How nonprofits can engage with community journalists

2 Feb

This is a guest blog from Professor Richard Sambrook, Director of the Centre for Journalism (the top ranking centre for postgraduate vocational training in the UK) at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and former Director of Global News at the BBC, and Hannah Scarbrough,  Communications and Project Officer at Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism.

community journalism

How do people find local news and information for their community? Unsurprisingly, audiences are increasingly turning to the internet to find out what’s going on in their area, with Ofcom reporting that 48% of those who say they use local media say they use the internet for local news information now more than they did two years ago.

Benefitting from this trend is the rapidly growing community or hyperlocal journalism sector, which is defined by Nesta as online sites or social media channels serving a small, geographically defined community (such as a town, village or postcode).  However, although the communities these hyperlocal sites serve may be small, their impact is not.

A recent Carnegie UK Trust report found that “it is clear that the hyperlocal news sector has a considerable contribution to make to…accountability and information provision at a local level”, while Nesta has itself invested millions of pounds in hyperlocal news innovation. Meanwhile, hyperlocal websites such as can attract up to 100,000 unique visitors a month, and Brixton Blog’s Twitter account boasts over 20,000 followers (vastly outstripping traditional nearby local news outlets such as the Streatham Guardian).

Community or hyperlocal news services are now an important part of the local media landscape, and an invaluable medium for getting your messages out to local, engaged audiences. Here we look at how charities and nonprofits can engage with hyperlocal media, with some tips and insights from community journalists themselves.

Do your research 

The first step is to do an audit of the services available in your area, which will help you find suitable sites to reach your target audience. Hyperlocal media is hugely varied in its platforms and aims, from a Welsh language guide to what’s on in Wales’ capital, to investigative reporting in Bristol. As with any communication, it’s important to select the right platform for the right audience – it may be that your campaign is better suited to a community newsletter than a hyperlocal Facebook page.

Get personal

Once you have found your community news services of interest, get to know the people behind them. Recent research conducted here at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies found that most (over 57%) of community journalists work part-time on their sites, often squeezed in around demanding day jobs. So find out what they want, and how they want it. They may just want to be included on your generic press release distribution list, or they may want a heads-up phonecall a week in advance of a story. Community journalists all work differently, and they are all short on time and resources. Your story has more chance of success if you forge a personal relationship and give them the information they need, in the way that makes it easiest for them to use and promote.

Be creative

Partnerships between nonprofits and community media can be much more interesting than a shared Facebook post now and again. Get creative and find out whether you can co-host an event or find a community-led way of telling your story. Geraldine Nichols of Roath Cardiff explains: “We offered local cancer charity Tenovus some free advertising banners in early 2014, and they chose to use them to advertise their Goodnight Walk. They designed and provided the artwork to fit the space, and also asked a client to write a blog post to tie in with the promotion.” Tenovus received 40 new users to their website as a result of the campaign. Tenovus Digital and PR Officer, Bethan Rees, says: “The exposure on the free advertising banner on Roath Cardiff’s site helped us to get the word out to those who might not have previously known about our Goodnight Walk.”

Pool your resources 

As mentioned, community journalists are low on time and resources. If you can provide more than just a story, you may yield even better results. For example, the South Wales news co-operative Port Talbot Magnet was provided office space by local community regeneration organisation NSA Afan, and have since forged a successful advertising relationship in return. You could offer one of your communications team as a ‘guest columnist’ to provide content, or a meeting room once a month. Pooling your resources could ensure the ongoing sustainability of your hyperlocal site – and provide positive results for your nonprofit.

Keep learning  

Community journalism is a rapidly evolving field and it’s worth regularly updating your knowledge of it. Some useful organisations to follow include Talk About Local, Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism, Nesta and Carnegie Trust UK. Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism have also produced a five-week MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in Community Journalism: Digital and Social Media, commencing 16 March 2015, which includes case studies from community journalists in the field as well as teaching transferable skills in social media promotion and digital publishing.

Six reasons why charities should harness hyperlocal communications

21 Jan

I wrote this blog for The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network last year. With the election campaign  underway, I predict that hyperlocal media will become even more important. Here are my top tips on how charities can make the most of these channels.

RNLI picWhat’s the first port of call when you’re trying to get publicity for your charity? National newspapers? The regional press? A blanket post reaching out to all your Twitter followers? What about when you’re trying to reach local audiences and service users?

It can be easy for your message to get drowned out using mainstream channels but increasingly, charities are tapping into the power of hyperlocal social media, with fantastic results. Charities can either create a branded social media account for a specific community or get coverage on a hyperlocal site, many of which have strong social media presences.

