Communication can be a deceptive task, especially for charities – who often need to balance tackling important causes with inviting diverse audiences to join them in achieving their mission.
A charity that achieves this balance is Trees for cities. They help local communities plant trees to bring lasting change to their neighborhoods. We chat with Emma Peet, Marketing and Communications Manager at Trees for Cities, to learn how to find the balance between communicating problems and solutions, writing accessible communications, telling stories with the people at the center, And much more.
Digital Charity (CD): How do you approach the topic of climate change in your communications to help people feel empowered to take action?
Emma Peet (PE): At its core, what’s special about Trees for Cities is that we are ultimately a service delivery charity, focused on urban tree planting and greening cities. We engage with residents across the UK to volunteer on our planting days. With climate change mitigation one of the key benefits of our wonderful trees – and with over 80% of the UK’s population living in cities – this is a clear call to action in our communications that really encourages people to get involved.
Planting trees is a very practical way to do something positive for the environment and engage with your local community, something our volunteers tell us time and time again. Showcasing this in our case studies and videos helps remove any potential barriers to climate action. As climate change is a very serious and multi-faceted topic, one that we are far from solving as a human race, we always want to find a balance between presenting discouraging facts and proposing solutions.
CD: How does your use of language change when you involve different groups, for example children, businesses, international audiences and the public? And do you have useful internal processes that help you speak in the best possible way to these different groups?
EP: Excellent question! It is essential to ask our audiences how they want to get involved in achieving their goal, such as our youth panel and Youth program participants who give us valuable feedback. During our consultation sessions in the areas we work in, we speak with diverse groups (youth, faith, education and climate action, for example) to ensure we understand a wide range of needs.
Our organizational structure also means that our different teams are experienced in communicating with specific audiences. Our school team, for example, are experts in liaising with children and teachers, our engagement team frequently speaks to the general public and our corporate team manages (you guessed it) corporate relations .
CD: As part of the Language of Nature program, how have your communications become more accessible, and do you have any advice for other charities on making their communications more accessible?
EP: For some context, Language of nature focuses on how we can best connect people with disabilities to nature conservation and restoration, with an emphasis on the role communication plays in a person’s engagement with nature. The fantastic charity Sensory confidence partnered with us and provided comprehensive training on accessibility best practices.
On the ground, we have held more accessible planting events: we had a British Sign Language interpreter at our community planting day in Victoria Park, who we will look to include at future events upon request. We share accessibility information online, ensure staff are trained in accessibility for our planting days, and conduct a thorough review after the event. We’ve also created new resources for community workshops and events, which we continually evolve based on feedback. From a website perspective, we always aim for contrasting colors, clear image captions and metadata, for example.
My best advice is to partner with experts in the field like Sensory Trust and always have an open mind to aspire for better, no matter where you are in your accessibility journey. Planting “urban trees for all, by all” is our vision, which includes research into best accessibility practices.
CD: How do you use different online channels to reach and engage all the different types of people in your audience?
EP: At Trees for Cities, we often say “right tree, right place” in terms of selecting tree species. I’m going to spin this and say “Good channel, good audience” to maximize engagement! We start with data to inform our communications decisions by taking into account our key demographics. For example, we know that the lion’s share of our website visitors are between the ages of 18 and 35 and come from a variety of backgrounds. As this is quite broad, we focus on what our subscribers are searching for that brings them to our website, with tactics such as using Google AdWords.
As a small marketing and communications team, we focus our efforts on what we believe is relevant. Research from organizations like yours really helps inform our digital strategy. We shared your article internally on Social Media Facts You Need to Know in 2024and it was very informative to learn that 57% of people who watch nonprofit videos donate.
Creating more videos is something we’re focused on, like short films for social media. We are8 is a great video platform and tech tool for good that I really enjoy and we’ve seen good engagement, where you can donate to charity in exchange for the time you spend watching videos.
CD: How does the Stories section of your website help Trees for Cities achieve its goals?
EP: When I look at the last three articles published (as of November 3, 2023), they all put people at the center: planting trees in honor of Her Majesty’s coronation year, the mental health benefits of trees and celebrating obtaining an award for our President of Directors. Our mission is to improve people’s lives by planting trees in cities, and our Stories The section allows us to present specific benefits and examples of planting more trees and green spaces in urban areas.
This section is also open to volunteer editors who can contribute their knowledge and expertise (or should I say, experts!), our collective voice helping us stay relevant and maintain the diversity of our content.
It’s an exciting time for us as our 30th anniversary and National Arbor Week looms on the horizon, so you can expect to see some fun stories here!