great examples.

What do you think?

How has your organisation approached crisis comms? Are there situations where you purposefully haven’t used social media? How do you make decisions about what to do? Who decides?

Please do share in the comments. I’d particularly like feedback on the PDF questions – are they useful / what’s missing?

Can I help you?

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

 

 

With thanks to Sue Ryder, St Giles Hospice, St Wilfrid’s Hospice and St Ann’s Hospice who shared their experiences as part of research for the workshop / blog.

Brathay Trust: a lesson in crisis comms

How small charity Brathay Trust responded to suddenly being headline news and receiving thousands of donations.

In April 2018 small youth charity Brathay Trust in Cumbria had three runners competing in the London Marathon. One of them, Matt Campbell aged 29, tragically collapsed at mile 22.5 and later died.

The charity received an unprecedented response. To date Matt’s JustGiving page has raised in excess of £368,000 (+Gift Aid) from over 31,800 supporters. Thousands of runners across the country also pledged to run the remaining 3.7 miles to #FinishForMatt.

The charity quickly had to deal with the news, putting aside their own shock and grief from losing someone so active in their community. Here, Peter Grenville, Brathay’s marketing executive shares what happened and the lessons they learnt about crisis comms.

Brathay's website showing four news stories

The first day

I was told of Matt’s death first thing on Monday morning. We were aware that the London Marathon organisers were due release the news later in the morning. Colleagues were already in touch with Matt’s family, so we had a couple of hours to start working on our response.

We have a crisis comms plan in place for dealing with a major incident, either during one of our programmes with children and young people, or for something affecting our offices and staff. We also have a plan in place for the ASICS Windermere Marathon, which we organise every May as part of our fundraising. Whilst both were useful, this was a scenario we hadn’t specifically planned for.

We were startled by the large number of enquiries and requests for interviews/statements, which slowed our response a little whilst we prioritised. By the afternoon we had a short statement on our website and social media channels, and our tribute to Matt up later in the day. Both were posted as lead items on our homepage, and also our Challenge Events website, which had been carrying the story of Matt running to raise funds for us.

It became clear very quickly that people touched by the story were donating to Matt’s JustGiving page. Whilst we had some extra donations to appeals on our website, we rapidly decided it was better to focus on the JustGiving route. Although we had an unprecedented level of interest in us (our website had more hits in a day than we normally get in a year) we were aware that people were donating to ‘Matt’s Charity”, rather that specifically ‘to Brathay’, but they were checking us out.

How we worked together

Before the end of the first day it was clear that the those of us dealing with the unprecedented interest in Brathay needed to step away from our regular roles to work together to respond. Some decamped to a meeting room. We scheduled regular twice-daily meet-ups to check what was needed. A large whiteboard became our low-tech method of tracking things that needed doing. We prioritised tasks that required immediate attention, whilst compiling a list of less time-sensitive items that also needed responding to.

Although Brathay has around 100 staff, we are spread across several sites in the north of England. Pulling this group together, especially with our own flagship fundraiser, the ASICS Windermere Marathon, just a few weeks away, did mean we had to delay some planned activity. Organisationally, our colleagues absolutely got the importance of what we were doing and left us to get on with what was needed.

Throughout the whole period we were conscious that Brathay were not the ‘owners’ of anything that was going on. We needed to respect Matt’s family, who are huge supporters of our work, by not making statements about what was going on without consulting with them first.

As a team, we agreed what to write and when. Once one of the team had drafted something for our websites, this was circulated and changes suggested and agreed. We did this largely by instinct – monitoring how the conversation and messages on social media were changing and ensuring we regularly responded – conscious that there was a lot of attention on what the recipient charity of the large sums of money being donated were saying. We wrote updates on day two, on day four and at the end of the first week (30 April) and shared these widely across our channels.

Brathay - one of the total updates on Twitter

By the end of the second week, we were able to return to our normal work, but still with an elevated level of activity and a clear understanding of the need to continue our response.

#FinishforMatt

After just a couple of days, the huge social media campaign to #FinishForMatt #RunForMatt (and some other variants) really took off. Messages and donations switched from being about simply remembering Matt to being about ‘completing’ the Marathon for him, as individuals or in groups. The London Marathon team really got involved with this too. People everywhere were organising runs. We did our best to contact the more significant ones, including those taking place in London, and one local to our HQ in Cumbria.

Interview requests came thick and fast. Our Chief Exec was on BBC Breakfast twice, as well as appearing on other news channels, interviews with local and national radio, and newspapers. Channel 5 produced and shared this short video across their social channels.

One thing that worked particularly well was identifying that people completing their 3.7miles and donating could use a text-based image on their social media posts to demonstrate their support. We quickly put together some simple graphics, loaded them onto our website, and posted about them regularly – it was great to see them being used widely.

