Passionate advocates for the charity sector have found recent years more than a little depressing. There are tremendous examples of organisations doing amazing work, but as a sector we aren’t doing as well as we should be.
Civil society should be vibrant and dynamic, entrepreneurial and disruptive, constantly changing and reinventing itself. It should be the sector of choice for young people wanting to have a brilliant career and change the world. And above all it should be admired, supported and loved by the public. It should never be in doubt that charities are brilliant, efficient, effective and trustworthy organisations.
If only this were the case.
It should never be in doubt that charities are brilliant, efficient, effective and trustworthy.
We can only really blame ourselves for the way the sector has been portrayed in the media in recent years. We’ve tolerated bad practice, by individual organisations and across the sector. We’ve stood by while public trust has been eroded rather than being bold and proactive. We’ve become almost afraid of saying anything controversial in case it causes a backlash or the introduction of yet another form of regulation. The result is a rather meek sector that talks a lot to itself, has too many squabbling sector bodies, rarely influences government policy and secured the grand total of zero mentions in the main party manifestos at the recent election.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It wouldn’t be that difficult to make the public think much more positively about us.
We can’t con the public. So, we have to get our own house in order first. We should be bolder about calling out bad practice – and much bolder and more confident about speaking truth to power. We need to communicate relentlessly how brilliant we are, directly and through the media.
We need to communicate relentlessly how brilliant we are, directly and through the media.
But we can only do this if, as a sector, we are far more effectively led and coordinated, especially from a communications and media perspective. The sector does amazing work that transforms the lives of millions of people, but collectively we just don’t communicate this very well. A collective media strategy that can both rebut quickly and ensure regular positive media peaks would help us to be more proactive and more coordinated. I don’t know a sector chief executive who would not sign up for that.
For the sector to be successful, public trust and support is vital. The media can destroy this – or they can play a crucial role in building it up. But that is up to us.
We must sort ourselves out, stop bad practice and improve sector coordination. We must be bold, be exciting and engage. This will lead to more trust, more support and more funding. We can have brilliant organisations, a powerful and loved sector. We can change the world together.