I attended a very interesting – and enjoyable – private dinner last night, hosted by Lewis PR in the swish Covent Garden Hotel. The ‘Charity Digital’ dinner invited seven charity PR and digital media types – with representatives from Lewis PR and Matt Cartmell of PR Week – to debate some of the key themes facing non-profits in this new political climate and time of ubiquitous social media.
The evening was broadly ‘Chatham House rules’ so I won’t betray my fellow diners by reporting much here; but needless to say familiar issues around Big Society cropped up. To different degrees the guests felt disconnected, confused and slightly snubbed by the Coalition Government in terms of ‘consultation’ on it’s rather vague ideology.
Echoing what delegates were saying last week at the Citizens Advice AGM in York, it’s pretty plain that the bread and butter work of voluntary sector and community groups (service provision of one sort or another, community project work, and so on) pretty much personifies Big Society. Not saying it’s synonymous with it, but it embodies the spirit of it. There is a feeling that the sector is being asked to simply ‘carry on doing what it’s doing’ (fine) – but in many cases with less statutory funding or state support that it currently enjoys…
I’m starting to feel fairly nonplussed with Big Society, as in reality isn’t it just a new set of semantics in which the voluntary sector must couch the work it’s already doing? The secret is there is no secret. There’s nothing to get, there’s not even a man behind the curtain booming out the voice of the Wizard of Oz.
In which case, this could actually be a ripe time to a) use its topicality to pitch a lot of our existing work to the media under the BS brolly, and b) really embrace social media and get to know who our loyal ‘brand ambassadors’ are – and reach out to them. We will all have them – in Facebook, Twitter, blogging away in praise of us, speaking to their friends about us. Who are these people – and how can we support them to help us fundraise, swell our ranks of volunteers, and raise local awareness of our work?
Meanwhile, I don’t think I’m breaking any confidentiality by revealing Lewis PR’s idea for a kind of third sector ‘Big Society sanity-checker’ consortium (encompassing any organisations who wished to join). This group could publicly hold the Government to account through the national press in the form of joint Letters; and keep asking questions around the austerity cuts and what they mean to our delivery of Big Society ideals on the ground. I’d suggest getting in touch with Lewis PR if you wanted to discuss this idea further. You can also follow them on Twitter.
I’d like to thank my hosts for a most insightful and lively dinner and debate, and for bringing charity likeminds together to try and solve a problem like Society…