Death, drama departments and dingy hospices

Categories: Community Engagement.

Needless to say, these campaigns get attention and every charity wants something that existing and new supporters can publicly engage with to promote their work and cause.

Finding that thing takes a degree of luck. Getting it off the ground takes the right attitude and knowing your community.

“Finding” is the right word because the most successful social media actions start naturally – it’s how people react that can turn them into campaigns.


The hospice community has a lot to be fiercely proud about and the people hospices have touched will defend them unquestionably. As a result, when Hospice UK blogged about descriptions of hospice in BBC dramas as “dingy” and “grotty” the appetite for pushing back was clear.

We were forwarded an email from the Emma Hodges, chief executive of St Giles Hospice, where she mentioned that she wanted to share images of St Giles which would set the record straight and see if other hospices joined in.

The potential was obvious – this embraced the pride of hospices, the strong social media and community support that they have, and fantastic imagery of wonderful buildings, grounds, patients, volunteers and staff.

It was a simple message that worked for hospices across the UK.

We had a quick discussion about hashtags at Hospice House and decided to email all communications teams in our member hospices with a question: did they think their hospice was dingy? If not, then could they please join us in showing that hospices are #notdingy.

It worked

People got involved and started sharing pictures of their hospices – the grounds, the buildings and the people.

In the four weeks following the first #notdingy post, the hashtag was used in 160 tweets, as well as 1,614 retweets. Users shared 412 links and images under #notdingy and collectively these posts had the potential to be seen by more than 850,000 unique users.

This only happened because there was engagement from 679 tweeters from across Hospice UK’s networks and those of our members.

#notdingy tweets even came from as far as Australia, the USA, South Africa and Canada.

As well as being pleasantly surprised by tweets from Perth and Texas, we were thrilled that Civil Society featured it in their ‘Social Charity Spy’ blog, saying it was “great that hospice charities are leading the initiative on changing ingrained media bias of hospices. It is a truly organic social media response to a contemporary issue highlighted by television.”

I think that’s important because how we talk about death and dying is always going to be a contemporary issue. End of life care will always be needed.

Could we do it again?

Preparing to speak at the Fundraising for Hospices conference recently I was forced to try and break down why it worked and settled on four key things:

We saw it – this sounds simple but it can be easy to think about what you are putting out on social media and neglect what your community is talking about.

We were agile – agility gets talked about a lot at digital conferences but it really is essential. We saw that something important to our community was being talked about and didn’t waste time in making sure we understood it, put our weight behind it and asked hospices to do the same.

It was important to us and our community – misconceptions could deter people from accessing care or supporting their local hospice. That simply was not acceptable.

We worked together – it’s social media; it’s about groups of people talking, sharing and generally engaging. It’s also important to remember that collaboration has to happen internally. We were able to move quickly thanks to good relationships with the people that needed to be involved. If we had had to spend time gaining the confidence of colleagues or convincing them that this was important we would have been a step behind.

I am extremely proud of #notdingy but I have thought a great deal about the impact it had and how it could have gone better.

The big question that comes to mind is how it could have fitted in with income generation. I’m not sure it leant itself to a direct fundraising ask but I don’t think it needed to. We set out to correct a misrepresentation and protect the reputation of one a spectacular group of charities.

Reputation can impact important decisions like deciding when and where to access care.

Reputation can also influence which charity someone chooses to give a hundred plus hours of their life training and fundraising around a marathon for, who they want their business to be associated with or who they choose to remember in their will.

The reach of #notdingy on Twitter and through the local newspaper articles that it led to built on that reputation. In this way it played its part in fundraising too.

Just in case you’re not convinced that hospices are #notdingy, take a look at our Storify.

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