Hyperlocal sites are a valuable tool for charities – they are often the first place people turn when they need help in their communities. Examples include The Kentish Towner, Sheffield Forum, (one of the largest hyperlocal sites with 260,000 unique visitors monthly), or Birmingham Updates, which has 24,000 Twitter followers.

Nesta recently invested £2.4m in hyperlocal media. Its report into the demand for hyperlocal revealed that 66% of adults in the UK are interested in news and information about their neighbourhood. This trend is driven by the rise in smartphones with GPS enabled technology, as well as the public’s growing expectation that communications are personalised.

I spoke to some of the charities leading the way in hyperlocal to see why it works for them:

  1. Immediate access to communities

Many hyperlocal sites have high levels of engagement which is a gift for charities. Nicola Strong, regional communications officer at Macmillan, says: “They allow you direct and immediate access to communities and enable you to be far more targeted than sometimes a traditional press release does. In the future, I see our local channels maximising their online reach by engaging heavily with hyperlocal social media, and also by empowering committees and fundraising groups to do the same.”

  1. Brings big local stories into the public eye

In March this year a local RNLI volunteer boatman took a photo of a lifeboat emerging from the mist at Tower Bridge and it was retweeted 25,000 times. Meanwhile, footage of the rescue of a young boy in Bude was viewed 353,000 times and garnered press coverage from Sky and ITV.

  1. Gives local volunteers and staff their own voice and a trusted presence

At the RNLI, each of the 235 operational lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts, run by volunteers and crew. This helps them engage with current and new supporters at grassroots level. The RNLI provides training and toolkits to its volunteers, helping them build online communities in their local areas.

Emily Pykett, RNLI’s social media manager, says: “It succeeds because we take a hands-off approach, enabling our lifeboat crews to have very natural and authentic dialogues with the communities that are closest to them.”

  1. Gets your news out more quickly

Nicola Strong of Macmillan works regularly with Andover UK (which has 3,000 Twitter followers) and Andover and Villages which has nearly 6,000 likes on Facebook. She explains: “When doing some fundraising, I sent press releases to both of these sites who hosted the stories on their websites and posted the links on social media the same day, whereas the press release equivalent can take a week to feature in the paper.”

  1. Brings local service users directly to you

Welsh cancer charity Tenovus has worked with community blogs such as Roath Cardiff and Awesome Cardiff to promote local fundraising events, and to raise awareness of new services. These include the ManVan, a mobile cancer support unit for men affected by prostate or testicular cancer.

Liz Rawlins, a communications consultant who was previously part of the Tenovus team, says: “To encourage men to use the ManVan, we knew that people needed to hear about the service from a trusted source of information in their communities.”

Tenovus targeted influential hyperlocal sites in the areas where their community fundraisers are based, building a network of influencers and gaining local coverage and saw an increase in visitors to the ManVan in the given areas.

  1. Helps develop extra connections and resources

Macmillan’s Cornwall fundraising manager Emma Wright says through using hyperlocal social media and sites she has “gained meetings with local corporates which have developed into partnerships, had gifts in kind, such as donated rooms, accessed free or very cheap printing, and gained things like auction and raffle prizes very quickly.”


New year’s resolutions for effective email communications

8 Jan

This is a guest blog from Dr Monica Seeley, founder of Mesmo Consultancy and an international expert on best email practice.  Monica has written several books and many articles on email use. Her latest book is ‘Brilliant Email’.

net etiquette - internet concept

For at least the last four weeks Sony have constantly featured in the press as a result of their systems being hacked.  It used to be said that there was no such thing as bad PR but this might not be true for Sony. Indeed given the viral nature of electronic communications, perhaps we all need to be more judicious about what we commit to email (and on social media) as we move into 2015.

Setting aside the political aspects of the hacking incident, it is not just the scale of the attack (possibly costing Sony up to $200M) and the stealing of corporate confidential data which should be ringing alarm bells.

It is all the in-fighting and bickering which the leaked emails disclosed which should be raising the fire alarm in every CEO’s ears (regardless of the business’s size and sector). What lessons are there for the new year in terms of how we use email going forward?

Why is that email seduces us into committing vituperative words to the archives?  At the flick of a key we can criticise our colleagues, and friends (even partners).  In the past we would never put such words on pen and paper and if we did they would most probably be shredded before they were ever sent. Perhaps one reason is the 24 x 7 x 365 world in which we live and the feeling that we must either respond and say what’s on our mind regardless of what might happen to these words. Equally email does not have the tactile sense of permanency of paper.  Although that might change now with such a high profile hacking incident.

In today’s digital business world there is neither an organisation nor person who is completely safe from the cyber criminal, no mater how sophisticated the technology you use.  Indeed, the weakest link in the chain is always you and I the users of the systems.  We are never deliberately careless (unless we have a grudge against the organisation), but we do create openings for the cyber criminal without thinking.

