Reflections on an anniversary

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Four years ago today, I sat at my makeshift desk (a garden table in the back room of our work-in-progress canal boat) and started work. It was my first day of self-employment and the day my (now) husband and I set ‘sail’ from London to the West Midlands to start a new phase in our lives.

For two weeks, I worked as my husband drove Portobello up the Thames, along the Kennett and Avon canal and into Bristol. I tried to continue as we set off up the Severn Estuary in choppy waters, but when our makeshift wardrobe fell onto the bed where I was sat, I decided it was time to take a break. It wasn’t until we got to Gloucester that I got a proper desk and a chair. And it wasn’t until a few months ago that those temporary pieces of furniture were upgraded, as we finally finished building our beautiful watery home.

Measuring success

One thing I have learnt over the years as a business owner is that I don’t feel like a proper business owner at all. I hear others talking about their long-term business goals – I’ve got a vision and some things I want to do, but no beautifully thought out business plan. I see business social media feeds that neatly follow the latest algorithm-beating advice – I’m much more interested in promoting behaviour change campaigns than myself. I read articles about the secrets to success – things like prioritising yourself and not taking life too seriously are rarely on there. But how are they defining success anyway? They’re usually focused on wealth and influence. But another thing I’ve learnt on this journey is that success is personal, which means it can be whatever you want it to be.

For me, success is earning enough money and having enough time to do the things that make me happy – horseriding, eating out, camping. It’s about being excited to return to work after a weekend or a holiday. It’s about getting to work with people that inspire and challenge me. It’s about working on projects that push me to my professional limits and make a difference to people and planet.

What’s next?

It’s impossible to predict what will happen over the coming months and how the world will recover from the coronavirus pandemic. I’m a big fan of the Latin proverb, “Fortune favours the brave.” So, whatever happens, I’ll still be bravely working towards the life I want to live. If I’ve done only that by this time next year, I’ll be toasting my success once more.

Claire

Director, Colvine Communications

Five tips for staying motivated when you’re working from home

One of the more frequent questions I get asked as someone who works from home full-time is how I stay motivated. As more and more people are being asked to stay away from the office, I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve picked up over the last four years. I hope you find them useful – please add your own in the comments below.

1. Have a routine.

I love the flexibility that freelancing gives me. I’m not always working full-time, so I can do more of the things that make me happy – like horseriding, walking, cooking and yoga. But when I am working, I stick to a fairly strict routine to help me stay productive whilst taking care of my wellbeing.

I start work between 9am and 10am, I have an app on my phone that reminds me to take a five minute break every hour and I have at least half an hour for lunch. Routines are hard to break – so once you get into the swing of it you’ll be at your desk and ready to work without even thinking about it.

2. Give creative block the boot

I attended a ‘Conversations with Nick Cave’ event in 2019 and one of the most common questions he gets from his audience (and that came up on this occasion) was how he deals with a creative block. His answer was along the lines that he didn’t believe in it, never got it and just saw songwriting as his work, for which he showed up every day. This really resonated with me and made me think about how I deal with creative block in my work.

There are definitely times when I feel less inspired to write copy or create campaign strategies, but I do the same as Nick. I see it as work, it has to be done and I just crack on. I accept that it might need some finessing and some sparkle adding the next time I look at it, but I write and research and produce because that’s what I do. If you’re feeling stuck, make whatever start you can – you’ll soon be writing and generating ideas that you can come back to if you need to.

3. Slow down

One of the things I struggled with when I first started working from home full-time was working too hard. Not longer hours or anything like that, but working at 100 miles an hour for the time that I was sat at my desk. Coming from small comms teams in charities with limited resources, I was used to delivering at pace between managing my team and countless meetings. It meant that I always felt physically stressed when I was sat at my desk.

It still sneaks in sometimes and my body lets me know with headaches and heart palpitations. That’s why I have a break reminder app on my phone and why I try to be more mindful about the speed I’m going at when I’m working on something. Taking time to research, digest and ponder is part of the process – don’t feel you have to be producing all day long.

