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Good digital comms during a cost of living crisis

Headshot of Jade

1 February 2023

by Jade Staiano

Digital Skills Programme Manager at Media Trust.



Here are our tips on how you can use your social media during a cost of living crisis.

New research from Citizens Advice found that 3.2 million people across Great Britain ran out of credit on their prepayment meter last year because they couldn’t afford to top up.  

That’s one person every 10 seconds – cut off from their energy supply as the cost of living crisis left people struggling to keep the lights on. 

And it’s not just the cost of energy but increased food prices, increased tax bills and shrinking pay packets in real terms. Paul Kissack, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says, “This winter 7.2 million low-income households are going without essentials – hungry, cold, without basics like showers, toiletries or adequate clothing, and 4.7 million are behind on their bills.” 

The Resolution Foundation predicts that annual household income will fall by £880,  meaning family living standards “will get far worse in 2023 before they start to get better.” 

And the impact on charities is huge. All charities are being impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, with increased running costs, lower fundraising income and a surge in demand for services. Ultimately, as NVCO said last summer, “[Charities] are at the front line of the cost-of-living crisis. They are supporting people and communities being pushed into poverty and picking up the pieces where existing inequalities are being exacerbated.” 

Now isn’t the time to step back, be apologetic or be quiet. Now is the time to amplify the voices of your beneficiaries, raise awareness of the pressures they are facing, educate, challenge misinformation and point people to how they can give, or where they can access help. 

Here are our tips on how you can use your social media during a cost of living crisis. 

  1. Share the facts 

Most people will be impacted by the cost of living crisis, but it’s a spectrum. Some might cut down on eating out. Others are choosing between heating their homes and feeding their families. 

If you’re working directly with beneficiaries who are being impacted, you can use your social media to share the facts. Even if your charity’s focus isn’t helping people with financial issues, it’s likely that their financial health is interconnected with all other areas of their lives.  

A word of warning: Share the facts, but don’t use a myth-busting approach.  

Research on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that myth-busting can actually amplify the myth and make it more, not less, memorable. 

So when you’re sharing numbers, try to make them small and relatable. Embed them in a story. Large numbers are harder to understand, but it’s much easier for most people to relate to the specific amount a mum has to feed her three children every week. Include both context and narrative where you can. 

Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation and their Framing Toolkit  

2. Explain the causes

Sadly, attitudes towards poverty can be misguided. Whether consciously or unconsciously, society often assumes circumstances are self-made and believe that if only the individual took more personal responsibility, they’d make better choices and be able to help themselves out of these terrible living conditions. 

Let’s not perpetuate those ideas, but rather explain how a variety of systemic causes and environmental issues contribute to someone living in, and staying in, poverty. Appeal to your audience’s shared values of justice and compassion, and help your audience appreciate the complexity of the issues. 

Keep equality on the agenda. Have a look at this blog for examples of stats and messaging that might help you frame your charity’s message. We also have some great resources in our Resource Hub on how to take an intersectional approach to your messaging 

3. Build trust 

Good digital comms will help you to build trust with the community you work in, including beneficiaries, volunteers and donors. By sharing how you work, how vital your services are, how close you are to the issues, and the impact your work is having, you are building a reputation for being professional, compassionate and efficient with the money and resources being donated.  

According to CAF research, there is evidence to suggest that trust in charities is slightly on the decline. The number of people who agreed that most charities were trustworthy dipped to 48% in February 2022, its lowest level since 2019. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer report suggests that in the UK trust in charities is even lower than trust in business. 

Charities can use their digital channels to show the impact of their work and what they are doing with the funding they receive. Given the choice between two charities, donors will give their money to the one they understand, and the one they trust to have the biggest impact. So be clear, and don’t shy away from sharing behind-the-scenes stories, as well as the stories of your beneficiaries. 

4. Give your audience the opportunity to be part of the solution 

Do you have volunteer opportunities? Or a fundraising campaign? In a cost-of-living crisis, we need to be sensitive when asking for help. But don’t shy away from offering people the chance to give their time and money to your cause. We know most people are affected, but to very different extents. If you are sharing the impact of your work, and the difference you make as a charity, there will be people willing and able to fund your work. We just need to ask in the right way.  

Do everything possible to make it easy to give. And make it clear that whatever people can give has value, whether little or large. Check out our Digital Fundraising Guide on our Resource Hub, which goes into more detail about how to optimise your website and other digital fundraising strategies.  


5. Collaborate with other charities 

There’s power in standing together with the same message. If you’re finding your budgets and resources are overstretched, consider working with other charities in the same location, or working towards the same goal, to amplify each other’s message. 

The 2.6 Challenge is a great example of charities working together to highlight how COVID and the cancellation of participation events, such as the London marathon, impacted charity fundraising.  

Another campaign that took this approach was the launch of the ‘Broken Ladders’ report in May 2022 from the Fawcett Society and Runneymede Trust.   

All charities have their own audiences, and by working together you can achieve a bigger reach, and access skill sets that you might not have in-house. You can signpost to resources and help that you might not offer, but is available through a partner organisation.  

6. Continue to promote offline engagement 

We must also remember what it costs people to access digital channels. While most of us have WIFI at home, and data for when we’re out and about, that’s not the case for everyone.  

Among people living on an annual household income of £25,000 or less, one in five never use the internet. And almost a third of low-income adults who do use the internet, with a smartphone or tablet, ration mobile internet use to avoid running out of data. (Source: Institute of Development Studies Policy Briefing) 

With household costs rising, many will be cutting down on data, unable to spend time on social media, and therefore unable to get the help they might need. 

Let’s make it as easy as possible for beneficiaries to get the info they need, including the location, time or date of any in-person help that you offer.  

A simple thing your charity can do to help is to update all your social media profiles with a phone number, and details of any in-person support you offer. If there isn’t space in your profile, create a pinned post, sharing all the ways someone can get in touch with you.  

And don’t dismiss leaflets and flyers which can be left in shop windows, or at the local food bank or library. We’re big advocates of digital comms, but it might not be the only way you can get your message out there.  

Free Digital Comms Training: Check out these free resources 

Digital Marketing Strategy Training for Charities: We are offering 260 charities in London and select regional areas of the UK the chance to apply for free in- person and online Digital Marketing Training.

Resource Hub: A wealth of free resources covering a range of digital comms, marketing and media engagement. 

Digital Candle: Get free digital advice from volunteer experts on any digital challenge you are facing. 500 experts available 

Digital Boost: Free support and masterclasses. Tailored for businesses, rather than charities. 

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