What can we learn from this very high profile hacking incident and how can smaller less well resourced organisations at least lower the risks of the type of PR disaster associated with cyber crime?

From the email perspective here are my key learning points and which form the basis of my new year’s resolutions to help improve how we use email to communicate and avoid another ‘Sony-Gate’ type PR disaster.

  1. Avoid using email for any form of negative feedback (e.g. criticism of a person or organisation). Always talk first to elicit what is really happening and causing the problem.
  2. Before hitting send ask yourself what if hackers found this email?
  3. Build in a cooling off period before sending emails which contain controversial content. I call this the ‘quiet email’ approach.
  4. Avoid sending highly confidential information by email. If you must then either send the information as an attachment or encrypt the emails. Also include a line that this email is for the recipient’s eyes only and not for circulation.
  5. Train members of your organisation in business email etiquette best practice to reduce leaking sensitive and potentially damaging information.

You may also want to review your use of Out of Office messages, taking care to disclose the minimum of information.  I know of at least two organisations (one charity and one private sector) where cyber criminals have used the information to enter and obtain information illegally.

What new year’s resolutions have you set to improve how you communicate in your organisation?  Please send responses to  There is a free copy of ‘Brilliant Email’ for the best one.

I am very happy to talk further by phone and share some of the ways my company has helped other charities improve their productivity through email best practice.

5 ways the first UK #GivingTuesday was a success

10 Dec

giving tuesday logo

This is a guest blog from Holly Mitchell, #GivingTuesday UK Campaign Manager. It’s a follow up from her previous blog.  I’m delighted to have been a #GivingTuesday ambassador.  

It is now over a week since the first #GivingTuesday in the UK and here at #GTUK HQ we have had some time to reflect on what was an amazing day.

I think the fact that Black Friday had such an impact in the UK this year helped people connect more with #GivingTuesday. Whilst Black Friday was undeniably good for our economy, it was hard not to feel uncomfortable at the scenes we saw from supermarkets. #GivingTuesday gave us an opportunity to redress that balance.

Below are my top five ways that our first #GivingTuesday in the UK was a success and in sharing these, I hope that even more join us next year.

It had a big following

We ended December 1st with 820 partners officially signed up. 820 different organisations, from multinational companies and large national charities, to student groups and small, local charities. Getting a large number of diverse and often competing organisations on board to promote the same message turned #GivingTuesday from a campaign to a movement.

The figures

Figures and stats from a variety of sources have proved that #GivingTuesday was successful in increasing donations. Our core partner, Blackbaud, reported a 270 percent increase in donations, compared to December 3 2013. Just Giving reported an 80 percent increase in text donations and Visa saw a 10 percent increase in donations. This equated to £2,500 donated every minute.

It helped small & local charities

One of the best things about #GivingTuesday is how it helps to level the playing field. Large, national charities, inevitably, get a bigger slice of donations and publicity in comparison to smaller, local charities. However, #GivingTuesday turns that on its head. Statistically, we know that took £75,736 on December 2  which is a massive 885 percent increase on December 3 2013. Anecdotally, numerous smaller charities have reported an increase in their online presence and uptake in volunteers.

It was massive on social media

#GivingTuesday trended for 11 hours on twitter. Most will be aware of how difficult that is to achieve. #GivingTuesday partner, Crimson Hexagon, provided us with some excellent social media data which showed that the UK sent 30,000 tweets about #GivingTuesday on the day. We also had a social media reach of 180 million, which is more than double the entire population of the UK!

It brought people together

One of the best outcomes of the events we ran was the opportunity to bring people together, who ordinarily might not have connected. #GivingTuesday has helped forge new relationships, whether between businesses and charities, such as Mindshare and Compassion in World Farming or in a community such as Milton Keynes. The Milton Keynes Foundation rallied round local businesses for their #SurvivingWinter campaign to great success.

We want to keep giving going all year round, so even though #GivingTuesday is over, the conversation doesn’t have to be.

For those who want to get involved next year keep up to date with us at and follow us @givingtuesdayuk.

How to achieve fundraising success on social media

24 Nov

fundraising pic

The charity and social enterprise sector has been an early adopter of social media. It’s not surprising, given the growth in its use by donors. And this is more than slacktivism- 55% of those who engage with organisations on social media do end up donating, volunteering, signing a petition or attending an event.

But it’s not enough just to have a presence on Facebook or Twitter. Charities often ask me, ‘What is the best social media platform?’ It very much depends on your audience and how they prefer to engage and, of course,to give.