4. Love what you do

OK, so this one isn’t a quick fix. But, for me, it is one of the main reasons I am excited to start work most days, rarely get the Sunday blues and usually can’t wait to get stuck back in after a holiday.

Marc Anthony famously said, ‘Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ While I don’t think that’s entirely true (work is work, after all) I do believe that loving what you do is the key to staying  motivated. One of the reasons I set up Colvine Communications was to have the opportunity to work with a whole range of amazing people and organisations that are trying to change the world. I feel lucky every day to have found them.

5. Stay in touch

I’m lucky to have long-term contracts with most of my clients, which means I feel part of a team more than when I work on a standalone project with a new organisation. Staying in touch with the people that inspire you is a huge motivator – whether you want to bounce ideas around or have a quick chat about a challenge you’re facing.

My advice here would be to have conversations wherever possible – I rarely send emails these days, favouring Slack for electronic comms and video or phone calling the rest of the time. We’re social creatures and hunkering down on your own day in day out will take its toll.

What are your tips for staying motivated when you’re working from home?

Claire, Director, Colvine Communications.

What charity means to me

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I’ve been reflecting recently on what charity means to me. Since I can remember, it’s been about donating to, fundraising for and volunteering with my favourite organisations tackling the issues that are close to my heart. But as I’ve grown older, it’s become more than this.

For me, it’s about weaving small actions into my everyday life that could have a positive impact on others. It’s participating in community life – from stopping to chat with a lonely neighbour to exercising my right to vote for the party I believe will do the most to lift people up. It’s about starting conversations with friends and family about the heart-breaking circumstances people find themselves in because of poverty, war or natural disasters.

It’s about questioning ‘Why should I care’ attitudes and encouraging people to explore their prejudices with the aim of changing hearts and minds. It’s about shining a light on our shared humanity and encouraging people to recognise our similarities rather than our differences. It’s about using these conversations to ignite our compassion for those who are suffering in our own communities and on the other side of the world.

But most of all, it’s about recognising that we all have the power to make a difference. It’s about believing that if our small actions make just one life better then that’s still a win – and that those small actions can create wider-spread change when performed by the masses. We can’t all be a Gandhi, a Mandela or a Thunberg. But we can channel the passion of those who inspire us and use it to make life better for others in our small corner of the world.

Claire

Director, Colvine Communications

Love ALL your metrics

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It’s always interesting (and often funny) to see the trends and terminology that fall in and out of favour in comms over the years.

One of those is the notion of ‘vanity metrics’ – the assertion that likes and follows (for example) aren’t worth the pixels that they’re programmed on and that engagement is king. But I am inclined (in essence) to disagree.

I believe that you should love ALL your metrics and that the key to a successful social media strategy is understanding the value of each of them and aligning them with your organisational aims and objectives. In practice, this may mean that…

  • Every Facebook page like will not lead to a donation but building a sizeable Facebook community of people interested in your cause might be integral to your fundraising strategy.
  • Every Tweet like will not lead to taking action on a campaign you are running, but will help indicate whether your message is resonating with people, which is critical at the testing stage.
  • Even if size doesn’t equal absolute success for you, far-reaching social media communities can be attractive to corporate partners, which may be key to your business development plans.

Do you love all your metrics? I’d love to hear from you.

Claire

Director, Colvine Communications

Three top tips for effective storytelling

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Stories can connect people in ways that other words can’t. When events are happening far from home, stories highlight our shared humanity. When statistics become meaningless, stories give them faces. And when problems feel out of our hands, stories empower us to be part of the change.

People – and their stories – are at the heart of organisations that are working to change lives, which is why I’m passionate about helping them to tell the stories that matter. Whether you’re new to storytelling or you’re looking for a quick refresher, here are my three top tips for telling effective stories:

  1. Have a genuine conversation. When you’re interviewing, jot down a set of questions you want to ask but leave room for tangents – they often provide the details that bring a story to life.
  2. Get emotional. I love and live by this quote from author Indra Sinah: “Don’t start by writing, start by feeling. Feel, and feel passionately and the emotion you feel will come through the spaces between the words.”
  3. Let personalities shine. It can be hard to let go of organisational style and there are obviously some cases where you shouldn’t, but make sure you’re flexible enough to let your story-owner’s personality shine through.

