With its reliance on awareness-raising events, in-person fundraising and support from those who have time, funds and energy, the charity sector has been immeasurably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Help with increasing visibility in an overcrowded news space and inspiring those who have the capacity to support is where good PR can come in.
Sign up for our live webinar on 17 March 2021 at 11:00 GMT The great Covid bounce back for Charities? here.
Picking a charity for your agency to partner on a specific project, or for the longer-term, is a great way to live your purpose, give to good causes and support the charity sector at large. Where should you start?
Finding the right fit
‘It really did come down to the people for us,’ says Emma Roberts, PR manager for Dr.PAWPAW. When the skincare brand was looking for a new charity to partner with, the team found shared goals with the Teenage Cancer Trust.
‘The energy from the team there and even beneficiaries themselves has been incredible,’ says Emma of the experience. ‘They are constantly communicating with us and it really does make all the difference.’
Naturally, for a sector that’s powered by communication, comms is key. From the very start of a PR agency-charity partnership, transparency on what the shared aims are and what resources each side requires has to be clear. But before that, there’s connecting with your intended charity…
Beginning a partnership
For Red Lorry Yellow Lorry director of EMEA Hannah Patel, research and contacts in the industry were key. Previous experience working with charities as part of its PRoactive programme, which supports non-profit organisations and charities with tackling social mobility and diversity issues, also helped.
‘Most of our partnerships happened organically,’ says Hannah. ‘Our PRoactive programme has welcomed long-term partnerships that we’ve built over time, such as I Can Be, a think-tank turned charity which introduces 7 and 8-year-old girls from inner-city London schools to inspiring women in the workplace.
‘In 2020, we decided to expand the work we’re doing, but also offer pro bono support to other organisations too. To kickstart the process, we needed to define the offering by asking ourselves what skills and services might be of value and how much time we’d dedicate to each partner. We decided to create a small team of volunteers internally to drive the overall initiative and give it focus. We also asked the whole agency to contribute suggestions. The small team then selected a small handful of partners to approach. As a result, we’ve just started working with FemTech Lab – Europe’s first FemTech accelerator that helps rising stars in the space take their products to market – and we’re loving every minute of it!’
When choosing CALM as the preferred charity partnership for the Vuelio Online Influence Awards for 2020, previous work with the organisation helped, but shared goals were what made the partnership a perfect fit for the event, company at large and the industries the company works with.
‘Given the impact the pandemic has had on mental health across the comms, media and influencer industry – many of whom are self-employed, were furloughed or under increased financial strain – we wanted to support and partner with a charity that is doing amazing work in this field,’ says Access Intelligence Group Events Manager Rebecca Potts.
While Vuelio’s team-up with CALM was successful, first attempts at connecting with your chosen charities might not be. But don’t be discouraged, says Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s Hannah: ‘It’s important to not get offended if the first potential partner you approach says no. Charities and non-profits get approached all the time by businesses wanting to ‘help out’, so it might not always be the right fit.’
Prepare to work with teams stretched to capacity
‘Having worked with several charities in my decade-long career in marketing, PR and social media, one thing that is apparent is that working in the charity sector is not a 9-5 job,’ says Little Seed Group’s Ellen Cole.
Flexibility and reactivity is required for work with a charity – especially in a time when their teams are likely smaller and busier than ever. There is also all of the necessary red tape…
‘Working with charities is extremely fulfilling – there’s nothing more motivating than knowing that your comms can make a life-changing impact. However, lots of charities are dealing with extremely sensitive issues and content – your team needs to be prepared to be able to handle comms in a sensitive manner, and to understand the appropriate tone of voice needed for the organisation. Also be aware that many charities are governed by boards – not all decisions can be made quickly and sometimes campaigns can take a long time to be signed off. Patience is a virtue – as is planning well-ahead,’ says Helen Creese, who has worked with charities regularly at Some Like It Social.
‘Be flexible,’ agrees Vuelio’s Rebecca. ‘Charity budgets are varied but often quite small. It depends on the charity, but teams can also be limited with a couple of people doing the job of a team in bigger organisations. Make sure you give them plenty of notice for any assets or content you require.’
Having less time is an occupational hazard for any charity contact you connect with – this is why help from a PR or comms agency is so valuable. ‘The majority of organisations which will find most value in your support are those who don’t have time to manage their own PR and comms in-house,’ says Hannah at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.
‘There won’t always be a PR or marketing contact their side, so you’ll be working with people who have very busy day jobs with very little time for promotion or awareness raising activity. Don’t expect to be at the top of their priority list or expect the contacts to suddenly have a lot of extra time to dedicate to you and the PR programme you run for them. This doesn’t mean that they’re not grateful for the support, but just be self-aware enough to understand that things might take a little longer from time to time, and that the operational running of the organisation has to come first.’
Remember that any extra work and time is worth it
Finding a charity partnership, ensuring the work you’ll be doing is relevant and right for them and getting through to the right busy people is a challenge, but a worthwhile one.
‘Do it if you can,’ urges Emma at Dr.PAWPAW. ‘It’s a huge, core piece of our business now because we are in a position where we can but it hasn’t always been at the scale we give now. As soon as you can give back you should be. Apart from the obvious, that you’re helping people in need, it gives the team another thing to work towards and to support. When you see the results and see the people we are helping, all those stressful work days disappear. It makes it all worth it.’
Join CAF head of external affairs Caroline Mallan and Parkinson’s UK head of supporter engagement Emily Sturdy for discussion of the impact the pandemic has had on the charity sector as well as its path to recovery – sign up for the 17 March webinar The great Covid bounce back for Charities?.
For advice on helping local charities, read this guest post from Spike’s Andre Gwilliam.
For how charities managing to create inspirational campaigns on low budget (and how you can do the same), read advice shared by Tiny Tickers and The Wildlife Trusts here.