Charities and the Impact of PR Support


Harriet Lynch, Capital Markets

Selective Mutism Information and Research Association (SMIRA)

Charities and the Impact of PR Support

Charities have come under a bit of heat recently. Accusations of corruption, mismanagement, and aggressive fundraising tactics have put the actions of charities under the microscope.

Charities and fundraising

The charities that get the most attention in the press are, predictably, those that have blundered or those with a celebrity figurehead. But these charities are the exception to the rule.

Most charities perform good and vital work. But many struggle to raise funds because most people are unfamiliar with them or their cause. Instead, much-needed donations go to well-known charity brands or "mega-charities", like Oxfam or Save the Children.

Charity brands like Oxfam are often celebrity-endorsed and their fundraising activities raise vast sums: Oxfam raised £389m in the 12 months to March 2014, £24m of which was reported as surplusThis is cetainly to be applauded.

However, their appeals have a huge financial impact on smaller UK charities, such as the Missing Persons Helpline, Childline, and the Selective Mutism charity, SMIRA. High-profile and overseas campaigns, like the Tsunami appeal, often present a challenge for lesser known charities, the knock-effect being that they then struggle to get press coverage and vital donations.

Thus, the importance of good public relations becomes apparent. The purpose of PR is to grow and improve an organisation and ultimately for it to achieve success. The complication with raising charity profiles is that fundraising efforts cannot appear to be exhaustive, or else otherwise donations will cease.

Charities must also appear trustworthy – a whiff of suspicion and the donations will cease. A key role for PR, in addition to raising awareness of a charity’s cause, is to communicate to potential and current donors how their donations are being spent and to highlight past successes. By publicising the information, charities can earn the trust of the public.

PR can also help to differentiate charities in the minds of sponsors and donors and to focus on key messages and unique selling points. Sponsors are often overwhelmed with hundreds of charity appeals and fundraising events; PR can define a charity’s target audience and thus effectively isolate appropriate media outlets.

Redleaf and SMIRA

Redleaf Communications has been working with the Selective Mutism Information and Research Association (SMIRA) for over a year now to help raise the profile of Selective Mutism (SM). SM is an anxiety-based mental health disorder, usually beginning in early childhood, which prevents a person from being able to speak out in a certain situations.

Despite common misconceptions, SM is not a choice. It is estimated to affect at least 1 in every 140 children and is three times as common in bilingual children. Yet despite being fairly commonplace it is relatively unheard of.


To gain a deeper insight we sat down with SMIRA’s Head of Coordination, Lindsay Whittington, to discuss SM and the impact of having PR support, specifically through the Selective Mutism awareness month back in October 2015, to raise awareness of the disorder and Charity.

Q - What has been the impact of having Redleaf’s help during the October awareness campaign?

A - Redleaf has helped us to achieve a much wider response to the Awareness Campaign than we could have achieved on our own.  We were particularly pleased with the spread of media articles in the Press.

Q - How will SMIRA’s benefit from its new website?

A - The new website is bright and cheerful and will encourage visitors to stay and explore the site.  In turn we hope some of those visitors will take up membership of one of our Facebook groups and share their experiences for the benefit of others or maybe arrange some type of fundraising for us.

Q - How can people seek help if they suspect a friend or family member to have SM?

A - If you suspect someone of having SM, we would recommend that firstly you check out the diagnostic criteria for the condition – this can be found on our website at  If the person concerned is a child, then the parents should discuss the situation with the school, which should then bring in a Speech & Language Therapist or an Educational Psychologist.  Parents can help by introducing strategies explained on our website.

Q - What has been the feedback from the individuals involved in the campaign?

A - There has been good feedback from those members involved – they were generally supportive and keen to help where possible.  A number of our members contributed to media articles and were excited to see their stories in print or featured on the radio.

Q - What treatments are available for people with SM?

A - As SM is anxiety-based, the most common treatment in the UK is by means of behavioural therapy, which involves helping the client to face their fears through very small steps.  In the case of SM this is usually through a strategy known as ‘sliding-in’ or ‘Fading.’  There are other lesser-known treatments for SM but as every case presents differently, sometimes the therapist has to think outside the box and use the most appropriate method.

Q - What are some ways in which people can help raise awareness of SM and the work of SMIRA?

A - One of the most effective ways of raising awareness is by fund-raising, particularly through workmates or the general public.  Even small events such as coffee mornings, cake sales or car boot sales can produce results.  SMIRA has a range of leaflets available for distribution.  Social media channels can also be useful, particularly through Facebook and Twitter.

Q - What is a fact about SM that most people wouldn’t know about or would be surprised to hear?

A - Probably most people would be surprised to hear that SM affects 1 in every 141 children – similar numbers to those for autism.

Q - How does SMIRA see itself growing?

A - In recent years we have had an increasing internet presence and we expect to see this grow further.  It would be good to see some online training courses developed, but that will depend on funding being available.

Q - How can people donate to SMIRA?

A - Donations can either be made direct to SMIRA, by card via the ‘Donate’ button on the website, or through Justgiving or MyDonate donation sites.

For further information and the opportunity to donate to SMIRA, please see: