What Charity Communications Taught Me About PR

This week I start my new job (eek excitement!) and not only is it my big return to agency work, it also marks my departure from many years in the Voluntary and Public Sectors as a Communicator.

I was lucky enough to be head-hunted for roles in recent years, but I remember the disappointment when I applied to companies over the years to be told:

“Your CV is brilliant, but you have little in the way of ‘commercial’ experience.”

Such comments would be met with my arched eyebrow response which silently asked “seriously?” because if there’s one sector where people absolutely HAVE to bring money in from their activties, then it’s the Charity Sector. Normally, somewhere in the millions-of-pounds range.

But I’ve found that this is merely one of many myths which surround the role of Communicators in the Third Sector. So I thought it fitting to end my current spell in that field with some myth-busting lessons I learned that actually made me a better PR!

1. Bigger Budgets Don’t Mean Better Campaigns

Yes, all Charity Comms Managers would bite your hand off for a bigger (sometimes any) budget to work with when it comes to promoting and campaigning, but what some of us achieved with little more than our own team getting their hands dirty is a credit to both the professionals and the industry as a whole. They might not be experienced in selling you a product via a ten-thousand pound advertising campaign, but they can get people to part with their donations in return for… absolutely nothing. Take that old recruiters!

2. Social Media Is Not the Answer To Everything

Many a client may be convinced that a Facebook page will help them bypass the media and paid advertising to reach their audience directly, but the Voluntary Sector have been there, done that and they knew long ago that the algorithms were a problem, leaving the channels to work better as back-up community engagement and sentiment-building tools rather than the primary sale conversion platforms. Unless you have the money to sponsor posts (see number 1 above).

3. No Wordsmith Can Compete With A True Story

This rule applies across all sectors when it comes to the importance of case studies. And I’ve heard private companies explain how hard it is to convince people to go public in the media with their experiences. But the Voluntary Sector are asking people to tell harrowing accounts of poverty, rape, mental illness and loss. If they can do it, anyone can. The key is to do it with heart. Voluntary Sector PR folk are also pretty good at selling-in good news stories, which many other sectors struggle to do.

4. Crisis Communications is a Key Skill

It’s often treated like a specialist skill; something only banks need. Or gas and oil companies. When in actual fact it is a pre-requisite for any organisation because the skill is in foreseeing and planning for risk management, not just dealing with a nasty surprise post-explosion. The Third Sector is far from a fluffy place to work PR-wise. From CEO salary sensations to fundraising method scrutiny, Communicators here will often be more experienced in fighting fires than their Private Sector counterparts.

5. The Best PR’s can Multi-Task

Too many agencies and companies stick quite religiously to roles and hierarchies within their businesses. That means many young PR Pro’s have little experience outside writing press releases, phoning media outlets and making tea. Now I  agree that many people who are Jack-Of-All-Trades end up being Masters-Of-None, however there is a lot to be said for learning to fear nothing, be it new challenges or skills. The Voluntary Sector will have you a Junior Designer one day and a Media Spokesperson the next. The ability to have a go for the good of the team is a character trait to take with you as an asset in any company.


  1. Cracking post - I can completely relate to your five points from a public sector perspective too. In fact, we responded to budget pressure with an internal campaign called ‘make it, don’t buy it’ which aimed to help our colleagues see how we could use creative approaches to communications and PR rather than just relying on the same old big-money campaigns. From adversity can come innovation!

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