A CharityComms and Media Trust survey reveals how charities are using digital communications during COVID-19 and can attract free support from marketing, media and communications experts.
Traditional face-to-face communication, whether at events, via out-of-home advertising or on the street, has become impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This makes the use of digital communications with stakeholders, donors, supporters and the wider public, especially vital.
These reveal where the charity sector is excelling in using digital communications, the gaps in their knowledge and how they can access specialist help from media and communications experts.
Seven out of ten respondents were from small charities, but the findings are still compelling for all charities no matter what their size.
The survey reveals that email is the most favoured communications channel, cited by 86.3 per cent of charities.
But COVID-19 has forced many to review their email marketing strategies to ensure their messaging is clear amid the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Charity Digital’s Elizabeth Carter examined top tips for maximising the impact of emails during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Her advice includes avoiding “long-winded” text and ensuring emails “add value in this stressful time”. Charities are also urged to be honest and open about the impact of COVID-19 on their services.
Websites are another highly popular communication method, mentioned by 81.7 per cent of charities.
These can be developed either by charities or by groups of charities teaming up for a particular campaign.
Among recent successful examples is the website for the twopointsixchallenge, set up by event and charity organisations to replace the postponed London Marathon last month. The website is colourful and eye-catching, with good use of images and clear and precise text about the need for donations and how to get involved. To date this campaign has already raised £9.9m as charities seek to replace lost sponsorship fundraising revenue.
Another strong recent website launch has been by Young Epilepsy, which has focused on publishing video content by young people to offer support to their target audience.
Regarding social media, Facebook and Twitter are the most commonly used (by 84.5 per cent and 81.7 per cent of respondents respectively).
Fundraising campaign HaircutforCharity is among charities to used Twitter well, to encourage people to post their before and after home haircut pictures to raise money for charities. This works particularly well with Twitter’s text and imagery format.
Gaps in knowledge
But the survey reveals gaps in expertise and knowledge in using a wider range of digital channels.
Facebook Groups, set up to engage with groups of supporters, is cited by only around a third of charities (34.3 per cent). The same proportion is using WhatsApp to communicate in this way and only 0.9 per cent are using Snapchat.
Those bucking this trend include Cancer Research UK, which set up a Facebook group for those taking part in its Race for Life at Home campaign, an online version of its flagship annual fundraiser Race for Life. This has more than 5,500 members and has featured around 1,500 posts to date.
Youtube is also not be utilised by the majority of charities to communicate: only around a quarter (24.7 per cent) are using this platform.
This year’s Charity Film Award ceremony, which took place online due to the COVID-19 lockdown, showcased some of the exciting ways charities are using video to engage with supporters and the public. Sunshine People won the award scheme’s under £10k income category with its compelling message to perform acts of kindness.
The pandemic has “thrown a spotlight on the digital divide”, says Media Trust Chief Executive Officer Su-Mei Thompson.
Many are now “now struggling to move their services online and to use technology and new platforms to support their beneficiaries, stay in touch with volunteers, donors and other stakeholders and raise vital funds”, she adds.
Expert volunteers ready to help
To address these challenges, a digital resource hub has been set up by the Media Trust to support charities with webinars and practical guides to communicate effectively. This includes strategy templates.
To further help charities use a broad range communication platforms, The Media Trust has set up a volunteer platform to find volunteers who can help with specific communications challenges. April saw an 80 per cent increase in volunteer communications experts registering on the site to share their skills and expertise with charities.
This online search for free communications expertise comes as charities are increasingly turning to digital to coordinate volunteers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One is the SpareHand platform, which has been developed to help charities find, manage and schedule volunteers.
The Media Trust and CharityComms survey shows that charities are already successfully using digital communications tools. Also, while there are gaps in expertise, communications professionals have shown an increasing willingness to offer free help to charities to communicate effectively online.
There is certainly demand. Almost all charities surveyed (97 per cent) would like to access pro-bono or volunteer communications support.
This demand underscores “the massive opportunity for the media and creative industry to get involved and contribute, resources, training and volunteer support,” adds Thompson.