Four things I’ve learned by not going to work

For the first time in a very long time, I feel I’m that little bit closer to experiencing charities like someone who doesn’t work for a charity.

I’m taking some time out from my day job because I recently had a baby. You haven’t stumbled onto the wrong blog – I’m not about to launch into a tirade about my baby’s (lack of) routine – but being on mat leave is helping me think a bit differently about what charity means to people, and about how they experience the work we do in marcomms.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I underestimated the pull of local

Being at home means I get to ‘do’ local now. Where I live no longer feels like some sort of weekend getaway I only experience for a small part of the week. I see and chat to the people who live on my road. I’ve actually been inside the library. I talk to people in the coffee shop and supermarket, and I understand much more about what’s happening here because I see, hear and feel it.

When I talk about charity, people tend to think I mean the causes behind the charity shops on our local high street. And when you think about those people who tend to give most to charities, it’s those who have disposable income, who are probably retired and therefore more likely to be community minded.

If you don’t work for a community organisation or local cause, how do you make what you do relevant, meaningful and visible at that level? And, if you do, how do you capitalise on the pull of local? Aside from the shops, I’m not seeing much if any marcomms from these charities.

  1. I overestimated how visible the big players are

A lot of charities don’t have much comms or advertising budget, but we all know the ones that tend to spend on a more visible external presence. It’s January, advertising space can be a bit cheaper in places, and I watch a lot of daytime TV at the moment, so I’ve been keeping my eye out for charity ads. I’m surprised by how little I see of even the biggest players in our sector without actively seeking them out.

If I can’t see charities that have relatively big marcomms budgets, what does that mean for those with none? It’s never been clearer to me; we’ve got to be laser-focused, relevant and targeted no matter what size our budget is.

  1. DM and door-to-door are reassuring constants

Apart from the local charity shops and community-based organisations that I come across almost daily, the main other way I’m experiencing charity right now is through traditional marketing techniques.

I get a fair bit of cold direct marketing from charities, and I’ve also had some chatty door-to-door fundraisers (who were in no way deterred by pyjamas at lunchtime). And while I’m very much plugged in on social media, my feeds are busy and I’m distracted by big news, so even though I’d always champion a good social presence, I’m reminded that being active won’t necessarily mean that our causes are seen or understood. If we are seen, we need to make sure that our messages are strong and clear, and that we engage rather than broadcast.

  1. Me and Tom are very different people

Me and Tom put our bins out on a Thursday. He takes in a delivery for me at least three times a week and never complains. He’s retired, I’m a temporary stay-at-home mum, and we chat almost every day. Me and Tom are next door neighbours. We have a postcode in common, but we’re very different people.

Knowing and targeting your audience has never mattered more in the current climate of giving and getting. There’s a lot to think about when we’re trying to get our cause and brand out there – and it’s even harder when there’s limited or zero budget to do it with. As much as marcomms professionals promote the idea of putting the audience first and stepping in their shoes, it’s hard to remove ourselves from a world we’re immersed in, that we’re very passionate about, and that we know and love.

The ‘general public’ has never been an audience for charity marcomms – or for any marcomms for that matter. That’s important to remember if we’re spending nothing, £500 or £1 million. Who do we want or need to get our message to? Is it me or is it Tom? Because the chances are that crafting a message for everyone will miss us both.

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