Bloggers and Charities

Edinburgh poster art

I have seen quite a bit of grumbling recently from bloggers about the volume of charity requests that are dropping into their inboxes. I can only imagine that in the run up to Christmas such requests will become even more frequent.

To be honest, I don’t mind emails from charities too much myself because I have a fairly strict system for dealing with them.

I give the majority of my support to two charities – one big one (Save the Children) and one small one (PiggyBankKids) – and they are the only ones I’ll write about in any detail on the blog.

If I get a request from any other charity that I really like then I won’t usually blog about it, but I’ll agree to share information on my Facebook page or on Twitter, and occasionally I’ll write a quick post for them over on Blog4Charity.

If I get a request from a charity that is working on something I don’t know much about, or that isn’t a personal priority, then I’ll apologise and turn it down. Once you’ve decided that’s your policy, it becomes much easier to implement it uniformly, and not feel guilty about saying no. None of us can do everything.

So making a decision about how to respond to charity requests isn’t too difficult for me. What I think is tricky is how to translate your own passion for a charity or a campaign into something that is interesting for readers too. The more charities there are out there, competing for space on our blogs, the harder that is going to become.

It’s always good if you can add some kind of personal slant to a post, about why an issue has touched you, or why you support a particular cause. But then what? You need to think about what you want readers to take away from that. What do you actually want them to do after reading your post?

Even I am starting to get slightly bored with the standard ‘here’s the problem, here’s the petition’ pitch. I would love to see campaigning becoming more imaginative and exciting. Even if you’re trying to achieve a serious outcome, campaigning is supposed to be fun!

I am reminded of some of the more bonkers stunts that we pulled as student campaigners – sending a pair of brightly coloured flip flops to every Lib Dem MSP when they changed their made on a tuition fees decision… turning up outside the Scottish Parliament in white doctors uniforms when they were trying to increase fees for medical students… plastering the campus with eve of poll posters that said Don’t Wake Up With a Dumb Blonde Tomorrow when Boris Johnson was trying to get elected as Rector.

Obviously the majority of bloggers are busy parents with hectic lives, and we don’t all have time to be marching or scaling lampposts with placards.

But I’d like to think that between the blogging community and the charity sector we have some brilliant minds, and it would be great to see them come together and create some more innovative campaign ideas over the course of the next year. I think that might get bloggers enthused again, and stop them sighing or clicking delete every time another request arrives.

Charities and bloggers are a brilliant and natural match, especially charities like Save the Children who really understand that the relationship has to be mutually beneficial, and so organise events like their bloggers conference. Save the Children also understand that bloggers have to speak in their own voice, and they don’t try to dictate exactly what we post. Sometimes that’s a huge advantage – we can be more political, or more sweary, or funnier than they can be in their own campaign materials.

There are no lack of problems that need fixing at the moment. Whether your passion is health, poverty, international development, the environment, disability, transport, education, animals… there is an issue out there to motivate every one of us, and a charity out there that is working to tackle that issue.

Let’s take advantage of our collective power, and see what we can come up with.

21 responses

  1. I too have been getting many charity emails and it hard to say no even though sometimes you just have to.
    People either have a personal connection to a cause or they don’t. The most powerful post and campaigns come from those who do have a personal connection I feel. I do think that Charities could do more to engage bloggers – and it wouldn’t even cost them money. It would be refreshing that instead of a ‘this is the cause, here are the facts and these are the images, please post on x date’ that some one took time to email and say ‘this campaign is coming up, have you any ideas of how we could promote it?’
    A hashtag is inoffensive but honestly, I think people are switching off from them a bit.

  2. It’s a tough one isn’t it? I think a lot of bloggers are feeling bombarded by charities, I know I am. And then you feel like such a heel for turning them down, when there are so many good causes around. The dilemma for me that whilst I do feel a personal connection with some charities, I don’t necessarily want to share that on the blog – not everyone blogs about the most painful or challenging parts of their life. So for the most part I have decided to focus on what I can do for charity in real life and not on the blog. I also set up a site called KidsBlogClub which is a resource for children who blog and their parents, and I’m using that to showcase charities so that bloggers who want to participate can pick something out from there.

    I hope that charities can learn from posts like this and realise that they probably need to change their approach in order to engage bloggers. Bloggers are (for the most part) decent people who want to help where they can – it’s just that we’ve only got the same 24 hours in a day as everybody else, and they’re already pretty packed.

    • That’s a very good point Joanne, about people not always blogging the things most personal to them. I hadn’t thought about that angle. A good reminder that just because people don’t blog about charity doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t doing other things in their ‘real life’. I’ve noticed an unpleasant degree of peer pressure recently with people being publicly criticised for not joining in with x campaign, or adding y twibbon to their profile, and I definitely think that’s something to avoid. Making people feel bad for what they do (or don’t) join in with is not going to be productive.

  3. I’ve had a number of requests too … and some I really want to write about, but I have decided to use my other blog as the forum for charity promotions. And it is quite an art doing a charity post – it really does need that personal, relatable touch!

  4. I love this post and you did a great job articulating why I also work with Save the Children. The other charity that I work with consistently is Best for Babes, because I feel like they are one of the first breastfeeding advocacy organizations that really GETS IT in terms of finding a way to support breastfeeding moms without putting down moms who choose or need formula.

    • Thanks Annie! Are Best for Babes just a Canadian organisation? I’ll have to check out their work. Would be so interested in hearing the perspective from your side of the pond – do you have to turn down a lot of requests too?

      • Best for Babes is a U.S. based organization, but a lot of their advocacy work is relevant beyond country borders. You can find them at bestforbabes.org.

