Movements for change

With a rich history of campaigning for change, not for profits remain some of communications’ leading innovators.

Photo: 350org/ Flickr


The not for profit sector has been an innovator in communications for more than a century. From the suffragettes’ early use of what we would today call branding – their distinctive green, purple and white colour palette, the consistency of the Votes for Women and Deeds not Words messaging across leaflets, banners, badges and even tea sets - not for profits have been trailblazers. The suffragettes had a sophisticated approach to media management and pioneered the use of photocalls. Around the time when Ivy Lee famously wrote the first press release, the suffragettes had press secretaries who gave journalists written briefings and alerted them to photo opportunities such as suffragettes chaining themselves to railings, mass demonstrations, and speeches delivered (in one striking 1908 example) to members of parliament by a spokeswoman on a boat, branded with the Votes for Women slogan, floating on the Thames.

Gandhi’s salt march in India in 1930 also used mass rallies of ordinary people to draw media and politicians’ attention to social injustice. Many not for profits have drawn on Gandhi’s legacy of non-violent direct action, notably the UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with their landmark march to the atomic weapons research establishment in Aldermaston in 1958 and sit-ins and die-ins (still a popular photocall technique used today) in the 1960s.

Michaela O’Brien

Michaela O’Brien has worked in senior communications roles for a number of not for profits in the UK and Australia, and is course leader of the Media, Campaigning and Social Change MA and senior lecturer on the Public Relations MA at the University of Westminster, London.