Bad news warning system among plans as charities club together for crisis comms

A LinkedIn-based early warning system to alert charities about potential negative news coverage of the voluntary sector is among plans being developed to increase collaboration in the charity PR world.

Charities will support each other in their PR efforts
Charities will support each other in their PR efforts
Vicky Browning, director of CharityComms, a membership body that is itself a charity, created the cross-sector Understanding Charities Group last autumn, with the aim of changing public perceptions of charities over the next decade or more.

The group’s media and media relations strand is being led by voluntary sector research consultant Joe Saxton, who founded CharityComms before stepping down in 2012.

He told PRWeek: "There is a general feeling that the level of negative, unhappy stories about the sector is on the increase. I get the sense that people think the sector is not doing a great job of responding."

He said such stories – including coverage of the death of poppy seller Olive Cooke, and scrutiny of charity executive pay and fundraising techniques, had not abated since the group was set up. Saxton said that while individual charities were sometimes very capable of responding to individual criticism – using the example of coverage of the Alzheimer’s Society in The Sun last week – the sector was not well co-ordinated to respond to stories affecting the sector as a whole.

"If you look at certain stories that have broken that didn’t relate to just one charity, you need to give people a better, more systematic heads up," he said.

He added that the group would create a system, probably on LinkedIn, to allow charity comms professionals to share knowledge or suspicions they had about upcoming coverage, for example where they had received a call from a journalist on a sector-wide topic.

Saxton said: "What we’re looking at is having something up and running by the end of August, probably a closed LinkedIn group in which people feel happy to post and share what they’ve heard."

He also said the group was running a training day on 27 August, with free places offered to attendants from smaller charities, to help sector professionals defend the reputation of charities.

The Understanding Charities Group is also due to publish a 'theory of change' on the sector's public perception later this year.

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