Ellen Gunning opened up to Sarah Dascotte about her passion for charities
How and when did you first discover the charities’ world?
From a young age, I was in contact with this world through my father who was involved in community work, since he was a volunteer for the local society of St. Vincent de Paul. Besides, my mother was also a committed charity worker, so my siblings and I grew up knowing that there were less fortunate people and that charity work was a necessity. I then ended up following their footsteps and got involved in charities and community groups, before becoming secretary or chairperson of different local associations.
What motivates you to work with those organisations?
I believe that charities do a fantastic job! It’s different now from when I started to work with those associations. Years ago, their only preoccupation was to do a good job and that was enough. But today, charities are more like businesses, since they must not only have a good heart, but also be able to communicate clearly through different platforms and social media, so that their message can reach more people.
Why do charities need a Public Relations specialist?
As I explained, nowadays charities are like businesses, so they need to send out messages that are usually complex and they must do it in a clear and intelligible manner. That would be the PR specialist’s job. His/her function is indeed to help the charity to clarify the message visually, verbally but also in writing.
Why would you be the right choice to work as a PR person for those organisations?
Because I worked as a volunteer for charities before getting involved with Public Relations. Actually, I began to develop an interest in PR at the time when I was a dedicated charity worker. I chose to take courses with the Public Relations Institute of Ireland because the charity groups I was involved in asked me to write press releases, to generate publicity… That’s what led me to study Public Relations.
What services do you usually offer to charities?
We could divide those services in three branches. Firstly, I provide media training to associations, which means that I help them to create meaningful soundbites and I teach them to answer questions with ease, using simple and effective language. Secondly, I can help them to review their structures and processes to identify issues that are likely to pose problems in the future. And finally, the last branch of our services is crisis management and communication which involves putting a crisis PR team in place and preparing the team in advance of a crisis. Of course, I also provide PR services when there is already a crisis to deal with.
Can you tell us more about your experience in that field?
I have worked with charities in crisis and helped them to simplify their message. I have also trained those organisations, as well as key spokespersons.
The reason why I enjoy working with charities is because they raise specific challenges and create opportunities that companies and corporate bodies don’t have.
I must say that I’ve been very fortunate to work with charities that are active in different areas, including charities that provide aid to developing countries, to people with special needs and to children, as well as charities that are dealing with women.
What are you most proud of in your work with charities?
I think that what I’m most proud of is the fact that when the Academy was teaching students at the UCD, UCC and GMIT, we set up a project called “TAP awards”, TAP stands for Theory And Practice, which gave students an opportunity to design a fund-raising campaign for a nominated charity. Thanks to that project, we were able to raise half a million euros for charities including the Alzheimer Society, the Irish Red Cross and Bóthar. The TAP awards even won a Corporate Social Responsibility Award from Chambers Ireland. And it feels great to be able to give something back!