Walkathons and fundraising dinners are not news.
That was the message hammered home by three members of the Canadian
media and one social marketer during a media panel at the Canadian
Centre for Philanthropys seventh annual Symposium. Charities
like feel-good stories, but those stories are tough to sell to
the media. News doesnt necessarily have to be good or bad,
but it has to be interesting.
The panel, entitled "Whats the story?" consisted
of The Globe and Mails AndrÉ Picard, CBC Televisions
Alison Smith, The Edmonton Journals Liane Faulder and
social marketer Ric Young, president of E.Y.E. They posed their
own questions to the sector: What story are you trying to tell?
What do you hope to accomplish by getting your name in the paper?
Will national coverage on the six oclock news and a front-page
story in a major daily really affect the way increasingly materialistic
Canadians view philanthropy?
All four stressed that before charities start telling, they should
first start listening.
AndrÉ Picard, The Globe and Mail
There are two kinds of charity people, said Picard those
with no media coverage who want to know when they are going to get
it, and those whove had coverage but are annoyed that journalists
always seem to get it wrong.
"When Michael [Hall, CCPs VP of research] was describing
the core supporters of the sector married, religious, socially
committed, stable, optimistic I couldnt help thinking
that they are the antithesis of newspaper editors," Picard
He characterized most editors as middle-aged white men who are
cynical, unstable, socially inept and irreligious. Charities just
arent part of their worldview. So instead of complaining about
how the media doesnt seem to care, charities should court
publishers, editorial boards and advertising reps at newspapers
and TV stations. Tell them your donors work on Bay St., Picard said,
or write a letter to the editor.
"Youre doing a fundraising dinner. So what?" Picard
said. "There are a dozen a week. What makes yours different?"
Good stories are about tangible results. Reporters want to know
what a charity is doing. How does a charity affect its community?
What kind of work does it do and what does your story mean nationally
Alison Smith, CBC Television
Before a charity can tell a story to a reporter, it must first understand
why the story is being told. News is about the extraordinary, Smith
said. If you want to see your story on the 10 oclock news,
you have to compete with hockey playoffs, tear gas in Quebec City
and Stockwell Day.
"For the most part, I dont think Canadians or journalists,
for that matter, understand what the voluntary sector does,"
Go behind the jargon and the spokespeople, and give a reporter
access to the people who are working the front lines the
people who are making the difference. "If youre trying
to pitch me and CTV and The Toronto Star, I want to be sure
that Im getting the best example that youve got."
Smith also advised charities to consider their relevance to major
news events. Reporters will often turn to experts to put a news
event into a larger context to make it more relevant. For example,
she said, there is a debate now surrounding mandatory volunteering
in schools. "Lead the debate on issues," she said. "You
shouldnt be afraid of that kind of conflict."
Finally, Smith pointed out that, even if a story doesnt
wind up on the 10 oclock news, it may still feature prominently
on the networks Web site. The news pages at CBC get between
700,000 and 800,000 hits each day.
Liane Faulder, The Edmonton Journal
"There has to be a story to be told and it has to be
newsy," Faulder said. "Our first business is news."
Tough, gritty stories get attention because they are often linked
to real people and real conditions in a city. "Dont be
afraid to say the tough thing."
Faulder advised charity workers to call reporters regularly to
mention what they think about an issue or about the reporters
last story. Or to give them story ideas. The reporter may not use
your idea, but he may to call you when another story breaks.
She gave a couple of examples of "newsy" stories about
the voluntary sector that had interesting people behind them. One
was about a woman who had been extremely crippled with multiple
sclerosis for years. Through alternative therapy, she recovered
fully and led a walkathon. "I couldve interviewed her
for two hours," Faulder said.
Stories that expose political injustice also get a lot of press.
An organization in Edmonton set up a "Quality of Life Commission,"
a forum for people on welfare to talk about how government cuts
have affected their lives.
"We dont know whats happening unless you tell
us," Faulder said. "Dont be shy to deal with controversy."
Ric Young, E.Y.E.
The voluntary sector must look harder at the broader picture if
it is going to sustain itself. That was Ric Youngs message.
Young is president of E.Y.E., a social marketing firm that plans
strategies and campaigns to promote social change.
"The most compelling story, it seems to me, is not the one
we have to tell, but the one we have to hear and understand,"
Young said. He pointed to an earlier presentation by Michael Hall,
VP of research at CCP, who said the lions share of the sectors
core support comes from religiously active Canadians.
Religious organizations are seedbeds of philanthropic values,
Young said. But the religiously active are rapidly becoming a subculture.
Only 25 per cent of Canadian attend weekly religious services, down
from over 50% in the 1950s. "Perhaps we ought to start praying,
whether were believers or not, that this segment doesnt
dwindle anymore," he said.
Consumerism and individualism are replacing the philanthropic
impulse. But Young believes that all is not lost, provided that
the voluntary sector can find ways to "tap the reservoirs of
good will that exist among Canadians." He cautioned, however,
against thinking that greater understanding of the sector is the
key. "If only they understood us, all will be
well this is not the answer," he said. The sector
should not assume that it has more to tell than it has to learn.
Faith communities provide a forum for discussions about values and
relevance to society, he said. Likewise, the voluntary sector needs
to take not just its story, but "greater moral conversations"
out to the broader general public.
Reprinted with permission from Front & Centre, July 2001,
Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. For information: www.ccp.ca.
See the Canadian Centre for Philanthrophys Sources
listing for more information.