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.

Small Charity Week – round-up of useful posts

Today I volunteered at the Big Advice Day event in London organised by the team at FSI as part of Small Charity Week. They organised an impressive 315 hours of advice between over 120 advisors and 100 charities in the room and over the phone / Skype. The room was buzzing all day!

I spent an hour in turn with people from five amazing small charities and talked about digital comms / marketing / fundraising. The charities were very different (two working in development / overseas, two health charities and one local branch of a national charity). And of different sizes and ages. All were doing properly amazing and vital work with limited funds.

Here are some of the main themes which we covered and some links to relevant posts I have written, useful to small charities.

(NB I mostly include examples from larger organisations in posts as these are easier to find. I would love to include more from smaller charities. I think we can all learn from each other. Did you see the Small Charities Coalition, #BigSupportSmall campaign which launched on Monday?)

urban street art - snoopy the dog looks up at a flying yellow woodstock (from Charlie Brown)

Legacy fundraising

Four out of the five charities I saw today wanted to talk about legacy fundraising. Many had received legacy gifts but felt that they could do more to drive this type of support. Some were uncomfortable about making an ask.

We talked about using hooks to make the ask easier like Remember a Charity Week in September, Free Wills Month in March or significant events like an anniversary or capital project.

We mostly talked about content – for example, how to make the ask, what terminology should you use to inspire supporters to trust you enough to make this future donation? Really this depends on your audience and their relationship with you. Your ask might be more effective if made via a letter or mentioned in a speech at an event. However, you should probably still have something about legacy giving on your website to help people with the practicalities. The tone of voice and images you use here are key. Your direct relationship with your beneficiaries / supporters is a huge asset as a small charity. If you understand and show that you understand their motivations, you can write content which is powerful and persuasive. If you can show that leaving a gift like this, is something people like them do, it helps them take action too.

It is important to check the digital experience you are giving on your pages – for example can people find the information about gifts in Wills easily (how many clicks and where is it), is the information practical and helpful (does it tell them what they need to know)? Check the statistics if you can, to see where people are dropping off your journey and make changes as needed.

We looked at examples of others being creative, confident and appropriate in the messaging. There are lots of examples of this here:

Involving people with ‘lived experience’

More and more charities are involving people with first-hand experience of the cause at board level, in co-design of services, and in strategy setting. Many of those I talked to today were doing this but not yet involving them in comms. There are big opportunities (and risks) to include first-hand storytelling in your on and offline comms, funding applications and in-person events.

Comms processes

Being a comms / marketing / fundraising person in a small charity means prioritising and juggling. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by needing to be on 24/7. Some of this pressure can be eased by sorting out your systems and processes so that you don’t waste time looking for an image or re-writing a standard piece of copy. (I have a crib sheet of standard tweets, messages and links I can modify and use which saves loads of time.)

Spending some time working out your image strategy, thinking about crisis comms or working on monthly comms plan is time well spent. In a small charity you can be reactive but to avoid feeling like you are always chasing your tail, make sure this is balanced with some planning and preparation.

Small Charity Week

There is lots going on during the rest of the week including fundraising day on Thursday and celebration day on Saturday. Do get involved. The hashtag is #SmallCharityWeek.

Find out about the small charities near where you live. There are sure to be lots of them working from kitchen tables (see this fab thread from Tiny Tickers sharing their working spaces) or shared offices. They are on the ground working in your community or supporting people further afield. Just look at this great A-Z of small charities in Camden curated by Camden Giving which gives a flavour of the volume and variety of organisations in one London borough.

Use the Charity Commission charity search to find a small charity near you. Then find out how you can help. Donate your money or time or skills to give them a boost. Small charities need your support.

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Digital round-up – February 2019

Highlights this month: designing comms for young people, housestyle / accessible writing, personas of offline users, February hashtags.

Although it was a short month, February was packed with great comms and good reads. Here’s some you might have missed.

Large beach huts face out to sea at Shoeburyness in Essex

How to use: 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

Family have an argument in their kitchen. Monster with tentacles sits on the table. Still from campaign video.

