Telling a better story about charities

Today we’re publishing a new guide on how to talk about charity issues that we know the public are concerned about. It’s aimed at anyone who may have to deal with questions on topics such as executive pay or fundraising.

From focus group research, we know that there are ways of talking about some charity topics that better help the public understand what we do and why. And conversely, there are terms charities might use which confuse or turn off the public.

This guide summarises some of what we have learnt in this area and how to apply it to your charity’s communications. For example:

  • People prefer to hear about ‘the board of volunteers who run the charity’ rather than ‘trustees’ – a word that is poorly understood and which some actually had negative perceptions of.
  • Emphasising accountability helps people understand higher salaries.
  • Proactively telling people they should contact regulators with concerns reassures them that those concerns are being taken seriously.

We hope the guide helps you think about how to present your charity most positively and deal with any questions about how you work.

‘Because of you’ – messages that resonate

The guide also sets out the ‘narrative’ for talking about the charity sector which was tested with the public at the same time. This is a form of words based on themes we found resonated well with the public. At the heart of it is recognising that many charities can only do what they do because of the generous support of the public in giving time and money. You should hear it reflected when representatives from sector umbrella bodies such as NCVO, ACEVO or the Institute of Fundraising talk about the sector in public.

This research has also informed How Charities Work, our website that helps the public get answers to common questions they have about charities.

Reflecting high standards

We’re very clear that these presentational improvements should be complementary to, not a replacement for, good operational practice. The way to strengthen public trust is to work to high standards and be seen to do so. We hope that using language that our audiences understand and appreciate will help us with the visibility element of this. Some small tweaks in the words we use have the potential to make a real difference in how our messages are received.

We’re very happy to know what else you might find helpful in this area. Please email if you would like to discuss anything.


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Aidan Warner is NCVO’s communications manager. He writes about charity communications. He has previously worked at the BBC, the General Medical Council and Mind, the mental health charity.

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