Getting the tone right

We were very aware of our place in everything that was happening, and wanted to ensure that our responses showed respect to Matt and his family. The response was incredible, but we didn’t want to appear to be trying to ‘cash in’, or treat the situation as an opportunity to ask people to give. At the simplest level, everyone involved at Brathay really wanted to make sure we did the right thing.

I think what we said genuinely reflected how we felt – amazed, stunned and very grateful for each and every donation. I was keen for us to think about this from the point of view of someone donating. What would they want us hear from us?

Brathay tweet - if we have missed saying thank you to you, our apologies. We've never had so many tweets. Please know we are grateful to each and every one of you

We wanted to show our gratitude to those donating. We put in a lot of time outside normal office hours to try and respond to everyone on social media who were telling us they’d donated. We couldn’t manage it entirely – there was just too many messages – but we did as many as we could. We also tweeted general thank you messages to the running community who had organised special events.

Tweet thanking supporter for walking the 3.7 for Matt

We also published galleries of photos from our #RunforMatt events on Facebook, shared a few very short videos on Twitter including this one of the finish line which has had almost 1000 views and this one which has had almost 8000. We also put a selection of strong images on our Instagram account.

Brathay's instagram - image of a young man in a bright yellow t-shirt completing the run

Keeping up

Keeping up was tricky! We had five people from different parts of the charity working on this full-time, as well as many others involved to varying degrees. The extra hours put in by those involved ensured we responded in a way we were happy with. We discussed using an external agency to help with our social media response but in the end felt we could better maintain the appropriate tone by doing it ourselves.

Building new relationships

It’s early for us to fully understand the long-term effects and if we have developed lasting new relationships. However, more than 5000 of the 31,800 people who donated via JustGiving ticked that they wanted to hear from us. So we have emailed them updating them on the latest total and some of our thoughts about Matt’s legacy. They are now on our database, so will receive our regular updates.

We’ve also built relationships with those involved in the #MilesForMatt #RunForMatt campaigns and strengthened those held with local and national media. We gained a lot of new followers on social media. Of course, we know that the interest in us will inevitably wane for some people, but we hope that many will want to continue to hear from us, and understand what we do.

Brathay graphic explaining what they do

Matt’s legacy

The amount of money raised in Matt’s name is significant to us. We need to think carefully about how best to use it to ensure we have maximum impact on the lives of children and young people. We will consider both our charitable remit and the wishes of the Campbell family to ensure we have a fitting legacy to Matt focused on the development of resilient young people.

It is only a very short time since Matt‘s death and we need to respect that. While the total continues to rise, we are not in a position to finalise our plans but we are currently giving careful thought to the best way forward. We recently published a news story saying this. It is important for us to share an update saying that we are thinking carefully about how to use the money, rather than saying nothing. One of the ideas discussed to ensure we effectively communicate our plans is to have a dedicated page on our website, which will remember Matt and carry updates on what’s happening.

Some of our team were close to Matt. His death was clearly devastating for them and shocking for everyone at Brathay. I’ve been humbled by everyone’s resolution to ensure that we honoured our friend’s memory appropriately, and their huge efforts in coping brilliantly with the amazing response from the public. Colleagues attended the recent memorial service, and will continue our relationship with Matt’s family, who are great supporters of our work with children and young people.

10 top tips for responding to a crisis

  • Be prepared to put in the extra hours. It’s tough, but being part of the conversation at the times and in the places, where your supporters are, is essential.
  • It’s not about what you want to say – it’s about what your supporters/the public want to know. Try and look at the situation from their point of view.
  • Update regularly. Even if the situation is broadly un-changed.
  • Act even faster than you think at the outset! Any time you believe you’ve got will vanish.
  • Prioritise ruthlessly. Not just ‘today’ and ‘later’ but ‘right now’, ‘later this morning’, ‘before 3pm’ etc. If someone is missing deadlines, find a way to support the person who is struggling to keep up.
  • Relax the ‘whose job is it?’ rule. To get things done, use people’s skills if someone who would normally do something is already stretched.
  • Compare notes and meet regularly. Things change rapidly, and new, urgent, items come up fast.
  • Assemble a crisis team fast – even if you don’t need it, you can scale it down easily. Better to realise you’ve got too much resource than find you don’t have enough.
  • Remember to thank your team. They might look like they’re coping just fine, but situations like this are stressful for those involved. Reassure them they’re doing the right thing. It’s hard to know when you’re in the eye of the storm.
  • Make sure someone senior is part of the process. Even if they aren’t there all the time, having their support is invaluable to a team trying to cope with a stressful, and rapidly evolving, situation.

With huge thanks to Peter at Brathay for sharing his experience.

Further reading about crisis comms

Your top tips

Have you ever been in the middle of a crisis at your organisation? How did you identify it was a crisis rather than just a bad day? What worked or didn’t work? What top tips would you share? Please share in the comments.

Can I help you?

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

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