Who do you think is a great charity social CEO?

25 Apr

Hurray! I’m excited to say that the Top 30 Charity CEOs on Social Media Awards is back for 2014. Here’s my blog about it on The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network.

As you may know, Matt Collins and I co-founded the awards last year, and the top 30 in 2013 included some amazing CEOs such as Peter Wanless of the NSPCC, Julia Unwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Julie Bentley of Girlguiding.

Our goal behind the awards has always been to help charities engage more effectively with digital. What better way to do that than get your CEO tweeting or blogging? As last year’s top 30 showed, having a strong social media presence as a leader can help your charity build valuable relationships, reach more people and generate income. We also see the awards as a great way for charity leaders to share best practice about social media, so once again we’ll be producing some content to help leaders create awesome social presences. This will be published to coincide with the announcement of the awards on (drumroll) 6 November 2014.

It’s free to nominate and the leaders of any organisation who are a registered charity can enter. This includes charities of any size, social enterprises and professional bodies.

This year’s top 30 will be judged by our fantastic panel:

  • Simon Blake- CEO of the Brook, and chair of judges (@simonablake)
  • Lucy Caldicott- Director of Fundraising at Clic Sargent (@lucycaldicott)
  • Dalton Leong, CEO of The Children’s Trust, and former winner in 2013 (@daltonleong)

It would be great to hear who you think are the best charity CEOs on social media. You can nominate them here . Please submit entries by 5pm on Friday 30th May.

We’ll announce the top 30 on 6 November 2014. Stay tuned for news about our launch event.

For more details about the awards please drop me a line on zoe@zoeamar.com. In the meantime, we can’t wait to hear your nominations!


Charity Comms’ book on communications strategies

14 Apr


charity comms book v2


You might have heard that Charity Comms have just published a book on charity communications strategies. It’s a super useful end to end guide to planning, creating and implementing your communications. I’d recommend it to anyone working in this field.

It’s written by Joe Barrell of strategic communications agency Eden Stanley and features case studies from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the RSPCA and more. It also includes a few insights from me. You can buy the book on the Charity Comms site. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

What are your thoughts on charity communications strategies?

Could innovation transform the charity sector?

27 Mar

blog pic

If your organisation is talking about innovation right now, or has ‘innovative’ as one of its brand values, then you’re not alone. But what is innovation? Is it just a highfalutin concept? Is it confined to product development? Is it only possible on a big budget? And how does it translate into something that makes a positive difference to your stakeholders?

In truth, charities have never needed innovation more than now. The sector is under increasing pressure- whether it’s from donors demanding more information, MPs asking questions about what charities should be allowed to do or greater demand for services. In my view, nonprofits are unlikely to see the benefits of the recovering economy for some time yet. There’s a very real sense of ‘we can’t go on as we are.’ Charities are being forced to get creative about different ways of working and new income streams. Is innovation a choice you make, or is necessity the mother of invention?

I’ve seen some great examples of innovative work by charities recently, from Macmillan’s online dating based fundraising initiative My Mate Your Date to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s data project Markets for Good. It’s not just the big charities either. Small charities are also doing some very innovative work, such as Raindrops on Roses.

But what is the actual business case for innovation? How could it help your charity, as well as the sector as a whole? What does it mean for nonprofits in the future? These questions have inspired innovation consultant Lucy Gower and I to create the Charity Innovation Survey. We believe that the results will help charities build strong business cases for more innovative approaches to their boards, and gain insights into how other organisations are doing things differently, and for the better. Guess2Give, the innovative online fundraising platform, are partnering with us on the research.

This is your chance to have your say about innovation. We would love to hear your views. The Charity Innovation Survey should take you no more than 5-10 minutes and as a little thank you for your time we’ll email you the results and enter you into a prize draw for Amazon vouchers. The deadline for responses is midday on Monday 14th April.

We hope to see you at the launch of the results, which will be at a special event with Charity Leaders Exchange on 10 June in central London (details TBC- I’ll post the link as soon as I have it). The event will also explore how charities use innovation, how critical it is to the future of the sector and what organisations think it could help them achieve. We’ll also feature case studies and advice for charity leaders on innovative approaches.

