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How not to be the 'next Oxfam': panel discussion on charities at The Drum and Sun Arms


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

March 21, 2018 | 4 min read

In the wake of the Oxfam scandal, where staff are alleged to have hired Haiti survivors as prostitutes following the 2010 earthquake, while working overseas, The Drum spoke to three industry experts at The Drum and Sun Arms to see how the brand can chart a return to form and fix its wounded reputation using marketing.

Managing director and founder, The Clearing, Richard Buchanan says that there is a tone, particularly from the media, that puts charities in a negative light. The public wants to trust charities that are upfront and transparent. He explains: "Charities need to show trust, that they have integrity and to start thinking about how they can reconnect with people. Treating people as individuals, having a different type of conversation."

Head of Earnest Labs, James Wood says: "A lot of the ways that charities do things is seen as old hat. Any time you are put under pressure to rethink, work out how you can really get trust from the public, which that might mean doing things in an engaging and interesting way." While a scandal can hit a charity badly, Wood explains that they can spin it to their advantage to make themselves look better by listening to their donors and finding out how they want to donate.

Managing partner, Gravity Thinking, Andrew Roberts says that from the point of view that there are communications channels immediately available to charities, they have the ability to be transparent and show the good that they do and how they spend the money.

It is impossible for Oxfam to dissociate themselves from the scandal, says Buchannan. People who are sceptical about charities will continue to be so. "The advice we give our clients is pretty much focused on them and their course and to build that promise for the brand and make sure that they are getting that out in new, different and exciting ways.

"You can't dissociate yourself from this completely, but you can build a strong brand, get your message out, do good work and hopefully that will see you through. "

Roberts adds that charities should start developing a personality and have a person that is outside of the people. He says: "Brands want to know your online/social personality, where all the channels open up. You have to have a personality and point of view, which allows you rise to above individuals in the organisation."

One of the challenges that bigger charities face when appealing to audiences is being personal with donors. More people are supporting something that is close to them and is at a local level. Both Woods and Buchanan explain that the big charities need to keep up with the trends, start thinking of donors as individuals and how they can get them involved.

Becoming modernised from a social point of view is understanding how you can use the social channels available to you. Roberts says that a charity's organic reach is quite high as people have a natural reason to want to share what they are talking about, but it is a missed opportunity for some. Charities can use those channels to create content around what they do, put small amounts of money behind them to target the right people in their database and get them to share the content.

But how do you engage with the people who do a one of donation? Roberts explains that charities shouldn't need to go straight back in and ask for money. Thank them, give them content and tell them how their donation was spent on something good.

For charities to ensure that they are constantly doing good and eradicating rogue behaviour, it has to come from the leaders says Buchanan. They have to be able to talk. Charities can be very conservative and wary of how they do things, they are worried about being the next Oxfam. "The work that we do is around how to give them a framework that helps them to encourage that. Then how do you hard wire that into an organisation. Getting the culture right is very important.

He concludes: "If you think about what is happening in the world and how Oxfam has been caught out, it has never been more important for charities to have those frameworks."

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