Charity messages change focus in tough times

RO Communications

By Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson

Wednesday, September 26, 2012    

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"For it is in giving that we receive." Francis of Assisi

Almost everyone I know is walking a financial tight-rope. Okay, so perhaps I need some new friends but unfortunately nowadays there is not much lee-way for us to be as generous as we were a few years ago. Charitable organisations set up to help the very poor and dispossessed, and whose very existence depend on the kindness of strangers, are having a tougher time to persuade, you and I to part with our hard earned money. Their messages have to ardently compete with the cacophony of demands from assorted bill collectors and our other day-to-day expenses. So, how have these organisations changed the way they communicate to encourage people to continue to be generous?

Whether they are flush with funds or not, some people are just very mean, parsimonious and penny-pinching. They are, as my good friend says, "tight till they squeak". They have a well-rehearsed litany excuses as to why they absolutely cannot part with a single dollar bill to help a cause. Ask them to donate their time to a worthy cause and they become down-right skittish, as if your request involved them losing a vital limb or organ. These friends of ours will tell you that their rent/mortgage light bill, water rate or gas bill are just too high or else the dog ate their last pay check. They will concoct any tall tale so that every dollar that they earn is safely tucked away in their wallets or bank accounts. Then there are those who will never say no to giving to a worthy cause and I do not mean those of our friends who will publicly make loud, bombastic promises to give until it hurts. The only problem here with this latter group is that it is you and I, the persons seeking the donation, who often suffer the hurt as we wander hither and yon trying to find these erstwhile promise-makers. Without an audience for them the urge to give quickly fades and becomes null and void and so that artful dodger has once again escaped our clutches.

If you are a truly giving soul it is important to ensure that you research and double check the authenticity of the organisations to which you will be making your donations, whether in cash or in kind. These days we do not need to be warned of the many scam artistes who have built their careers on fleecing the unsuspecting giver. Further, neither you nor I need to find ourselves sweaty and jogging way past doctor's orders, in the midst of a group of donors like ourselves running a charitable 5K, only to find out that the lead organiser has outrun us all — taking most of the funds with him.

Fortunately there are many solid, well established, genuine and caring charities stretched across the globe as well as in Jamaica. The United Way of Jamaica is one such not-for profit organisation which, since its inception in 1985, has as its mission, "to increase the organised capacity of people to care for one another". Ably led by the tireless Winsome Wilkins and her team, the organisation has supported programmes across Jamaica around, health care, education, agricultural, community development and youth empowerment. According to the latest statistics on its website, since the organisation's inception, over $900 million have been disbursed to more than 3,997 agencies, institutions and projects islandwide.

The United Way of Jamaica has a Workplace Philanthropy Programme which allows each employed person the chance to support the work of the private voluntary sector through payroll deductions. It's goal is to enlist the support of 100,000 employed persons, each giving an average of $100 per month. Did you know that the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force are the United Way's biggest donors? Almost 5,000 members of the force consistently fund United Way's programme. The JCF has consistently emerged as the most outstanding giving organisation over a number of years at the United Way of Jamaica's Annual Nation Builders® and Employee Awards Ceremony, copping the top award for the last three years.

Over the years, like other similar organisations, the United Way (UW) has had to find newer ways to communicate giving. Chairman of the United Way Communications Committee, Mrs Maxine Whittingham Osbourne explained that, "recently the UW has undergone dramatic shifts in how it serves communities. The historic "community chest" with a broad charitable mission has been transformed into a change agent focused on community impact — mobilising the caring power of communities. Firstly and most importantly we communicate our messages by our works and our people (volunteers, donors, employees) as we truly believe that "by our deeds you shall know them".

"Our communication has to shift as well to accurately portray UWJ's organisational shift using language our audiences can embrace. Traditional communication methodologies have been coupled with new technology to maintain edge and attract the next generation of donors and volunteers," she said. For the tech savvy donors they have also incorporated the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, their website, among others. They also utilise face-to-face communication via workplace philanthropy and meetings with potential donors.

There are many other reputable donor organisations such as the United Way of Jamaica who are positively impacting our lives listening and heeding to their newly crafted messages is our gift to them.

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: Visit her website at and post your comments.





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