Have you seen a great piece of storytelling from a non-profit? Or do you have a top tip to share? I’d love to hear from you 😊

So much more than information sharing

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As part of our Does comms need a rebrand? series, I’ve been interviewing fellow comms folk to showcase the unique talents, backgrounds and experiences of people working in the sector.

Jo Dodd is Communications Officer at Peace Direct – an international charity dedicated to supporting local people to stop war and build lasting peace in some of the world’s most fragile countries.

Here’s what we talked about…

What was your journey into non-profit comms?

This is my first job out of University, so my journey has only just begun! I discovered a passion for non-profit comms while I was still studying – first through a summer internship at an NGO in Guatemala and then by setting up an initiative with some friends to celebrate refugees settling in Edinburgh.

How would you describe what you do to a friend of a friend you meet at the pub?

I find it hard. There is so much to the role, especially when you work in a small team. I usually end up rattling off a list of responsibilities! When I think about it now, I would like to say something like, “The comms team is responsible for crafting the organisation’s public image.”

How would your partner/best friend/parents describe what you do to their friends?

My Dad once said to me, “We all communicate, what is your job?” These days, I think he would say PR – it seems to be the bit people get the most and what they typically associate with comms. Because it’s hard to describe exactly what I do (as it varies so much day-to-day), I often talk more about the organisation than the role.

What is the best thing about working in the sector?

It’s got to be the opportunities you get to learn new skills. My role is hard to describe because it’s so varied – but that’s one of the things I absolutely love about the job. Working in a small non-profit means you get to experiment with communicating in so many different creative ways – I’m currently working on projects including comic books, animation, videos and blog articles! No one day is the same.

What (if anything) is not so enjoyable?

The things I love about the role are probably the most challenging as well! Being ‘on call’ for anything that needs comms input and having to prioritise that alongside ongoing activities can be hard. You’re also expected to be creative 24 hours a day – I love that people value my creativity but when you’re not in that mindset it can be hard to pull it out of the bag!

What one quality do you think all comms people share?

I’ve found that people working in non-profit comms tend to be quite humble… though I wouldn’t put myself in that category! The reason I say that is that you don’t get recognition for your work in the sense that you’re a bit of a ghost writer, producing comms on other people’s behalf. This can be a bit disheartening – you don’t get to build your profile and showcase your talents like in other creative professions.

What are you most proud of in your career?

That’s quite a hard one…I think it would have to be the refugee initiative I mentioned earlier. We matched refugees living in Edinburgh with local artists to help them tell their story. We wanted to help people understand the challenges faced by refugees, to spark understanding and empathy. It was quite a unique project at the time, but even though now there are lots more amazing organisations supporting refugees across the UK, it is still going strong.

If someone asked you how they could show the value of comms to their board, what advice would you give them?

I think it’s important to show the integral role that comms plays in an organisation. Imagine if we took the comms team away – how would this impact on our outputs, our public image or – importantly – the people we support? Once we understand this ourselves, we can convince others too.

Do you think comms needs a rebrand?

Yes! But I’m not sure how… bringing together different voices of people working in the sector would be a good start. And finding a concise way to describe what we do – both as a sector and in our individual roles. We need to get better at our elevator pitch and be proud of our achievements. We need to show that comms is so much more than information sharing – it’s key to making change.

If you work in non-profit comms and would be up for a chat that would be published here, please get in touch

Does comms need a rebrand?

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I attended a ‘storytelling for social enterprises’ event recently where one of the workshops was a ‘comms clinic’. A brilliant concept – the facilitators had created a board game where each round saw the ‘patient’ pick a card from the ‘issues’ pile and the others had to give advice they thought could save them!

One of the questions that sticks with me is ‘How can I prove the value of comms to my board?’ I have some advice on this – skip to the end if you want to go straight to it – but before I share, I want to take a moment to explore why this question (or various iterations of it) comes up so frequently in my line of work. (If anyone reading this is working in non-profit comms and hasn’t come up against this, I would love to hear from you – and find out who you work for!)

