Communities being better informed, connected and equipped

  • Are the people and issues you support visible and involved in community life?
  • Do awareness raising campaigns have to be done by you alone?
  • What does prevention look like?

The six previous domains come together here: the focus is not on services but on communities taking ownership of issues affecting them. There’s a multiplier effect when you unleash the goodwill, skills and resources they have. Whether geographical communities, or communities of interest, lasting impact is people-powered!

When things are taken on by communities, that’s when change happens. The Covid-19 pandemic provides many obvious illustrations of this. The stance that footballer Marcus Rashford took on food poverty during the outbreak changed public awareness and the direction of government policy. Rainbows went viral as a symbol of hope against the virus after one family, and then millions around the world, drew one in their window. Centenarian Captain Tom Moore didn’t raise £33m for NHS charities by walking 100 laps of his garden. He did it by giving an example to the world of the small things we can all do to make a difference. Neighbours looked after each other, giving small acts of kindness, collecting prescriptions for older people, or shopping for those sheltering at home. Innumerable hours and types of voluntary work were given to campaigns that belonged to everyone.


Raise awareness and understanding

Action starts with awareness. To make a lasting impact, provide information that resonates and makes sense to people – and that they can do something with. The issues that non-profit organisations support are often complex. This gets in the way of clear communication. People don’t need to understand all the nuances to care, or to take simple actions. So give clear information – and make it clear why people should care. To do this, you might need to listen first – what matters to people locally? What are the things that bother them? What changes would they like to see? For example, in one community, residents were concerned about young people drinking in the park, while young people complained of having nothing to do. So an alcohol support charity provided a forum where people could talk about the issues, and come up with shared ideas about things that could be done.

Some issues won’t be easy to talk about. Part of your job might be to make it okay to talk about those difficult things, raising the profile of the issue and raising awareness of how people are affected by it. For example, a charity supporting survivors of childhood abuse discovered that its leaflets were being removed from display in a public information centre because ‘this kind of thing doesn’t happen here.’ The charity needed the community to understand that sadly this kind of thing did happen, and that victims felt marginalised and stigmatised by the lack of information, acknowledgement and support available.

I used to train professionals in mental health first aid. Everyone who attended had experience of mental ill health, either personally or in someone close to them. But it wasn’t spoken about – it was a secret, or best left to the experts. So it remained a hidden problem. By demystifying it, showing people that it is a universal experience, I could help course participants to destigmatise it. All they needed was permission to talk about something they cared about, a little reassurance and good information. The buzz generated when people understood these simple things was always amazing. What can you do to promote public discussion and understanding of the topics you support? How knowledgeable are communities about the impact of issues on people?


Make connections, provide resources, support action

If issues and action belong to communities, organisations become facilitators not service providers. They bring people together to identify issues and find common ground. They provide opportunities and spaces to meet. They are gracious hosts, making their resources, expertise and address books available, offering service not (just) services.

Bring technical experts together with people who are experts by experience. Teach people skills, give them resources, education and support: How are decisions made locally? What resources are available and where do they come from? How is policy made and influenced? Learn from people about what they want and what stops them getting it. Think about whether your time is better spent giving a voice to this or equipping those with power to hear it (see the Sixth Domain) – or both.

Remember communities might be dispersed. And lots of people will not be able or interested in taking part in group activities. How can people get involved remotely? What can be done remotely to create a community of interest? The digital divide is growing, so providing information and resources to help online participation might be a necessary first step.


Sing Aida!

In marketing there’s a simple acronym that sums up the two sections above: AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action. Look at your organisation’s publicity and promotions. It’s likely that most of them are targeted at raising awareness of and generating interest in your work or campaigns. Whereas what you really want is action, and before you get that, people need to make a decision to commit to it. Awareness and interest are the foundation for great things to happen, but they aren’t enough.

To get to decision and action you’ll usually need higher-bandwidth communication: getting face to face with people, showing films, hearing case studies, reading testimonials and so on. Show people why they should care – and act. The mistake lots of organisations make is to assume that it’s self-evident that their work is a good thing. So they forget to make a clear ask. What do you want people to do with the awareness and interest you have generated? It might be obvious to you, but don’t assume it’s obvious to others. Develop clear and straightforward ‘calls to action’ so people understand what they can do to help. Spell it out and make it easy act.


Build capacity

The other six Domains all show the importance of involving others in your work. That’s especially important if you want to increase your reach. Find other organisations with similar goals to share campaigns with, amplifying your voice, spreading the load and reducing the cost of awareness raising and promotion, like the car manufacturers in the Fifth Domain. Whose support can you enlist?

Provide information or campaign packs, with templates that people can use or customise to get your message across. Leave space for people to tailor things for themselves. For example, Befriending Networks use the hashtag #BefriendingIs… to encourage people and organisations to share their own stories of the impact of befriending. During Befriending Week, the organisation provides a pack of customisable resources, making it easy for supporters to create their own professional-level materials.

Identify champions, people who can be ambassadors for your message. They don’t have to be famous or high-profile – in fact, the more diverse and relatable they are they better your chances of engaging people. Give them the information and support they need to share their own experiences or your messages. Most non-profits rely on word-of-mouth marketing for referrals, fundraising and campaigns. But how many actively support and resource it?