Annie Constable, Senior Digital Marketing and Communications Officer at Good Finance explores how charities and social enterprises can best communicate with their customers/consumers through the cost-of-living crisis.

Annie Constable

Frontline organisations have proved their resilience time and time again, particularly in recent years, with many in the sector adapting and pivoting at pace to accommodate crippling demand in the face of adversity, alongside ever-diminishing funding options. However, experts are predicting a tough few months for the sector  – and a long winter lies ahead.

Here at Good Finance, we aim to be the number one trusted source of information on social investment. A big part of that is supporting organisations through tough times, as well as supporting them to grow and scale with repayable finance when the time is right. As such, we’ve put together a list of the do’s and don’ts for Social Enterprises and Charities, trying to navigate communicating with their users during this time.  

#1 DO: Put your users front and centre  

We’ve said this before, but we’re not afraid of repeating ourselves; adopt a user-centred approach. Think about how users might be affected by the on-going economic circumstances and adjust your language accordingly. For example, if you’re asking for support, including sentences like ‘Please support if you are in a position to do so…’ to promote inclusivity. Review the content you plan to share for the rest of the year to ensure it’s appropriate and is going to be the most effective in achieving your end goal.

Our blog on understanding your users is a good place to get started and if you’re new to human-centred design, check-out this free online course from Acumen Academy.

 #2 DON’T: Tell people what to do

The Cost-of-Living Crisis will have a very real impact for people across the UK. From food, to energy, to transport and housing, almost every area of our day to day lives will be affected. There may be people operating life-saving medical equipment at home, households trying to feed families, or people simply trying to stay warm and do their jobs! 

Consider the tone of your communications and don’t follow in the footsteps of OVO Energy, an energy company that advised customers to ‘do star jumps’ and ‘cuddle pets’ in their blog post which offered 10 tips on keeping warm in the winter without turning the heating on. 

Such trivial nonsense is nothing short of insulting, particularly to those really feeling the impact of rising costs. Make sure your tone takes into consideration the very real impact the crisis will be having on people.

 #3 DO: Acknowledge the Cost-Of-Living Crisis as a spectrum

It’s important to acknowledge that people will experience the effects of the Cost-Of-Living crisis differently. For some, it’s cutting out on what’s now perceived as ‘luxuries’, famously takeaway coffees and video streaming service subscriptions. For others, it’s choosing between eating and heating. Research shows that the cost of living crisis will disproportionately affect those who are already marginalised, and deepen inequality further

So, what does that mean for your communications? 

If your users experience marginalisation or are particularly vulnerable, be sure to be mindful when communicating their experiences and needs. Think about how you can effectively use different formats such as video, stories, infographics and statistics. To get started, we recommend this blog on telling powerful impact stories. 

#4 DON’T: Be vague or unclear

Focus on clarity in your communications, and address the ‘why’.

 With the instability of the market as it stands, many organisations are having to adapt to increasing energy prices and pass on these additional costs to their consumers. Don’t forget, organisations across the UK and beyond are doing the exact same and people are generally understanding of these pressures – even more so when you’re working hard to deliver social impact.

 Be transparent with your users and address the ‘why’ piece on any price hikes – and this can come via social media, email, letter or even in video form from your CEO. We love this example from Cooperative Bakery, Homebaked, who informed their customers of an unavoidable increase in prices via Twitter.

#5 DO: Champion Lived Experience 

As storytellers within the social sector, it’s essential for us to understand and navigate the different and ‘powerful patterns of thinking’ to challenge the narrative on poverty. One of the best ways to do so is by providing a platform for those experiencing inequality and poverty to tell their story. 

Talk to your beneficiaries to see if you can involve them in upcoming campaigns and don’t be afraid of doing things differently. Here’s some top tips on creating high-quality video content on a budget.  

#6 DON’T: Be scared of telling your investors and funders 

If you have already taken social investment and are struggling to make repayments, make sure you pick up the phone and call your investor. They’re human, they understand that circumstances change and they’re on your side. 

They don’t know what they don’t know, so make sure you share updates as soon as you have them - if they can’t help or support you financially, they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can. This blog explores 6 Tips on How to Build Strong and Honest Relationships with Investors

#7 DO: Think both internally and externally

Staff wellbeing is, and always has been, a priority for the sector, with over 7 in 10 Social Enterprise UK survey respondents reported being a Living Wage employer, but it’s never been more important to look after the health and wellbeing of your workforce. Everyone will be affected by the economic circumstances in one way or another, but for some, it can be life-changing. 

Frequent, proactive responses as events unfold will be essential in keeping stress to a minimum during this time. Offer flexibility whenever you can and if some employees work from home, try to understand more about their set-up so you can support where possible, and that doesn’t always have to be a cost. For example, for someone living in a crowded house-share, taking calls with video turned on might not always be possible. 

Be clear about your plan for the future and don’t forget to emphasise what’s going well for the organisation – sometimes a little bit of positivity can go a long way.

We hope that’s been helpful and provided some insight on the best ways to communicate with your end users during this difficult time. If you’ve adapted your organisation and are looking to grow and scale, search for suitable social investors via our Fundmapper tool