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Has the media fallen out of love with charities?

It’s been a tough summer for charities in the media. From executive pay to fundraising practices, the third sector is experiencing a level of scrutiny they are unused to (and some would say unprepared for).

It’s been a tough summer for charities in the media. From executive pay to fundraising practices, the third sector is experiencing a level of scrutiny they are unused to (and some would say unprepared for). In July, our research with the general public, the Charity Awareness Monitor (CAM), found that almost half (49%) of people recalled having seen media coverage about charity fundraising methods. Among people who had seen the coverage, half (50%) said it had worsened their view of charities.

This has left some in the sector reeling. But is it really that surprising?

nfpSynergy runs a survey of journalists twice a year, the Journalists’ Attitudes and Awareness Monitor (JAAM). The results from this research are very clear. Journalists (like the general public), believe that charities generally spend more than they should on administrative and fundraising costs, and consequently spend less of their income on the their charitable cause than they should.

Journalists also believe a ‘charity scandal/controversy’ is one of the most newsworthy charity stories, with 64% of the journalists we surveyed saying they would be likely to cover a charity scandal, compared to only 38% who said they were likely to cover a story about a charity beneficiary. In a context in which many journalists feel some charities are not run as they should be, it is not surprising that journalists believe it is in the public’s interest to report on charities in a less flattering light than they are used to.

However, despite a changing media landscape for charities, there is still plenty to be optimistic about. Amongst journalists we surveyed, over half (56%) reported getting inspiration for between 10%-50% of their stories from charities. Many journalists expressed admiration with the professionalism and passion which charity media teams bring to their work, like this journalist from the Associated Press:

"Most of them [charity press releases] are well-written, concise and relevant, and if I call back for more information, I generally find well-informed and savvy people on the other end of the line (something you wouldn't necessarily expect if you rang a PR agency or a company or a government department press office)."

Journalists were also keen to stress the key role journalists play in raising the profile of charities and the issues they work on. Seven in ten (70%) journalists believe that the media helps the public’s understanding of charities ‘a great deal’, like this journalist from the Daily Mail:

“Exposure is life blood of charities, publicity [for] their work, case studies etc are what bring the funds in - on top of the national/international events that prompt people to donate and volunteer.”

In my conversations with third sector media teams, I get a clear sense that even among the publications that have been most critical of the sector over the past few months, enthusiasm for working with charities (even charities they have specifically targeted in negative stories) continues unabated.

So how can charities benefit from all the good which media coverage can bring them, without getting burned by more critical stories as well?

A period of organisational soul-searching may be required, to ensure that staff and trustees are sure about organisational practices, from pensions fund investments to how supporters are asked for money, live up to the values of a charitable organisation. Spokespeople can then build the case with the audiences they work with (be they MPs, journalists or supporters); that your charity is well run and your income is spent in ways that are accountable to staff, supporters and beneficiaries.

nfpSynergy will continue to support the sector to do this, through our researchfree reports, and events.

Charities need to adjust to the new climate in which they will continue to be recognised as a force for good in our society, but will no longer be seen as infallible. Scrutiny, while uncomfortable, will encourage charities to lead by example. By doing so, they will be able to continue to count on the media to shine a spotlight on the issues they work to solve, while confidently standing up to negative media coverage.

Karen Barker
 

The Journalists’ Attitudes & Awareness Monitor (JAAM) is a unique way to evaluate your media team and campaigns by providing you with direct feedback from journalists that you work with. This in-depth assessment from the journalists who regularly cover charity stories provides invaluable evidence to shape and improve your strategy, future campaigns and engagement with journalists. For more information about this research, download the briefing pack or contact Karen Barker at jaam@nfpsynergy.net

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