Su-Mei Thompson: Our latest survey reveals charities need to focus on sustaining digital transformation and staff well-being

Posted 13 April 2021

March 2020 saw the world plunged into a crisis, the likes of which none of us could have anticipated or ever imagined. A year on, what are the challenges charities are still facing?

When the UK went into lockdown last March, many charities were forced to pivot their activity online, to ensure they could keep supporting those who needed them most. Comms teams found themselves deciphering a constant stream of Government briefings, turning complicated guidance into easily digestible, practical information for their supporters and beneficiaries. Fundraising teams had to adapt their face-to-face fundraising formats or come up with other innovative solutions to raise much-needed funds. Essentially, the vast majority of charities stepped up to the considerable challenges posed by Covid and proved that they were #NeverMoreNeeded.

Supporting the sector through a critical moment

At Media Trust, our mission is to build capacity in the charity sector through media, comms and digital training, delivered in large part by media industry experts. We knew that charities would be facing greater barriers and challenges due to Covid-19 so we partnered with CharityComms to urgently launch our first Covid Comms survey in March 2020 so we could find out the kind of support charities were looking for. We used the results to ensure our training and free resources over the rest of 2020 met their needs. This included running a series of free digital communications webinars in May and June, which thousands of charities attended, and delivering our inaugural three-week Digital Summer School in August for 200 charities, which covered how to re-engage with stakeholders and re-ignite support.

One year on, what are the barriers charities still face?

We’re delighted to have partnered with CharityComms once again to run a second iteration of our Covid Comms survey. Whilst the sector is emerging from crisis mode, we know that there are still barriers and challenges when it comes to communications that both Media Trust and CharityComms can help address.

What we learnt from the survey

The survey reveals a sector that has quickly adapted to new ways of working but that has also seen workloads significantly increase.

Starting with the positive, the sector appears to have successfully tackled the challenge of being unable to deliver services face-to-face with only 47% of respondents citing it as their main comms challenge now compared to 61% at the start of the pandemic. However, at the same time many respondents are still reporting the need for extra support to help them with producing varied forms of digital content (53%), improving stakeholder engagement (44%) and managing workloads and projects (45%).

Clearly, one of the biggest challenges for the sector going forward will be ensuring the progress they have made is sustainable. Embedding this progress in long-term strategies without negatively impacting staff wellbeing will be challenging given that 75% of respondents reported they are busier than before, with 59% shouldering an increased workload. Comms teams are more stretched than ever, services are more in demand and resources and budgets are tight, meaning comms is still a very challenging area for most charities.

How Media Trust is supporting the sector

Charities told us that their biggest comms challenge is producing digital content including films, vlogs and infographics (53%). To address this, Media Trust will be running training on content creation over the rest of the year, starting with a masterclass delivered by our industry partner Facebook on Mobile Anatomy: creating mobile-first video content on Wednesday 19 May.

We also look forward to welcoming 60 charities for our free Digital Spring School, in partnership with Charities will receive training over three weeks starting in April on how to inspire, engage and mobilise audiences, as well as weekly mentoring by industry experts. The programme will also include wellbeing activities. We will also shortly be launching sign-ups for our Digital Summer School taking place later in the year.

Meanwhile, our free Heritage Digital programme for heritage organisations, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, run in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Heritage Alliance, Charity Digital and Naomi Korn Associates, is tackling four digital skills development areas through webinars, training, online guides, digital days and masterclasses.

Bridging the gap between the media and creative industries and the charity sector

One of our greatest strengths at Media Trust is our unique relationship with the creative and media industries and we can only do the work we do because of the support of media and creative businesses and media and creative industry professionals looking to give back. Since March 2020, we have had over 1600 volunteers sign up to share their skills with charities. If your charity needs volunteer support with your communications, sign up here.

We are in the process of refreshing our Volunteer Platform and adding new features to help charities find media industry volunteers with the relevant skills to work with them to enhance their comms, become better storytellers, engage the media in their work and ultimately have a stronger voice and stronger impact.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, City Bridge Trust, for funding this vital survey and enabling us to meet the comms needs of the sector during this challenging time.

Read the 2021 Covid 19 Charity Communications survey

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