Last year was unprecedented for the charity sector, and for the hospice movement in particular. The next 12 months will be the year of reckoning for many, as they find themselves at the sharp end of falls in income, fewer events and fundraising activities, while addressing the increasingly complex health needs of the communities they serve.

Government funding is likely to remain static, while demand for high quality services increases as people live longer, and live longer with conditions such as cancer and dementia. Most hospices will need to do more with little or no additional funding, and the needs of end-of-life patients will become increasingly complex. There will also be changes in primary care and the impact of sufferers of Long Covid will seek hospice day services.

Against this background, hospices are going to have to do things differently – mergers, partnerships and new collaborations, new ways of doing things and thinking differently. If handled correctly, these can provide a positive outcome for patients, service users, families, staff and volunteers, creating solid ground on which to provide much-needed services in the years ahead.

Based upon our experience of helping charities, including hospices, to communicate concisely and clearly with their key audiences, Lime Marketing’s charity team offers five tips to make sure whatever your plans are, they’re received positively.

‘It has always struck me as odd that businesses think of mergers as a way of increasing their market share, attracting more customers and growing the business, whereas charities tend to think of mergers as a last resort to avoid downsizing and insolvency.’

Tracey Bleakley CEO, Hospice UK, 2020.

If Hospice UK had been able to hold its trustees’ conference in March last year, the theme of which was: 2020 Vision does your board have it? then mergers would have been high on the agenda. The above statement from Tracey Bleakley would have been one of the key messages. Merger should not ideally take place against a background of mounting financial losses, yet according to data from charity consultants, Eastside Primetime, in over half of charity mergers, one charity is in deficit.

  1. Accentuate the positive

As Tracey Bleakley points out, the private sector focuses on attracting more customers when considering new partnerships and collaborations, and the charity sector should follow suit. While there maybe financial deficit in the background, improved services to users, value for money for donors and funders, and improved opportunities for staff and volunteers should be the main focus.

  1. Control the agenda

Maintaining a focus upon the positive aspects of merger comes through thorough preparation by the leadership team, chair and trustees. Lime has looked at press coverage from a number of local hospice mergers in England, where although the team had prepared their case for merger in a printed prospectus, the local press ran with the deficit of one of the charities. This made it difficult to get back on the positive agenda with staff, volunteers, donors and funders.

  1. Work on every channel

The secret to keeping control of the agenda is to work across all channels, including printed media, local press, radio and television slots, website and social media and maintain a consistent positive message across all the available channels. You can do this by agreeing which messages you want to reach which audience at what time. Research shows that positive messages are reinforced the more channels they are viewed on, so planning is key.

  1. Staff and stakeholders first

Nothing will prevent a positive merger experience more than staff, volunteers and stakeholders hearing news about their hospice in the press before the leadership team, chair and trustees have spoken to them. This becomes increasingly important if the merger is mixed news for staff, involving moving premises, joining a new team or more seriously job losses and TUPE arrangements.

  1. Avoid a DIY SOS merger

Local hospice provision is a treasured possession for a local community, passions can run high during any period of change. Most hospice settings combine communications with another function, such as fundraising, and in a merger the leadership team can be quickly overwhelmed by the calls on their time and resources, which can lead to losing control of the narrative. At this stage, many hospices seek professional crisis help from a communications agency, which is always more expensive and less effective than setting a budget, engaging a trusted and well-recommended communications team from the outset, and monitoring and managing the budget.

If you’re in the hospice sector, and the issues raised here are ones you’ll need to address this year, we’d be delighted to talk to you. Contact our head of PR and social media Mark Whitehouse at markw@limemcp.co.uk or call 07718 108695.

Posted: 03/02/2021

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