At the heart of the issue – I think – lies a fundamental lack of understanding of the comms profession. This leads the uninformed to believe that comms is something that everyone can do. That communicating is a skill we develop throughout our career in all walks of work, rather than a profession in its own right. And who could blame them? In the world of work, we appear to communicate every day. Every job description – from Office Assistant to CEO – tells us that we must have ‘excellent communication skills’. And, time and again, we repeat that we most definitely do in our applications. And we are being genuine. We mean that we are comfortable talking to colleagues of all levels, that we can write clear and concise emails, that we can write a report that is readable and informative. But communications as a profession is so much more.

Sydney J. Harris, an American author and journalist, famously said:

Information is giving out, communication is getting through.

And, for me, here lies the difference. As capable employees, we should all be adept at sharing information, but getting through to an audience and empowering them to be part of the change is a whole different ballgame. 

Part of showing the value of comms is getting through with the message that non-profit communicators have a unique set of skills, honed through experience, mentorship, training and study. That there are various specialisms within non-profit communications… and that one individual is unlikely to be an expert in all of them!* To help those that matter to understand this – and thus understand the value that a well-resourced comms team brings to an organisation – does comms need a rebrand? And, if so, who better to do it than us?

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to be publishing a series of blogs that showcase the unique skills and talents of non-profit communicators. I’m going to share stories from my own and others’ experience on how to show the value of comms and the (sometimes hilarious) questions we field every day. If you would like to be part of it, please get in touch.

In the meantime, here are three top tips for showing the value of comms:

  1. Agree how you will measure success. When we’re feeling frustrated at work, my friends and I often joke that ‘If only everyone else was as wonderful as us, work life would be so much easier and we would achieve so much more!’ It can be frustrating when you come up against people who don’t share your views, but having a wide variety of skills, personalities and perspectives within an organisation is usually a good thing. As none of us are exactly alike, you and your board/CEO/manager might have different ideas of what success looks like. So when you are creating beautiful comms plans to improve the reach/profile/image of your organisation, agree from the outset how success will be measured. Think about gathering qualitative data such as comments from supporters, as well as showing the big numbers like social media reach.
  2. Learn from others, but don’t stand for being held in comparison. Nothing gets my hackles up more than the throwaway comment that ‘Such and such has achieved such and such and they’re exactly the same as us.’ No organisation is the same and being compared to another that may work in the same cause area but have a different approach, ethos and focus – or a team three times the size of yours – is not helpful. Learn about and from your competitors so that you can bat these unhelpful comparisons back like a pro. CharityComms publishes numerous case studies from other organisations to help us learn and grow as a sector.
  3. Be proud of being the expert! I was at a meeting once where, on being challenged on their plans for their area of work, a colleague proclaimed (tongue-in-cheek), ‘I’m not saying I’m the expert in X… but I am the expert in X…’ It was such a brilliant way of not only diffusing the situation but of reminding the challenger that they were not just pulling their ideas out of thin air, they were based on their vast knowledge of and experience in the subject. If, like me, you’re not normally comfortable being this bold, when you’re presenting plans always make sure you have some anecdotes from your previous experience and show what research you have done to help you field questions and challenges. The more we showcase our expertise, the more we will educate the uninitiated on what the profession is all about.

Until next time, happy communicating!

Claire
Director, Colvine Communications.

*CharityComms includes the following work areas in their description of communications: brand management, campaigning, consumer insight, digital and social media, fundraising communications, internal comms, marketing, market research, media relations, policy and public affairs, public/external relations, publishing and information, reputation and risk management and social marketing (behaviour change).

10 top tips for young campaigners

Last year, I was honoured to work with Envision to share my top tips for campaigning at their ‘freshers’ fair for young people embarking on social action projects focused on encouraging their peers to lead healthier lives.

If you’ve logged on or tuned in to pretty much anything over the last few weeks, you will probably agree that us more seasoned campaigners can learn a lot from our younger counterparts (I’m thinking particularly about the movement set in motion by schoolgirl Greta Thunberg)! But just in case the younger generation of changemakers need a little bit of advice, here are my 10 top tips for young (or new) campaigners!