Twitter takeover of the month: Fight Bladder Cancer took over MADLcharity’s Twitter account for three days to raise awareness and reach a new audience. It would be good to see a Moment of the takeover to preserve the messages and energy from the event, giving the takeover a longer shelf life.

Comms

Screenshot from Dan's blog post - showing stats of YouTube viewing by age

Check your language:

Conferences:

Comms news, tips and examples:

Digital – strategy, design, culture

4 personas from the Good Things Foundation research

Fundraising

People, teams and culture

And finally….

Your recommendations

What did you read, watch or launch this month? Please add your links 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 January’s round-up? Catch up with more good reads!

Digital round-up – July

Highlights this month include: #WaistcoatWednesday, Charity Digital Code, IoF’s Fundraising Convention and diversity.

It’s been a month of relentless hot weather, football optimism and bleak world news. Plus another bumper crop of great charity content and digital reads.

stacks of ice cream cones in the window of an ice cream shop. they lean under the weight

How to use – 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. Enjoy!

Content

Bloodwise's call to celebrate WaistcoatWednesday to help beat blood cancer

Bloodwise launched amazing reactive fundraising #WaistcoatWednesday on 7 July to coincide with Gareth Southgate’s big moment on 11 July. At one point on the day #WaistcoastsWednesday was trending confusingly. National Trust spontaneously responded with a tweet about not wasting the coast but didn’t use #WasteCoastWednesday.

There was other fun football content including a forecast from The Met Office, #GarethSouthgateWould tweets including this one from Bliss, Scope’s brilliant BSL videos (see Football’s Coming Home), Give Blood’s missing Os, and many examples of Harry Maguire’s meme including this excellent one from The Horniman Museum. There were serious messages too including this striking image sharing stats about rates of domestic violence.

Lower half of white woman's face. She has blood dripping from her nose and wiped across her mouth. Looks like the England flag.

Also this month:

scruffy dog lying on the grass. speech bubble comes out of its mouth filled with emoji including one of paws, tree, poo etc

How do you promote your members or partner organisations? I love these tweets from Small Charities Coalition shouting-out to members for Pride and the football. Also London Community Foundation showcase grant recipients, in this case following Wimbledon.

Digital

Have you read and given feedback on the Charity Digital Code which launched in July? Consultation closes 25 September.

New websites

This month BHF launched their new website including new font.

Launching a new website, even though it has been a huge project, is not always big news for your audience. I liked this promo video from SUSE (Scottish Union of Supported Employment) to launch their new site.

Fundraising

The digital stream at this year’s IoF Fundraising Convention looked excellent. Catch up with a few of the expertly curated Twitter threads and blog posts if you weren’t there:

Crisis comms

I ran a workshop at the Hospice UK Comms Day which was about brand and reputation. Here are some useful tips from crisis expert Kitty Hamilton. Hospice UK produced a Wakelet of the day, sharing useful tips for hospices. And here is the blog post I wrote about using social media in crisis comms.

chaotic hose pipe, swirling patter

See also:

Leadership

This month there have been lots of discussions about diversity. Vicky Browning from ACEVO shared her commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive charity sector. Jane Ide from NAVCA blogged Diversity: it’s time to make it real and Diversity part 2: nobody said it was going to be easy.

How do world leaders use Twitter? Lots of data to get stuck in to from Twiplomacy.

50 world leaders shown in individual circles, illustrating Twiplomacy's tweet

10 charity digital people who should be on your radar – some top people who regularly share their digital knowledge. Very happy to have been included. Thanks Lightful.

And finally….

Sign on the wall in a zoo. naughty penguin of the month. Good penguin of the month.

Does social media negatively affect your mental health? Why not take time out with #ScrollFree September? You don’t have to go full Cold Turkey? Cut down as a Night Owl or Sleeping Dog. Check out the website to find out more.

Don’t forget to book your ticket for Being the Story in October. Super Early Bird rate ends 24 August.

Your recommendations

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

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. I can help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection.

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