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How charities can communicate about coronavirus

What charities say and how they say it when communicating about coronavirus matters. Content, tone and timing are all important.
A near total reliance on digital communications by charities, compounded by staff and volunteers working remotely from each other, many doing so for the first time, has of course rapidly brought huge challenges to how charities continue to communicate effectively.
UK Fundraising looks at some of the ways that charities are communicating with supporters and the public, combining positive examples with some suggestions on what to avoid.

1. Be accessible in your messaging

From the outset of coronavirus and organisations’ public responses to it, there has been a rush to distribute this response in tiny text on a graphic image of an A4 page.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, 10 Downing Street – everyone it seems is posting images of text:

Sometimes, to be fair, the text-as-image is entirely legible.

Nevertheless, images are lacking if you want to communicate an important text message, especially one that is more than one sentence long. The image will be useless and illegible to those using screen-readers or other adaptive technology, unless the sender has added in alternative (‘alt’) text to replicate the full text of what the image displays.
Similarly, the text on the image, if there is no alt text, will not be indexed by search engines and therefore not easily found.

2. Be positive and offer reassurance

When your charity has expertise, trust and a track record, now is the time for that to come to the fore. Your supporters will welcome that now, and they are unlikely to forget it in the future.
Most of us are uneasy and searching for support and reassurance. That is part of many charities’ roles in civil society in hard times, even when their own future is under threat financially.
That is easier said than done of course. All organisations are under pressure, scrambling to work effectively under completely different conditions, but some charities are focusing on what they can do now to help.
With “Hey Kids! Here’s How YOU Can Stay Safe and Fight Coronavirus” UNICEF USA adopts a reassuring tone in explaining coronavirus to children.

3. When planning ahead causes you problems

If your charity has scheduled a number of announcements such as tweets or Facebook posts for the months ahead, now is the time to review those. You could end up sending out inappropriate messages or those that simply look so out of context that they make your charity look insensitive.
For example, make sure you haven’t lined up posts to remind people to register to take part in a half-marathon that was cancelled weeks ago.

4. Give people something positive to do

Organisations like the British Red Cross are building on their volunteer services record to inspire more people to volunteer under these challenging conditions.
Of course, conditions change and volunteer opportunities become more restricted. But don’t doubt the willingness of people to want to volunteer, as evidenced by 750,000 volunteering to support the NHS!


5. Be lighthearted where appropriate


WWF-UK have riffed on this idea some more:

If you’re not feeling light-hearted right now, do think of sharing others’ positive or amusing stories, especially if there is some kind of link to your charity:

And even if there is no link, spread the occasional bit of humour.

6. What does your out of office email message say?

Many charities’ out of office email message would give you no sense that large proportions of the UK workforce are now working remotely, probably with limited access to the office phone number. We know this from the out of office messages we receive each week from our email news updates to several thousand fundraisers.
Others focus on the challenge they have faced shifting to remote working, or indeed that they personally have been placed on furlough, or that the organisation has gone dark or closed its doors.
All of which is factual and highly distressing, but it is missing an opportunity to inspire, encourage and support the people who are turning to charities for information, advice or services. At the very least, a charity’s out of office email should give recipients an idea for fundraising from home during this dislocation.
Here is one that misses the opportunity to do so:

[Charity X] closed its doors as a result of COVID-19 on Friday 27th March at 4:30pm. We will endeavour to reopen as soon as we are able in accordance with the guidelines from Public Health England. Please follow updates on our website and social media.

Remember that 160,000+ charities in England and Wales alone have experienced a similar change. Some of them will be communicating with the same people that your charity communicates with.
Positive examples include:

Watford Mencap

During the current Coronavirus situation our fundraising department has closed and I am instead focusing on securing supplies for our 8 residential projects and community support team which are still fully operational.  We would be grateful for any donations that can help us to continue our work at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1001219&stop_mobi=yes .

My hours are varying significantly so I cannot guarantee when exactly I will be available but I am reading emails and promise that I will get back to you as soon as possible.



In the meantime, if you want to see what Oxfam GB is doing in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, please visit our website at https://www.oxfam.org.uk/.

And I hope you and yours are safe, well and keeping socially distant.


Dudley CVS
Dudley CVS staff are currently focusing all of our energy on co-ordinating a community response to COVID-19. For more information on the work we’re doing (and to get involved), please visit: http://dudleycvsreview.org/covid-19-community-action-and-support/http://dudleycvsreview.org/covid-19-community-action-and-support/


7. Listen to your supporters

How should you communicate with your supporters? With the public? The above advice might be useful, but nothing beats talking with – or rather listening to – the people who value what you do already. This lockdown is a chance to learn even more about them to make your charity even more effective.
The telephone is key in this, but so too are the messages you send as soon as someone donates to you.

More resources

If you need some more ideas and information on charity communications during COVID-19, try these: