Guest contributor Madeleine Sugden shares guidance on coronavirus comms for charities.
This piece has contributed by a guest writer. Visit the original post by Madeleine Sugden, Digital Impact Consultant for the latest updates - Coronavirus comms for charities.
Last Updated: 11/03/2020 - This article will be updated with new information should there be any major new developments.
Coronavirus is dominating world news. Many charities are reviewing their ways of working to protect staff, doing risk assessments of the services they offer or their large-scale fundraising events, others are sharing health information for the people they support.
Whatever your size of organisation or purpose, you may be meeting to plan how you’ll respond internally and externally. There is lots of noise and misinformation about the spread of the virus with rumours and blame escalating. What are you doing to reassure your beneficiaries and keep your staff safe?
Here are some useful links and good reads to help you manage your own charity’s response.
Information about the virus is changing all the time. Keep an eye on official advice which is being updated on a daily basis and share / incorporate it into your comms:
The government, the NHS and local authorities stand ready to fight #coronavirus, but every person has a role to play.— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 2, 2020
We cannot do this alone. YOU can help by following guidance on hand washing and other information on:
▶️ https://t.co/HN2brbTo7K pic.twitter.com/Em4EuGPTaQ
Knowing what and when to communicate about coronavirus depends on what type of organisation you are. If you are a health charity, one working with older people or one with public-access buildings, you may be sharing updates already, especially if you are getting lots of helpline calls or forum discussions about risk. As there is so much misinformation circulating, this is your chance to be the go-to authority on the subject for people with specific needs and spreading good advice.
Dan Slee says that “we have all become public health communicators whether we like it or not”. In his post (The basics of communicating the coronavirus), he shares lots of useful tips about making sure your information is factual and shareable. And also notes that your comms need to go where the people are as rumour and misinformation circulate (Enlist a team to play whack-a-mole with online rumour).
Here are some examples of information charities have created for the people they represent:
This information has now been superceded by a guide and Q&A produced by 19 cancer charities under the One Cancer Voice group.
⚠ Coronavirus Update— Bloodwise (@bloodwise_uk) March 4, 2020
We’ve received a number of calls from people worried about #coronavirus. We’re developing guidance & we’ll share this very soon.
Here are some key things to know: https://t.co/j3lOokTnnp
\uD83D\uDCDEIf you're concerned, call our free support line on 0808 2080 888
No specific advice issued regarding #CHD and #coronavirus yet. As and when any is, @tinytickers will be providing further updates. For now, we're being told #CHD patients & their families should follow the general advice - here's a link to the latest info on our website \uD83D\uDC47 https://t.co/uQKNrRLWGH— Jon Arnold (@jonmarnold) March 5, 2020
If you are worried you have the #Coronavirus watch these #BSL videos by @signhealth— Action On Hearing Loss (@ActionOnHearing) March 6, 2020
You can also Call NHS 111 in BSL here: https://t.co/l1gY70fz5j or use their app
Or use the NHS 111 online service here: https://t.co/tyZNIZaqPL https://t.co/8yCDgpBw4S
Think accessibility – not everyone can read the text on an image. At the moment, charities are mostly using graphics and text. These can quickly share information in an unambiguous way (see this BBC article of 5 coronavirus graphics for some other examples). If you are sharing images with text on via social media, don’t forget to include a link to a web page where the same information can be read and/or repeat the text in your post.
Make information easy to find. Pin your tweets. Use the hashtag. Add the story to your homepage.
Only ever link to one page which you are keeping up to date. As the situation develops you don’t want people to be seeing old advice. They may be seeing old posts or looking at old emails but at least you’ll know they can click through for current information.
Don’t include information about the current number of cases or deaths. This instantly dates your information and shows that it is not up-to-date.
As the situation develops, you may need to use more effective and urgent ways to communicate your messages. Are you able to use video or audio or other methods to respond to a crisis comms situation? Can you send out mass emails to your stakeholders? What do you need to prepare now? Are your crisis comms processes up-to-date? See this thread from Gemma Pettman sharing crisis comms planning tips.
I'm not one to offer unsolicited advice but folks, if you haven't already, this is the time to get your #crisiscomms plan in place. Hopefully, #Covid_19 won't affect you, won't mean you have to cancel an event and won't take out key members of staff at challenging times...— Gemma Pettman (@GemmaPettmanPR) March 4, 2020
Check your scheduled messages. Be aware that the situation could change over the coming days/weeks.
You might worry about being seen to be adding to an overreaction. Calm comms about good hygiene and risks may be enough for you.
Equally, there may be a chance to stand out with some warmer comms:
You're supposed to wash your hands for 20 sec, which is the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. But I'm tired of singing Happy Birthday and you probably are too, so I've done the very important public service of compiling other songs with roughly 20 sec choruses to sing:— Jen Monnier (@JenMonnier) March 2, 2020
Bored of singing Happy Birthday whilst washing your hands? Why not use this time to promote trans equality!— LGBT Foundation (@LGBTfdn) March 5, 2020
Saying "trans rights are human rights" 12 times takes about 20 seconds - the amount of time recommended by the NHS.
For full guidance \uD83D\uDC49 https://t.co/b70N55UHA1 pic.twitter.com/ZwZOI7XsL6
Internally you may be looking at the possible impact of a wider spread of the virus and what this might mean for how you operate.
What steps should you take internally to reduce risk? For example, can staff work without travelling or could you operate on a reduced staff if people have to stay at home (if they are ill or their children’s schools close and they have to be at home)? Are you providing adequate facilities for handwashing?
Here’s some of the current advice:
This short post from Russell Findlay shares his organisation’s own planning process.
Reassuring staff and volunteers that you are prepared is key. Internal comms should play a vital role. What internal comms systems do you use? Do they work to reach everyone? There is some good advice in this post by Rachel Miller of All Things IC.
What does the situation mean for the services you run? What might you need to do more of or change? How are you communicating this externally and internally to inform and reassure people involved? How are you sharing best practice advice?
For example, if you run a helpline, how are you making sure your information is current? If you run a community centre, might you be called upon to be an incident hub? If you are a community volunteering charity, are you keeping volunteers in touch with how they might be needed? And reassuring them about measures you’ll be taking to protect them?
More people are talking about virtual working as a way to reduce risk. It can be a real shift for an organisation if you are not used to working like this. Here are some useful links:
Seeing as many charity folk may soon be joining the ranks of us homeworkers (albeit through #coronavirus rather than choice) I thought a thread with some tips from those of us who run our charities remotely all the time might be handy. Fellow homeworkers, feel free to add yours… pic.twitter.com/ZF6pI53wZX— Jon Arnold (@jonmarnold) March 6, 2020
There have been discussions about the impact on fundraising, especially if big events are cancelled (eg the Barcelona Marathon has just been postponed until October).
Might seem benign, but thought I'd share some contingency thoughts if you are a challenge event manager and mass participation events get cancelled over next few weeks..— Russell Benson (@russellbenson) March 3, 2020
Please add to this if you are doing other things, or have other ideas.
Voluntary sector leaders have collectively written a letter to the Chancellor to act to address impact of coronavirus on the sector.
Have you read anything else useful I should add here? Or seen examples? Let me know. I’ll add more useful links here as I find them.