Why most of your comms work is really fundraising

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If you work for a medical research charity, when you’re writing about medical research, you’re probably fundraising. This blog explains why I think that and, what it means for your work. 

Who is this for? What do we want them to do? And why?

These are the three key questions you should be asking when writing (or producing any kind of content) for your charity.

What follows here is a bit of a ‘work in progress’. I’m setting out my stall in terms of what I think science communication should look like in medical research charities.

There may be things here that you disagree with, or you think I’ve horribly misunderstood. Whatever your opinion, I’d love to hear from you, I’m always open to a discussion, and always open to be proved wrong!

Three key audiences

people in a crowd

Charities have lots of different people they might want to talk to. But when it comes to communicating medical research, I think there are three main ‘lay’ audiences that medical research charities should be focusing on:

  • People with lived experience: Patients, people living with conditions, their families, carers, and so on.
  • Potential future supporters: self-explanatory – these are people your charity is trying to convince to donate money (or do other things such as volunteering or campaigning)
  • Current supporters: These are the people who are donating to your charity to fund the research (or volunteering or campaigning and so on). 

Clearly, there’s a lot of overlap when it comes to these audiences. Many supporters of medical research charities also have personal experience of the illness/condition the charity works on. Many patients may want to support and donate to charities in the future. And many current supporters will be future supporters too (as in they’ll give again in the future). 

What job are you doing?

Two of the three audiences above are defined by whether or not they are supporting your charity financially. Please forgive me for that. But as I’ve mentioned before, I think there’s really only three roles that anyone who works for a charity is doing at any one time. 

Either you’re:

  1. directly ‘making the difference’ the charity hopes to make, or 
  2. helping to raise money to allow others to do that, or 
  3. helping colleagues to do the other two things (I feel that’s really reserved for IT, finance, HR, and other colleagues in these crucial ‘facilities’ or ‘services’ role.)

When you’re writing about research, you’re often not ‘making the difference’ for the charity. 

Funding the research, managing the research, and doing the research – sure, that is making a difference. 

Writing public health information – signs and symptoms, screening, what people can do to reduce their risk of illness – is making the difference. Writing health information for patients to help them manage their condition is making the difference.

For patients and others with lived experience, you might be writing about research because you want them to be involved in it somehow (clinical trials, studies, priority setting activities, reviewing grants, and so on). This is making the difference. Patients also often say that hearing about research gives them hope for themselves and for others like them in the future – that makes a difference to them. 

Otherwise, writing about research is not making a difference. Why not? 

Most science that charities fund is early-stage research. That means the impact of the research won’t be felt for many years from now. By that point, it will not be research, but medicine – drugs or tests or procedures or interventions that will help people live longer, healthier, happier lives. Writing about it then will be delivering the impact – i.e. helping people get access to these new things. 

So really, when you’re writing about medical research, you’re probably fundraising. Unless you’re writing for people with lived experience, that’s the only option left.  

Answer their questions

two people discussing a project

Whether you’re writing a blog post, or filming a video, or planning a webinar, or producing any kind of content… what you’re basically doing is answering a question. Maybe not a question that your audience is explicitly asking, but a question that fundamentally, subconsciously, they want an answer to.

But what are these questions? 

If you’re writing about research, and you’re not ‘making the difference’, then as I’ve explained, you’re fundraising. But what if you’re ‘not a fundraiser’, or you don’t have ‘fundraiser’ in your job title? How do you know what questions need answering?

I believe the implication of all the above is that fundraising colleagues should be involved in some way in producing all science communication content you make

And so my number one tip would be to speak to your fundraising colleagues to find out the kinds of questions they’re often asked by their contacts and prospects. These are the kinds of questions you should be answering when you’re writing or producing any research content. 

To put in another way, when you’re creating research content you should be thinking “how can this be used to raise money?”. “Could this be used to attract new donors?”. “Is this something that current donors want to know?”

Now, I’m not suggesting that every piece of content should be signed off by the Director of Fundraising (we all hate sign-off). But there are lots of ways that your fundraising colleagues (who are the experts, by the way) can be involved. For example, if you’re coming up with ideas for blogs for the next few months, invite a fundraising colleague to contribute ideas for blogs they would pass on to their contacts. 

At the very least, you should be thinking about how the content your producing could be repurposed to be used by your fundraising colleagues. 

To get started, here’s a few ideas for questions that the three audiences above could be asking:

People with lived experience:

  • How can I support research?
  • Are there clinical trials/studies I can take part in?
  • What new developments are just on the horizon?

Future supporters

  • Why do we need research? 
  • Why do you need me to donate money towards research?
  • How will research improve the lives of people with ____?
  • Will there ever be a cure for ____?
  • Are you funding any research into ____?

Current supporters

  • What have you spent my money on? 
  • What has that achieved? And what difference will that make? 
  • What research are you funding into ______?

Agree or disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts on all this. Get in touch, either by email, tweet me @DrRichardBerks or follow me on LinkedIn.

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