Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it – Albert Schweitzer

The Irish Times reported yesterday (registration required) about the regulation of charities in Ireland. Tom O’Higgins, a corporate governance consultant, criticised the current system in place to regulate charities and called on such organisations to self regulate. Charities are coming under increasing pressure to become more transparent as the public begins to question how much of their money actually gets to their intended recipient. Unfortunately I foresee a situation where the profession of Public Relations will come into disrepute when people begin to question how much charitable organisations are spending on PR.

First off, let me state that I do not think this is the case for all organisations, but apparently PR is normally filed away under ‘administration’ in the accounts. Saying that however, there are plenty of consultancies that do pro bono work for charities. So the PR ‘cost’ I’m talking about is staff with a Public Relations function and third party costs like photography, etc.

A lot of people think that if your cause is just then you will be given coverage in the press, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. There is a large amount of charities out there, all competing for the same piece of the pie. It’s hard to ask for money in light of recent tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or to compete with a rival charity that has celebrity spokespeople. This might be uncomfortable for some people to hear, but charitable organisations need PR.

This post harks back to a previous one about Andrew Marr’s criticism of MPs’ communications skills. While Andrew Marr is right to say that politicians need media skills, the general public are never quite comfortable when figures for such communications training are exposed. In much the same sense, the same ill feeling is held against charities for spending more than they have to, especially when it is on a service that people feel there is no need for.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, charities have to engage with key audiences more in a bid to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones at the same time. AS PR practitioners, I think we’re going to have to come up with more cost-effective solutions to help them do this. I personally feel that Social Media has a role in achieving this. If volunteers could keep an online diary of what they were doing and show photos of the people they were actually helping, rather than reading a ghost-written card of some orphan, I think the general public would be in a fair more comfortable position to commit to a cause.

One Response to “Irish charities warned over self regulation – PR to suffer as a result?”  

  1. 1 David Phillips

    Piaras, Your foreboding is well placed. One of the reasons PR is so badly represented in the public eye is that its evaluation is pretty poor (not to mention the abomination of AVE, the barbarian’s measure) and there is a great deal of confusion as to what PR is. I did post a view (Why the World Needs PR) a while ago and will update it again soon but without PR we all become poorer.

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Piaras Kelly
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