Could innovation change the sector for the better? Or is it just a ‘nice to have?’ Tell us what you think. It would be great if you could also spread the word about our research. By doing so, you’ll be bringing charities together to talk about something which could potentially help us all achieve more, collaborate better and support a greater number of our beneficiaries.

Take the Charity Innovation Survey

Understanding the value of social media? Priceless

21 Feb

Twitter has hit the headlines again this week. The Brits sponsor Mastercard asked journalists attending the awards to tweet plugs in return for tickets. You can read more about this on the Huffington Post.

Unsurprisingly, the journalists didn’t appreciate being treated as content robots and took to Twitter to complain.

tim walker

There’s a great round up of more tweets from the #PricelessSurprises hashtag on The Drum.  Probably not quite what the PR agency who made the request were hoping for.

I’ve read a number of articles saying how the incident shows the true nature of PR. I don’t think that’s the issue (and I know PR is an incredibly valuable tool- it’s one of the areas I work in). Asking journalists to do this misses the point of social media- you can’t make people say exactly what you want on Twitter. If the agency wanted positive tweets about Mastercard, it would have been a much smarter move to concentrate on giving journalists a good experience of the awards. This would involve making sure they had everything they needed to write their stories (e.g. access to celebrities they wished to interview), key information and looking after them like any other guest.

It’s also reinforced something else that I’ve learned over the years; the solution to doing social media well is sometimes offline. Not only did the agency misunderstand the role of social, they also treated the relationships with the journalists in a transactional way. That would have been a mistake with or without social media.

Here are three things which this incident demonstrates about social media:

  1. If your call to action involves social media, that doesn’t mean the normal rules about relationships go out of the window. Relationships via social media need to be valued and nurtured in the same way you would offline.
  2. If you want people to say something positive about your brand on social media, then give them a good experience. And accept that people will never say exactly what you want them to. The upside is that if you look after them their feedback may be even better than you could have hoped for.
  3. When planning a campaign with a hashtag, be prepared that it may get hijacked, as with #PricelessSurprises . This can happen due to circumstances outside your control; for example, at a charity conference last year the hashtag was invaded by spambots. Just as you have a crisis comms plans, have an idea of what you might do if your hashtag gets hijacked.

What else do you do to nurture relationships via social media?

What will social media look like 10 years from now?

7 Feb


The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network are currently running a great series of blogs on what the charity sector will look like in 10 years’ time.

I particularly liked Helen Goulden of Nesta’s piece on why charities will need to innovate to prosper. Judith Davey of ActionAid UK also wrote a very insightful blog on the future of the voluntary sector workforce and Lucy Caldicott of CLIC Sargent shared some thoughts on social media and fundraising.

I blogged about how I think charities will be using social media in 2024, including some ideas on strategy, how platforms are becoming more niche, and how truly innovative organisations are using social media internally to bust through silos. If you’d like to join the conversation about what the charity sector will look like in 10 years’ time keep an eye on the Voluntary Sector Network and the #10yearstime hashtag on Twitter.

Speaking of social networks, if you want to know how your charity can make the most of Facebook this year the fantastic Ross McCulloch of Third Sector Lab has just blogged about 5 ways charities can improve their use of Facebook to mark the social network’s 10th birthday this week.

2024 will be here before we know it. What is your charity doing right now to prepare?

Social media training at the School for Social Entrepreneurs

20 Jan
Everyone working hard on their social media strategies. Photo by David McGlashan

Everyone working hard on their social media strategies. Photo by David McGlashan

Last weekend I had the pleasure of training a group of social entrepreneurs and charity professionals at the School for Social Entrepreneurs. The course, Kickstart Your Social Media Strategy, sold out, and there are now more dates in June and December. Check them out here.

The delegates were super inspiring and on the ball, and asked a lot of great questions. I took them through how to write a social media strategy, how to understand your audience’s use of social media, social media management and how to put social at the heart of your organisation. I really enjoyed it and hope they did too.  Here’s the Storify of the event as put together by the fabulous David McGlashan.

