You can’t take politics out of charity communications

Posted on 27/03/2013


Political anorak (from the Electoral Comission)The PRCA’s charity group recently debated the pros and cons of a ‘political’ approach to charity communications.

But in the charity world, there can be no such thing as an apolitical campaign.

While the stated objectives of charity communications may be seemingly non-political (such as fundraising, reputation-building, public awareness raising or driving action) for each of these four communications objectives, taking an apolitical approach is nigh on impossible.

In the first two cases, fundraising and reputation management, charity communicators need to consider the political response. Real or perceived misuse of public donations, mismanagement of a charity or poorly judged campaigns are sure to land a charity in hot water (anyone remember the National Bullying Helpline?) unless thorough political planning has been considered at the outset of any communications.

But engaged in the right way, having cross-party backing of a fundraising or reputation campaign can only help. An MP asking twitter followers to donate or a Lord making a speech in support of the charity are never going to harm a campaign’s effectiveness.

For awareness raising or action based campaigns, political involvement is even more desirable. For the Edge Foundation, it was only by creating cross-party support (initially using non-policy linked celebration events such as VQ Day) that it was then able to get real results in its campaign to support of practical and vocational learning in the run up to the 2010 General Election.

And Anchor’s Grey Pride managed to achieve such significant internal and external buy-in for its campaign for better treatment of older citizens by creating a central, politically motivated, petition that acted as a central rallying cry for participants.

While these campaigns set out with a clear political element to their campaigns, any awareness or issue-based campaigns that are successful will soon attract the interest of politicians. How charities then deal with (un-wanted) political interest is again an issue that campaign planners need to carefully consider at the outset of any activity.

Even on an international spectrum, taking the politics out of charity communications is impossible. The work I’m doing as a Trustee of Child in Need India at the moment shows that in every step of a charity’s life, the politics of domestic, oversees and international governance are never far away.

So while charities can deliver effective campaigns without a political objective, trying to create wholly apolitical campaigns is not only impossible, but is also likely to reduce the effectiveness of any communications.

Posted in: Issues