1. Plan!
As the saying goes, “Fail to plan and plan to fail.” Campaign plans don’t have to be huge detailed documents, but the more time and effort you can put into planning, the more likely your campaign is to achieve its goals. Your plan should be based on the time, resources and budget that you have, and should cover at least the following areas: Goals, target audience, activities and evaluation. Activities might include: Key message development, resource production, website build/updates, social media, PR, partnership development and research.

2. Get to know your audience
Think about who you need to reach to make your goals a reality. It is helpful to be as specific as possible – in campaigning, there is no such thing as ‘the general public’. You will probably have more than one audience depending on your goals. If your campaign is focused on young people, then your other audiences might include parents, teachers, the media and others that have an influence on their lives.

3. Decide what you want to achieve
Setting goals that are specific, achievable and time-bound will help you focus your activity and measure your success. For example, if your campaign is about promoting healthy eating amongst 16-18-year olds, one of your goals might be to set up a Facebook support group and recruit 100 members. Another might be to get 500 signatures on a petition to ban fast food restaurants within half a mile of your school.

4. Choose the right channels
Once you know who you want to reach, you will need to do a bit of research to find out about their habits. What social networks do they use? Where do they go for news? Who do they listen to? Remember that channels can be offline as well – leaflets and posters can still be powerful campaigning tools. The number of channels you focus on should be decided depending on the time you have – it’s better to do two or three well than do 10 badly.

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5. Involve the right people
Some say that there is no such thing as a new idea. That might be debatable, but it is likely that there are other people and organisations working towards similar goals to yours. Find out who they are and approach those you think are most relevant with ideas about how you can further each others’ cause. For example, if your local NHS is campaigning on a similar issue, ask if one of their experts could be an official spokesperson for your campaign (giving your campaign extra kudos and their expert some extra airtime). Interview them and use the soundbites on social media, or in posters and press releases.

6. Use imagery
A picture really does paint a thousand words – we are far more likely to remember images than oral or written information and images can also help communicate more abstract issues. Original images are the best, but make sure you have permission from the people in the photographs to use them for your campaign. If your issue is sensitive, it is sometimes best to use stock photography and video – there are plenty of free sites out there, including http://www.freeimages.com, if you don’t have budget to use providers like iStock.

7. Develop key messages
Once you have decided what you want to change, it is a good idea to develop two or three key messages that clearly state your goals. Good key messages state the problem, the proposed solution and the action you want the audience to take. For example, for a campaign with a goal of getting teenagers to be active for at least 60 minutes a day a key message might be: ‘Today’s teenagers are more obese than any previous generation. We believe that changing the school PE uniform will make students more comfortable about taking part. That’s why we’re calling on all students to sign our petition to the head teacher to ask them to agree to work with us to make these changes.’

8. Set achievable calls to action
The aim is to create calls to action that motivate people to take action and will make substantial progress towards your goal. Calls to action should be clear and specific, and people need to see how the action they are taking will make a difference. For example, if your campaign goal is to support overweight teenagers to slim down, a call to action to ‘Support the teenagers in your life to eat healthily’ is too vague. A call to action that states something like ‘Please donate to our crowdfunder to provide school children age 13+ with portion control containers to help them pack sensible lunches’ would show your audience exactly how they can help.

9. Find out who your audience listens to
People listen to other people who are like them – people they admire and who share their own beliefs. That’s why an effective way of reaching your audience – and have them listen – is to get other people to do the talking. Find out who your audience listens to and ask them to get involved in your campaign. If you are running a campaign to stop teenagers taking up smoking, tap into their interests and explore who would be best placed to deliver the message. For example, for those interested in sport, this might be a local athlete who can talk about how smoking can affect performance.

10. Learn as you go along
Your campaign plan should include a section on evaluation to show how you will measure the effectiveness of the campaign at the end of its first cycle. But it is also useful to evaluate as you go along so you can learn what is working and make changes to improve your messages, activities etc, and to ultimately make your campaign more effective. For example, if you are using Facebook to inspire action, at the end of each week see which posts are performing the best and which ones are performing the worst. It is likely that the successful ones will have something in common – discover what this is and use them as a guide for future posts.