There is a Venn diagram of overlap for NHS communication and fundraising. This excellent new post highlights what they are, and points to where communicators can learn and develop their skills.

by Amanda Nash

If, like me, you’ve worked in comms for some time, you’ll have seen your fair share of change. When I joined the NHS, I took over a Press Office.

Today, our Communications Team is responsible for communicating with staff, being the experts in social media; running websites, intranets, large-scale events such as Open Days, making patient information videos, apps, planning and implementing behaviour change campaigns and, over the last six years, I’ve also worked with a Charitable Funds colleague to plot and implement the development of fundraising in our Trust.

Pro-active fundraising by charitable arms of NHS organisations is, with the exception of a few charities such as GOSH and Southampton, a relatively nascent movement. The Association of NHS Charities was only founded in 2000 and the Charity Commission Guidance for NHS Charities was published as recently as 2012. 

Only now are health services beginning to realise both the warm community support and opportunities for social capital to be gained from charitable work. We talk about a ‘post-truth world’ but truth is determined by people based on who they trust. Social capital builds trust. It’s worth investing in, as is, of course, a fundraising function that in these austere times, increases much-valued donations.

At my own trust, we have proved people really do want to give back to the hospital or services they have benefited from. In fact, for parents of NICU babies or families who have been involved with Intensive Care, for example, being able to give something back often is an important part of their own emotional journey.

Thanks to two consecutive fundraisers and our core comms team, supported by members of the local community baking cakes, abseiling down buildings, running races, selling toys, jumping out of planes etc, on Christmas Eve we announced that our first proactive Appeal – Gold Dust – had exceeded its £100k target. Now our Paediatric Services will begin spending that money, so generously given, to refurbish our children’s wards.

Developing pro-active fundraising has been an interesting journey. As someone schooled and qualified in communications with the CIPR and Healthcare Communications with the CHCR, these are the lesson I think comms can learn from fundraising:

1.       Focus on the donor.

Fundraisers talk about the ‘donor experience’ and they map this carefully. What motivates someone to give to your charity? When they make that decision, how does the charity support them? When they have made a donation, how does the charity thank them and keep them up-to-date with developments? How, in short, do we make the donor experience a good one? That focus on the donor, their wishes, motivations, experience is core to everything the fundraiser does.

Contrast this with how professional communicators often broadly categorise stakeholders into homogeneous groups, sometimes without careful thought about all of their needs and wishes. In fact, all too often the focus is on the message – what the communicator wants to say – rather than who we want to talk to, the context in which they are living/working and what their needs are.

Imagine mapping stakeholders according to their needs and then tracking their experience of your campaign, seeing it through their eyes, not the eyes of the communicating organisation.

2.       Enable others

Some charity supporters will want to bake, some to race, some to lose weight etc. Good fundraisers empower and support donors but they don’t do it for them. They say, ‘how can I help you? What fundraising tools can we give you – perhaps a posters or advice on setting up a justgiving page – to help you?’  But they don’t take over and run every race themselves. In fact, the fewer Appeal-organised events the better, because it means motivated people are doing it themselves.

This model of empowering and enabling is one traditional communicators should already be adopting. I think of it as the power of toolkits, not takeover.  We shouldn’t be frightening of empowering people to be better communicators and growing away from us. What matters is their support and motivation. If they are becoming better communicators, in support of an organisation’s core goals, isn’t that a success? Our role is up-skilling and ensuring the right support and frameworks are in place for them.

We took this approach with the advent of social media. I remember telling our consultant committee we could have six people in a comms team tweeting, facebooking and youtubing or we could support 6,000 staff to do it. It’s a no-brainer. We created a permissive social media policy, up-skilled our leaders and other staff in using it and, hey presto. See our @PHNT_NHS matrons in action on twitter:

3.       Use the power of networks

If one donor supports a cause and fundraises for it, they tap into their family and friends’ network for support and your campaign/appeal has wider reach. The key to this is letting the donors take the lead and reach into their networks. If as the expert communicators, you get No 2 right, this follows.

4.       Create a great cause …

… and people will support it. Not everyone. Stroke is hugely important to some people but less so to others; the same for dementia or mental health or breast cancer etc  You can’t expect support from everyone.

But get the why right from the start, make it a good one and inspire those with a personal interest and motivation to support you. This is the most important step in any comms work. When I think about our flu vaccination campaign for staff, it’s the why that matters: Protect yourself, protect your patients, protect your family.

For any organisation, get your values right, give people something they will want to support and a reason for doing so. Be careful not to skip over why to what, how, when etc.

There’s plenty of overlap between fundraising and comms and much to be learned by the respective professions from each other. I’m now looking forward to the next leg of our journey – developing our hospital charity.

Amanda Nash is Head of Communications at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust

image via the British Red Cross


Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

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