How to Send the Right Message

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February 3, 2011; Source: The Guardian | Celia Richardson left a job with an unnamed charity to become the director of communications for the Social Enterprise Coalition in the U.K. Readers should not be put off by her description of social enterprise as "charity's younger, smarter, somewhat angry brother." Maybe she really thinks that charities are perceptibly dumber. Give her plaudits for candor, right?

As a communications person, she thinks, however, that the dumber nonprofits have something to teach the smarter social enterprises about "build(ing) a better public image.” She suggests that the lesson isn't in telling stories about social entrepreneurs, but "stories of real, ordinary people." She acknowledges that big for-profit companies talk about their customers, the people they serve, all the time in their promotional materials, and "it should be the same with social enterprises" to enable them to "engage people and create brand awareness and loyalty."

While acknowledging that charities, businesses, and social enterprises don't want to be caught patronizing their beneficiaries, Richardson says, "Every person I've trained and prepped for a media interview to tell their own story of self-harm, alcoholism, homelessness, bereavement, fleeing abuse, has found the experience terrifically empowering."

Without buying into Richardson's implicit concern that the self-promoting social entrepreneurs of this world suffer problems with self promotion, she raises an interesting question: do charities and social enterprises that use clients and customers as fodder for PR and, frequently, fundraising abuse or misuse those people? Or do those customers and clients feel empowered when they become fundraising tools for the charities or social enterprises that are helping them?—Rick Cohen

  • Bruce Roller

    Doesn’t this depend on how the clients and customers are approached and then represented by the charity or social enterprise? I’m thinking of some of the adults with disabilities that were Jerry’s Kids poster children, and are very angry at being labelled as pitiful and a burden on their families, rather than people with their own flaws and virtues. Anything that reduces the dignity of the individuals involved is abusive. If people are offered the opportunity to tell their own inspiring stories, they are empowered. Either raises money, but at what expense?