The day reminded me how much potential there is for social enterprises and charities to get to grips with social media. Whether you’re a small organisation in start up phase, or a large charity, a big part of your success will depend on how well you use social media to communicate with your stakeholders. I also sensed that there is huge appetite in the sector to reach out to influencers on social, whether they are funders, journalists or corporates. Thirdly, talking to delegates reminded me that putting together a good social media strategy requires lots of thinking, research and hard work. But it is well worth it, and hopefully the course helped accelerate this process for everyone who came.

If you’d like to talk to me about social media training, drop me a line at zoe@zoeamar.com

How transparent is your charity?

19 Dec


Last week was a tough one for charities. Panorama’s documentary criticised Amnesty for payouts to its former CEO, Save The Children for allegedly failing to stand up to corporate partners and Comic Relief for investing in arms and tobacco, leading to its announcement that it would review its investment policies.  And there still seems to be much confusion in the aftermath, not least over the Charity Commission’s investment guidance.

I don’t think that this is the last time we’ll see these kind of stories in the media. The private and public sectors are under great scrutiny these days- why shouldn’t the charity sector be too? In the wake of the Charity Commission’s inquiry into the Cup Trust, and the media coverage of charity CEOs’ pay in the summer, there is inevitably demand for greater transparency from charities. On that note, Rosie Chapman wrote a very insightful article for Civil Society which argued that charities now need to seriously consider putting in place their own CSR policies.

Having advised some well known charities about transparency in their communications, I think there is huge potential for the sector in this area. Charities shouldn’t hide their lights under a bushel when it comes to how open and accountable they are. Look at the corporate world; Marks and Spencers never stop telling us about Plan A. There are some great examples of transparency in the sector (e.g. Afrikids’ work on cost benchmarking for international development charities) and we have got to tell donors and other supporters about them more often.

Post Panorama, a number of charity communications professionals have asked me how they can enhance their organisation’s reputation for transparency. I’d like to share a few things that I’ve recommended.

  1. Confront any skeletons your organisation may have. It can be daunting to look these problems in the face but being prepared is key. One organisation I know were concerned about some disgruntled ex-employees, so ran an internal simulation to test their plans in the event of the stories getting picked up by the media. Always prepare for the worst possible scenario. If you work in a large organisation, it is impossible for the comms team to be everywhere, so you could train the executive team to spot any potentially sensitive issues that could potentially blow up into a PR crisis. Something that seems like a perfectly ordinary problem to them could mushroom into a big story on a slow news day.
  2. Talk to your stakeholders. What do they want to know about how your charity works? Don’t just ask them when things are going well; ask them the same question soon after something has gone wrong so you can plan ahead for the (inevitable) next crisis. The Panorama documentary included interviews with donors of the charities affected and some of them were keen to receive detailed corporate information. Of course, you need to strike a balance between being open and overloading supporters with data.
  3. Review your communications for transparency and benchmark against competitors and the rest of sector. Don’t wait until a crisis hits; you need to find out what your stakeholders want to know, and how you measure up against the other organisations who they could transfer their support to.
  4. Develop corporate key messaging around impact and accountability. Yes, this needs to be an important theme in your communications. But it must be more than a woolly ‘our charity has high standards of transparency.’ Anyone can say that. How can you show people that you’re truly flying the flag for openness and accountability? What’s your equivalent of Marks and Spencers’ Plan A?
  5. Get your executive team on social media.  If the leadership team are visible and willing to talk directly to supporters on social media this really shows commitment to transparency. I’ve seen research which says that 93% of employees think that CEOs who use social media are better equipped to handle a crisis. See my post about social CEOs for more info. I love the way that Breast Cancer Care have put their leadership team’s Twitter handles on their website.
  6. If you make mistakes, own them and show what you’ve learned from them. Post Panorama, Amnesty were soon on the case with a strong rebuttal to some of Panorama’s claims. Whilst dealing with a crisis can be daunting, handling it skilfully can ultimately be a positive for your charity.

How do you think that charities can demonstrate transparency through their communications?


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