The Evolution of Communication in the Charity Sector


Charities play a vital role in society. They make a difference to millions of lives in the UK and the wider world. If you run a charity, you’ll know this. But you’ll also know that you can only make the difference you do because of the money you raise to support your activities, the work your volunteers do and the campaigns you organise. This means that telling people about your work is essential if you want to inspire them to make a donation, join your band of volunteers and spread the word.

This is where things get complicated. And indications are that many charities have yet to recognise the need to embrace new forms of communication. Which is, in turn, impacting on their finances. According to the Charity Landscape report 2019 published by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the harsh reality is that one fifth of charities with an income of less than £1m are ‘struggling to survive’.

Public sector grant funding for charities has plummeted in the last decade. This has been partly offset by a transition from grants to contracts. But this has benefited the largest charities at the expense of smaller ones. Contractual terms are usually more restrictive than grant conditions and, by turning charities into service providers, affect their ability to respond flexibly to local community needs.

A significant drop has also been reported in the money raised by the National Lottery for good causes, despite an increase in ticket sales.

To compound these problems, public trust in charities has decreased recently because of allegations of mismanagement and unethical behaviour at some major humanitarian charities. This has impacted on donation levels as the public expect accountability, high standards of conduct and organisational cultures which support charitable purposes.

Why should charities invest in digital marketing?

Unsurprisingly, charities are under increasing pressure to engage better with potential supporters and find new sources of income. This is where good communications are essential. These need to be applied across all platforms, including your website, social media accounts, direct mail and annual reports. In a nutshell, you need to be able to tell people how your work improves lives and benefits the community.

Any business with marketing savvy will be focused on having a strong online presence, creating digital content which improves their website’s rankings on search engines such as Google (known as ‘search engine optimisation’ or SEO), and which supports an inbound marketing strategy. They will regard online marketing as an essential investment, either doing the work in-house or hiring a freelance copywriter to produce good quality content.

But many charities, particularly the smaller ones, don’t do this. This might be because there’s no-one with the skills to develop this sort of work, there simply isn’t the time, given other pressures, or the value of this type of marketing activity isn’t recognised in the first place.

Interestingly, the CAF research indicates that while most charities have either increased or plan to increase their social media presence to meet the evolving needs of their beneficiaries, less than half have a strategy in place to deal with technological change.

Digital marketing is changing the face of charity fundraising. It offers a real opportunity for charities to make their mark. And blogs or social media posts about the sort of life-changing work undertaken by many charities are a world away from commercial marketing about the supposed benefits of the latest bit of tech gadgetry or a new brand of kitchen appliance.

How to secure good quality content

So how do you go about doing this? If you don’t have the resource in-house, hiring a freelance copywriter will provide you with the expertly written copy you need for your marketing materials, whether online or offline.

Let’s look at what this means in different contexts:

  • Website content

The quality of the content on your website is arguably the biggest SEO ranking factor of all. But delivering good quality content means replacing an inward-looking perspective, focused on what you do, with outwardly focused content that is more likely to engage with the audience by reflecting what they want to know.

Understanding what motivates people to donate, volunteer or take part in a campaign or activity is the key to this. Supporters may be driven by a keen sense of empathy for a particular social group who are the beneficiaries of a charity. Or they might be motivated by wanting to do something practical for their community. Either way, the knowledge that you’re helping others is hugely empowering. 

Storytelling is a very effective way of engaging with people. Stories help us understand ourselves and the world around us. They make abstract messages real. Charities have an abundance of such stories, based on real people who have benefited from your activities. They help bring people together and create a sense of community among both listeners and tellers.

Don’t forget the role played by blogs – an essential part of web marketing these days. They help you add depth to your profile, generate interest in a charity’s work and address topics not covered elsewhere on your website.

And remember to make it easy for people to act, whether it’s donating, raising awareness of the charity or helping in some other way.

  • Social media

In parallel with your website, social media is one of the most cost-effective ways of communicating to people what you do, how you make a difference and the kind of support you need. Social networks are incredibly popular - across all demographics - and any organisation planning to make an impact needs to go where their audiences are based. Social media helps charities get their messages directly to their audience with no intermediaries. It’s characterised by its informality, which can be turned to your advantage as it helps build stronger, long-term relationships.

The connectivity offered by social media undoubtedly makes extreme views more visible. But the megaphone effect can also amplify the good work undertaken by charities. And one of its characteristics is its versatility. You can use it for:

Brand building. Social media is very useful for positioning your charity and raising your profile, telling your audience what you stand for, why you’re different and about the impact you’re having.

Fundraising. Charity fundraising is all about tapping into people’s emotions. Social media provides an opportunity for charities to communicate regularly with their audience, making them feel valued and empowered and developing deeper relationships.

Campaigning. It’s a great way of reinforcing your campaigning objectives and updating people on your activities.

Building communities. Social media offers charities the opportunity to bring together like-minded individuals, who share the same values and support the causes which are the glue that holds such communities together.

Finding volunteers. It’s an effective way of finding volunteers, defining the specific skills needed, and asking existing followers to spread the word. 

  • Corporate communications.

    Annual reports and other formal communications often fail to excite people. The need to cover financial and legal requirements produces dry reports that receive little attention. But there’s no reason not to produce corporate materials that combine the formal business of the charity with a lively tone that reminds people why they’re supporting it in the first place.

  • Leaflets.

    Traditional forms of marketing still pack a punch in our digital world. A well-crafted leaflet or appeal letter can complement your online activity and help you engage with potential supporters who might respond better to this form of communication than a digital platform.

Give me a call if you would like to discuss your copywriting needs.