The Learning Post: insights from UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match

Messaging and publicity: easy wins for smaller organisations to improve their communications output and outreach

Episode Summary

Communicating the impact from the work of civil society to support the most vulnerable and marginalised is important for all charities. In this podcast we hear from Communications Specialist for UK Aid Direct, Laura Else, on why it is especially important small charities consider their role in contributing to the broader narrative around international development and efficacy. We also hear top tips for securing publicity from local media outlets.

Episode Transcription

Alexandra Hall: Hello and welcome to the Learning Post. A podcast dedicated to sharing insights and learning from the UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match funds. 

My name is Ally Hall, and I am a Communications Specialist for MannionDaniels, and your host for this episode.

I’m joined today by Laura Else. Laura is a Communications Specialist for UK Aid Direct, and I want to find out from her some easy ways that small organisations can improve their communications output and outreach, and specifically today around publicity and messaging. 

Laura, welcome and thank you for joining me. 

Laura Else: Thank you for having me. 

Alexandra Hall: Laura, could you tell the listeners why you think communications is particularly important for smaller charities? 

Laura Else: So, Communications is important for all charities, and using communications channels effectively and raising an organisation’s profile will help them, to secure more funding, more donations, attention, and consideration by individuals to fundraise for them, for example. 

But we’re very aware of the time pressures that smaller civil society organisations are under and that could mean that something like communications is given less of a priority. Quite often there isn’t a dedicated, paid communications person in post and therefore, promotion activity, press releases, and impact stories, for example, can often take a backseat, through necessity rather than the desire of an organisation. 

Alexandra Hall: I see, so when communications isn’t given a priority how does this impact on the smaller organisations?

Laura Else: Well, I think what happens Ally, is that opportunities to talk about their projects and share the impact can get overlooked and therefore that opportunity to increase the public’s awareness of their fantastic work, to contribute to promoting a positive dialogue about international development and efficacy, and actively seeking to counter possible negative narratives around funding development work, gets passed by also. 

Alexandra Hall: Yes, absolutely and mitigating against those negative narratives would be a key part of any civil society organisation’s communications strategy. So, have you got any advice for how to achieve this?

Laura Else: Yes, so how the civil society organisations communicate their work is really vital to encouraging engagement and support from the general public around international development work. 

We believe that talking about their project or their organisation’s other projects and work to existing audiences is all well and good but to continue to grow an audience, to continue to engage and broaden an organisation’s reach and convert interest into donations or support, charities do need to go a step further.

They should be proactively looking for ways to promote a positive dialogue about international development and this is achieved through creative, positive, and solutions-focused messaging. 

Alexandra Hall: 

Thank you, Laura. Is there anywhere that organisations can access some really comprehensive guidance on how they can go about this?

Laura Else: 

Yes, so there is a useful toolkit built around this philosophy called The Narrative Project. This has been put together based on a piece of research from across the UK, France, Germany and the US. 

So, the research showed that the biggest barriers to public support of international development are: Cynicism – around the general effectiveness of development for example. Distance – that these events, or tragedies, or circumstances are so far removed from their own existence, that they just can’t visualise the problems well enough to care. And futility –nothing seems to change so what is the point? 

The Narrative Project research indicated that the public fitted into three distinct groups. The Supporters of aid, The Sceptics so they don’t believe in aid and are unlikely to change their opinions. And then there are the Swingers, and they are the biggest opportunity. 

So, the Narrative Project research indicates there IS opportunity to shift their perspectives, but communications should be focused around four key themes. 

Alexandra Hall: This is so interesting Laura, could you tell me what are these four themes? 

Laura Else: Yes of course. So, going back to the three barriers to supporting international development - Cynicism. Distance. Futility - we can help people feel connected and less distanced. And we can challenge that sense of futility if we follow these four themes:

The first one is Independence: if we can demonstrate independence, that the world's poorest people have both the desire and the potential to stand on their own two feet and control their own destinies, the Undecides might just shift their mindset. 

The second is Shared Values: that People living all over the world have the same hopes and dreams and we all have a moral obligation to help one another.              

The third is Partnership: that people living in developing countries are actively participating in making development programmes successful and sustainable.

And finally Progress: there's already a lot that has been achieved and charities all over the world continue to lead people out of poverty. 

Alexandra Hall: Absolutely. It’s so important. Thank you, Laura. Could you give us any examples of where you have seen Narrative Project principles at work? 

Laura Else: Yes, so our listeners could take a look at The Leprosy Mission’s 2021 UK Aid Match campaign, Unconditional Appeal. The campaign was raising funds for a project in Mozambique improving access for treatment for those with leprosy in the country and you can clearly see the four themes I mentioned previously. It was also the organisation’s most successful appeal to date. They gained a significant amount of new supporters and won sector awards for it. To watch the film, I recommend either searching Leprosy Unconditional Appeal on Google or selecting the link that we’ll locate in the description of this podcast (link provided). I really recommend taking a look, Ally.

Alexandra Hall: I will definitely. It sounds brilliant. Do you have any advice for small charities looking to secure coverage from the press, please?

Laura Else: They should certainly be sending out press releases or news stories to their local newspapers – not just once but planning and distributing at least two stories a year. This might be initially about a project starting and then an impact one perhaps, a few months down the line, demonstrating progress, partnership, shared values and independence (the four key themes mentioned previously). So, this will help to build a relationship with the editors and the readers but it might also help to convert some of the unbelievers into supporters of aid. 

The organisations need to ensure they have a named individual to send the story to and to always follow their emails with a phone call to the editor. They can get to know editors pretty well these days by following them on social media too and engaging with their posts. That can certainly help to build a relationship. 

Organisations should also always try to include quotations in their articles, for example, from their head of programmes, or even a quotation from the funders of their project. 

Try to include video footage or images or a photo call opportunity and always include their contact details.

Newspapers love stats so including statistics into a story is really recommended.

And be sure to include concise, clear examples of how your organisation or project is changing lives. 

Alexandra Hall: Thank you so much Laura, for sharing your advice on ways that small organisations can improve their communications output and outreach and play a role in the broader, positive narrative around development. 

To find out more about The Narrative Project, visit Bond’s website on the subject at www.bond.org.uk/advocacy/narrative-project

Thanks for listening.