Charity in the press: it can't all be bad news?

Man holds a newspaper in front of his face

Charity in the press: it can't all be bad news?

Our latest data indicates that the public aren't seeing much in the news about charities despite the work being done by the sector over the past few years of crises. This week, we discuss what changes need to be made so that we can see charities receive the coverage they deserve.

Being immersed in our sector, it can be easy to forget that we’re subject to a lot more news about charity than the general public. Sure, there are a few items that have a wide reach: scandals, Christmas ad round-ups, the occasional accusation from a politico. Or, charities can be used as a peripheral indicator of hardship, with a presence around the war in Ukraine, death of the Queen, or cost-of-living crisis. But in general, the relationship between the public and charities falls back on the belief that no news is good news. The assumption is that the sector is ticking along nicely unless stated otherwise. 

This relationship does a disservice to charities. The role of news media in shaping public opinion and driving charitable giving cannot be understated. Positive coverage helps raise awareness around particular causes and inspires individuals to take action and donate. The support of news media is therefore an invaluable tool in helping to raise the funds and awareness that charities need. 

However, our latest research has shown that a significant portion of the public has not seen, read, or heard anything about charities in the media lately. 63% of the public couldn’t recall any information about charities from any media source, a shocking indication of the under-representation of charity news being made available. This lack of coverage makes it harder for charities to raise awareness about the issues they are working to address. This is particularly concerning given the  historic low levels of giving we are seeing. 

We also must consider the type of content being shared about charities. The dominance of negative media coverage has been seen to discourage giving and damages the reputation of the charities involved, and wider sector. In recent years, several high-profile events have brought the charity sector under scrutiny. For example, the 2018 scandal involving the misuse of funds at the British charity, Oxfam, led to a significant decrease in public trust and donations. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have raised concerns over the transparency and accountability of the charity sector, with some organizations facing criticism for their handling of funds. 

While these stories of course merit coverage, there is little being done by news sources to repair the damage to the sector’s reputation. Our data reveals that among the public that have seen something about charities in the media, more than half (52%) did not feel that the media changed their opinion of the sector. This is a strong indicator that coverage about charities is not being made compelling enough to change public perception – though it thankfully isn’t rapidly getting worse, it’s also not improving at the rate that the sector needs. 

In light of these trends, it is more important than ever for charities to bolster their relationships with the press. The boost that more positive coverage could provide is sorely needed, as we saw during the pandemic. We've worked with many clients to achieve better relationships with journalists through our JAAM research. We know that there is often room for improvement in how charities engage the press. 

But earned media alone isn’t cutting it. Adapting your marketing to reach new audiences with positive coverage is a must, particularly prioritising messaging that highlights transparency and accountability to reassure the public that donations are being used effectively. 

This is easier said than done. With media channels being more numerous than ever, it can be difficult to know where to engage your supporters. Forecasting your ideal media engagement strategy can provide actionable information on your best avenues for success; for more on this, consider downloading information our Brand Raiser Model below. 

By highlighting the impact of your work and the difference that donations make, you can inspire individuals to give, and make a real difference in the lives of your beneficiaries. The trust and support of the public is the currency that our sector deals in, so it is crucial that more positive coverage of charities is seen in the news, or failing this, taken into the hands of charities’ comms and marketing teams. 

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