        Bloggers do get a lot of charity requests in Canada too and there is a lot of pinkwashing, greenwashing, etc. too, so it is important to be incredibly diligent about what we choose to support. For me, that means being incredibly selective about who I work with and doing research before I share something. My values and my social capital are too important to be reckless about it.

      • Oh yeah, there have been a few terrible requests here that have come through PR companies rather than charities themselves, and it has been a lot more about promoting a company – online bingo or a short term loans company – with only a tiny fraction of money going to charity. They must think we were all born yesterday!

  5. I am in the unique position of being a blogger who also happens to be a non-profit executive, I head a local agency in my area that works with youth and families. Good post but I will say that in many non-profit agencies we are often one step behind when it comes to this stuff and it’s compounded the fact that we are funded in such a way that for anything but the largest of charitable organizations, whoever is in charge of reaching out to bloggers/using social media is doing this on top of their actual job.

    Non-profits would have a hard time explaining to it’s financial supporters why they have a social media director, so the result is you get people who are rushed for time and spread too thin. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to send an email back to the charities that are asking for your assistance explaining what you have discussed here. Most of us are pretty open to suggestions and we would like to know what is the best way to use our time and resources.

    • Thanks so much for your perspective, and for raising some really good points. I used to be the sole staff member working for a small non-profit, so I absolutely understand your point about resources! When there’s one person doing everything from fundraising to policy work to media to advocacy, social media definitely slips down the list.

      I’m not sure about other people, but I’ve actually found that sometimes smaller charities can have better approaches – perhaps even because of that lack of specific social media expertise – they know that there is a pool to be tapped, but are more willing to go with the flow and see what bloggers come up with, rather than being overly proscriptive.

  6. Have you seen the craftivist collective stuff? I’m thinking of joining in as a way to make my political leanings a bit more interesting and fun, I think Dilly Tante is in the middle of doing one too. But obviously yes, if you don’t want to write about something then just don’t do it!

  7. As someone who works for a charity, thank you for writing this post. It’s great to learn more about what motivates you. I’m also inspired to seek novel and interesting ways to partner with bloggers – not just push the message. I hope we’re on our way to building authentic, mutually-beneficial relationships.

  8. Ruth thanks for writing this post it offers great insight to charities and people like me who try to get bloggers to write about charity campaigns. Below I have tried to address some of the valid points you raise in your blog given my perspective as someone who has worked in digital for charities and now works alongside charities helping them to spread their campaign messages.

    1) Volume of requests:

    I agree with you this isn’t going to let off during the run up to Christmas, the truth is although charities have been fantastic at using social media channels to engage their captive audience, many have been slower to engage with blogger community. A combination of less funding for marketing spend and a realisation by management of the power of blogging communities will mean more requests (sorry).

    2) Stating who you want to work with:

    As outlined in my above point you’re going to receive more charity requests. As someone who researches bloggers and puts together campaign approaches for charities, I would love it if bloggers stated what kind of charities they are interested in supporting clearly in the PR information section. This would save people like me putting together tailored approaches to people who aren’t interested. The last thing I want to do is bother someone about a campaign they have no interest in. I try my best to read the blogs and work out whether they have an real interest in the issue I am writing to the blogger about but there is still an element of guess work. Personally tend to support charities working on: environmental issues, cancer, human rights, humanitarian issues. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about other causes but I can’t support everything. So you shouldn’t feel like a heel for saying no.

    3) Creative campaigning:

    We all have our own reasons for blogging and they are numerous but for me the most important is to raise awareness of issues I feel are important. I know many bloggers feel the same, so if charities can be creative in their approaches and involve bloggers closely in the development of campaign tactics this will only lead better campaigns and happier bloggers. As you highlighted some charities like Save the Children are already doing this brilliantly by building an active community of engaged bloggers. However I can tell you that most charities don’t have the resource to co-ordinate this kind of active blogger engagement. The sad reality is many charities are struggling, they have less staff, less money and with cuts to public services more vulnerable people to support. I know charities would love it if bloggers actively approached them with an idea to support one of their campaigns. So I would suggest be proactive pick some charities to support and let them know about the awesome ideas I know you all have.

    4) Authentic voice:

    Ruth perfectly highlighted the tricky position many charities find themselves in where they maybe can’t be as political in their messaging as bloggers. I have heard many a discussion in charities around not wanting to upset government through fear of losing funding or their place at the table. Bloggers have an opportunity to making politicians listen, philanthropists fund good causes and tell things how they really are. I think we can all agree we would all miss charities if they weren’t there. These are rough times for charities and they need your support and most importantly your input to create innovative campaigns which make a difference.

    • You’re such a star Damien, that’s almost a post in itself. FWIW, I’d definitely hold you up as an example of someone who is brilliant to work with for bloggers. I think your point about bloggers being more upfront about the kind of charities they’d like to work with is a very valid one – a lot of people include info about what sort of PR/Sponsored post opportunities they are open to, so it makes sense to add charity interests too. As you say, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to send out approaches that aren’t relevant.

      The main thing I take away from your comment is the importance of us all trying to imagine ourselves in each other’s shoes.

      Bloggers feel like they are overstretched, that it’s a crowded marketplace, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and that they want to make a positive contribution but also to get something meaningful out of their relationships with charities.

      Charities feel like they are overstretched, that it’s a crowded marketplace, that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and that they want to make a positive contribution and get something meaningful out of their relationship with bloggers.

      I should change the last line of my post – “Let’s take advantage of our collective power, be kind to each other, and see what we can come up with.”

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  11. Thanks for this great post. It really helped me decide how to approach blogging about charities myself.🙂

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