Charity Presentations

At the risk of being obvious and boring, I’m going to split this blog into two, big parts.This week it’s why charities need to be particularly good at presenting, and then their particular presentation-problems. Ready?

Next week I’ll look at what charities can do about it all...

Why charities need to be give presentations and what their presentation problems are

Let’s make things easy for ourselves, by taking these one type of presentation at a time.

Presentations which are essentially verbal report

I’ve started with this kind of presentation because, frankly, it’s the most simple to blog about. The problems here are the same as for any organisation, from your local community library all the way up to Wane Enterprises the issues are the same. The differences between for-profit and for-something-else aren’t particularly fundamental. The idea is still to get information over to people:

  • as succinctly as possible
  • in ways they understand
  • so that they can take action on that information.

So far so good. There are likely to be some tactical level differences in presentations though. For example, a for-profit organisation is likely to have both the resources available to spend on a presentation or even a presentation designer/trainer, such as me. Charities probably won’t have that so readily.

Additionally, the same lack of resource filters into the audience too – they might not have the time, training or expertise to fully understand a complicated financial presentation, for example. That in turn makes it even more important the presenter is on top of the presentation an delivers information in the best way. But there’s that resource issue thing again… in some ways it’s the perfect storm.

Presentations that educate

I’ve never met anyone who worked for, or supported a charity that didn’t want to explain how what the charity did. I’ve never helped a charity that wasn’t keen on explaining. I’ve never been on the board of Trustees of a charity that didn’t have somewhere in its Trust documents the idea that it should educate and explain what what it does. It’s kind of a given. Without explaining what you do, you can’t move on to any of the other kinds of presentations.

And given that almost by definition charities have to be doing stuff that’s worth telling people about, this should be easy, right?

Very, very wrong.

The Charity Commission website for England & Wales throws around data about well over 150,000 registered charities in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own systems). Or to put it another way, from the presenter’s point of view, that’s a lot of competing background noise to be cut through. There’s a lot of competition for people’s attention (and good will!) that an education presentation needs to cut through.

And on top of that, of course, is the issue that I feel lies underneath that competition for goodwill and attention… the competition for any engagement at all. A lot of people will simply cut off from any education done by charities. I’m getting personal here but my experience of working with and for charities is that:

  • people are busy and simply can’t cope (or feel they can’t cope) with more information
  • they’ve got something against what they think the charity does and won’t listen to any information
  • they’re afraid that if they listen to information they may have to admit to themselves that they can’t morally ignore the problem, which might be expensive:  on the other hand, if they can manage to avoid your presentation and admitting a problem exists, they can happily carry on not solving it.

Call my cynical if you like.

There are variations around this theme, of course, such as when people don’t want to know how efficient a charity is because then they can’t pretend they don’t give money to it “because they just waste it on CEO salaries”.

All of this means that presentations that educate people have to face up to a big issue: people often don’t want to be educated and so the presentation’s sheer existence poses a challenge. For the presenter, you’re pushing an elephant uphill. In a business presentation, people might not want to be there but it’s rare for them to be actually be hostile to whats being covered.   Trust me, if they’re that hostile they find an excuse to to be there! 😉

A cultural problem or charity presentations

I’m acutely aware of this one, as both my children are ‘geeeeeeet-hot’ on this issue and one of them in particular has a rather impressive MSc covering the issue. Sometimes you can’t do right in your presentation for doing wrong. It’s why, for example, there’s no over-all image for this blog. Any image I liked the look of which encapsulated the idea of charity/presentations at the same time undermined what charities are trying to do. An outstretched hand, for example, implies that all charities do is help people who can’t help themselves – but that can easily create a dependency culture. The questions that some charities face are complex and complicated… and those are the hardest of things to put into a simple presentation.

Presentations to deal with emergencies

I figure there are two types of emergency here. The first is the obvious one such as a natural disaster and/or a famine – something that’s not caused by the charity itself. The other emergencies are self-inflicted – such as when Christian Aid accidentally messed up a mailshot a couple of years ago and people got letters addressed to other supporters.

The former type need presentations which are a combination of the education/appeal presentations but the other is a problem. The job of the presentation at this point is to:

  • stop it getting worse by giving a bad presentation (in either substance or style)
  • start reassuring people that things are being done to sort the mess out (with a timetable!); and
  • help explore what will be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The last bit can be preeeeeety tricky when the problem is caused by a simple mistake by an over-worked, under-paid, probably temporary, confused-by-the-tech intern and the fact that while mailmerge should be very simple, some software programs go out of their way to make you wish you’d taken up blind fire-eating instead.

Presentations to get donations

In many ways this is the ultimate presentation and the ultimate presentation challenge. All the others lead to this in a kind of cycle.

There are  lot of similarities between the kind of presentations charities make to ‘big donors’ such as Lankelly Chase (why have I picked on them? I used to be on their board) and the kind of ‘pitch’ presentations that businesses make to funders, investors and potential significant customers. I can’t begin to count the number of these I’ve worked on! The aim is to show that the investment/donation will do more if it’s given to you than if it’s given to someone else, or not given at all. Simple… in theory! 😉

Presentations in summary

Is that it?  Have I captured all the different types of presentations make? I’m hopeful that if not, the kind of presentation you have in mind is a hybrid of the presentation types I’ve mentioned, at least… What do you think, gentle reader?


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