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.

Charities joining in with the #GlobalClimateStrike

Today’s #GlobalClimateStrike is likely to be the biggest ever with adults showing solidarity with striking students. Millions of people are taking to the streets around the world. #ClimateStrike, #SchoolsStrike4Climate and #ClimateAction are all currently trending. According to The Guardian yesterday, a public poll found that the Climate crisis is seen as ‘most important issue’. The eight-country poll showed that people view the climate crisis as priority over migration and terrorism. But does the charity sector reflect this?

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

Even if it’s not your cause, this is a global day of activism about something that will have impact on us all. People will be talking about the issues. How is the sector seeing this as an opportunity to take collective action?

Striking

Charities with an environmental focus are of course shouting about it from the rooftops, encouraging staff and supporters to join in. For example:

Some other organisations are publicly saying how and why they are joining in with the march:

For many it will not be possible to join in with a strike. There is also a way to join in the #DigitalClimateStrike to show solidarity. I’ve seen a good number of agencies and individuals doing this, but no charity websites.

The examples above are primarily from organisations whose remit is connected to climate change. They will of course be joining in.

Other ways to join in

What if it is not your remit? Most organisations can’t stop their everyday work to join a strike. Most will also not want to change their homepages or social media feeds to distract from their own work.

But if on the biggest day of protest about the environment, you are not joining in with the conversation, what does that say? If you are not talking about what you are doing, maybe people will assume you are doing nothing? And in a culture when we need to build trust, connect with our audiences and collectively take action, this is important.

This is an opportunity to show that we care about the same things as our audiences / beneficiaries, especially if they are primarily young people (see this example from YoungScot).

So, use the day (and beyond) to say what you are doing for example to reduce waste or energy use. Talk about some of the changes you have made to the way you work and travel. Talk about what you plan to do (for example, VONNE announced that their annual conference will focus on climate change. And Just For Kids Law had a lunchtime session talking about climate change). Talk about the impact that climate change is, or could have, on the people you represent (see Oxfam’s #WhoTakesTheHeat series).

If the reason your organisation is not doing anything today is because climate change is not on your organisation’s radar, maybe use the day as a way to raise it internally.

It’s time for adults to listen to children say Save the Children in this powerful video.

Read more

Update: after the strike

Youth Strike 4 Climate stated that globally, 4 million people joined in with the strike. There were 5700 strikes in 185 countries. Scottish Youth Climate Strike estimated that 1 in 125 Scots joined the strike.

Here are some examples of timely and powerful comms shared during and after the event to mark the day and build momentum further:

Update: ongoing climate change action

  • Woodland Trust are inviting everyone to join the #BigClimateFightback by pledging to plant a tree by 30 November.
  • British Red Cross shared a video from IFRC called the #FacesOfClimateChange. The same video, translated into different languages, has been shared by branches in other countries.
  • Manchester Community Central are devoting their annual storytelling event to focus on local organisations addressing climate change. On day one they introduced Friends of Fallowfield Loop.
  • Friends of the Earth shared an animation, saying “If you’ve been inspired by the #GlobalClimateStrike or Greta Thunberg’s incredible speech to the UN, then don’t wait for those in power to #TakeClimateAction.”

What do you think?

Did your organisation join in? Is climate change being discussed internally? Have you seen any great examples of climate change comms?