So I was pleased to see that our old friends over at Social Misfits Media have launched Friends with Money – a free guide to fundraising on social media, in partnership with Just Giving. It encourages charities to think big about the potential for social media in fundraising but also as a key driver in raising awareness, campaigning and telling your charity’s story. I’ve contributed to the guide with some thoughts on why Childs i Foundation are such brilliant fundraisers.

Carlos Miranda and Alissa Steiner of Social Misfits Media shared some excellent tips from the guide on boosting your fundraising efforts on social media in The Guardian today.

Download Friends with Money for some great case studies from Rotary Global Swimathon, Child’s i Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Cystic Fibrosis Ireland and expert tips from Facebook, Just Giving and Twitter.

Top five tips for #GivingTuesday in the UK

14 Nov

This is a guest blog by Holly Mitchell, the #GivingTuesday Campaign Manager at CAF.  I’ll be chairing their webinar on how charities can use Facebook for #GivingTuesday on 19 November.

#GivingTuesday in the UK, now less than a month away, has been a long time in the making. Here at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)  we have been planning since the beginning of the year. It has been fascinating to see it grow from four of us sat planning round a table to the mass movement it is now with nearly 500 partners on board.

Over the course of this year we have witnessed lots of different approaches and ways of engaging with #GivingTuesday and I would like to share our top five tips with you. Hopefully they will help enhance your own #GivingTuesday campaigns or inspire you to get involved!

Set a specific goal

The best examples from partners I have seen are those with a very specific goal in mind and a concrete plan on how to achieve it. The Lothian Autistic Society want to use #GivingTuesday to raise awareness of autism and the services they run in Edinburgh. They have planned a treasure hunt with clues being displayed in 10 local businesses windows. Alongside the clue they will display information about their work and encourage people to support them via social media.

They will also have a text to donate number on display but fundraising is secondary to their primary aim of raising awareness.

Be creative

Lots of charities have mentioned to me that they are worried their message will get lost in a day when the whole world will be focusing on charity. My advice is to make your campaign stand out. This is the first year we are running it in the UK so I understand people wanting to ‘test’ the waters but those who are planning something a little different will definitely benefit.

Azuko, an architectural charity, have set up their ‘charity for ebay’ challenge where they are asking people to sell unwanted items on ebay and gift the proceeds to Azuko. Plans which stand out have the added bonus of being used as case studies by me in meetings, presentations and events!

Remember it’s not just about fundraising

One of the things we love most about #GivingTuesday is that is that it isn’t just about fundraising. Doing something charitable covers a wide range of activity and this means that you can really tailor it to your own needs. Perhaps you want to grow your online presence or increase engagement with your volunteers.

The Scouts have a shortage of scout leaders so will be using the day for a volunteer drive to get more people to sign up.

Use as much visual content as possible

I can guarantee that any pictures, videos or infographics I tweet or use on Facebook will get the most retweets or likes. It seems obvious but adding visual content to your own material really will help reach a wider audience through greater engagement.

This doesn’t have to be something that you pay a design agency to create. We have provided you with our branding and I encourage you to play around with it and see how it can work for you. Rosie’s Rainbow Fund have been brilliant at this and have created some really cool graphics!

rosie's rainbow

Don’t forget to have fun!

#GivingTuesday comes at a great time of the year. People are in a festive, generous mood as the nation gears up for Christmas. It really is a great opportunity to engage with new people, thank your existing supporters and celebrate all you have achieved this year.

Make sure that you love your campaign as your enthusiasm will shine through and attract more people to your cause. It has certainly worked with me and #GivingTuesday!

Giving tuesday infographic (2)

The top 30 charity #socialceos 2014 – revealed!

7 Nov

They are finally here! I am so excited to share this year’s top 30 charity CEOs on social media with you.

We announced the winners at our awards event last night hosted by Girlguiding. A big thank you to them for hosting us, as well as Grant Thornton, who the awards were in association with, and our other lovely sponsors TPP Not for Profit and the Access Group.

As you may know, Matt Collins of Platypus Digital and I co-founded the awards to celebrate the great work done by charity CEOs who use social media as a central tool of their job. We hope it will encourage even more CEOs to take the plunge and go digital. There is a huge range of charities of all shapes, sizes and causes in this year’s 30.

Here’s my blog about the awards from The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network this morning.

Take a look at our infographic of the 2014 winners below. We’ve also published a briefing to help CEOs get the most out of social media, which includes case studies from Relate, Parkinson’s UK and Beating Bowel Cancer. It’s packed with lots of other advice, including insights from Grant Thornton on social media and governance and tips on the latest digital trends for CEOs, such as thought leadership. Get the briefing here.

If you want to help your CEO improve their social media presence, or need to boost your own, I’m also running a course on that very topic on 22 January at Just Giving’s offices.

Do let me know what you think of this year’s top charity #socialceos.


infographic final 7 nov jpeg



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