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More than just gimme, gimme, gimme

Funding has always been a major concern of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). If an NGO does not qualify for government or some international organisations’ assistance, they just have to work much harder to raise funds.

The situation becomes a bit more dire when an economic crisis looms and the populace tightens their belts. Under such circumstances, what gives one NGO an edge over another?

Is it the cause? Or reputation? What about awareness?

The uncomfortable truth is we are often confronted with a myriad of NGOs that champion more or less the same causes – women’s and children’s rights, animal conservation and welfare, poverty, water, nutrition and hygiene. The list goes on.

In such a scenario of going after funds with similar causes, it goes down to marketing savviness that breast the tape.

In some NGOs, Marketing and its subset, Communications, are treated as different operational and organisational functions. It, however, must be underlined that Communications should not be regarded the Cinderella step child.

Marketing is the blue-eyed boy, favoured for bringing in the big bucks as opposed to Communications’ complementary role in raising raise awareness. When these two don’t tango well and when Communications is considered subservient to Marketing, that organisation’s operational effectiveness take a toll.

Why is this so?

It is so easy to be clouded when the perception is shaped and influenced by that the darling Marketing can be relied upon to shore up the bottom line. Show me the money! In an NGO context, the Call to Action or ASK would always be Donate! Sponsor! Support!

In such a setting, Communications’ role will be relegated to become nothing more than a mouthpiece of Marketing. Then every single piece of information that is Marketing-dictated will come across as an appeal or a demand.

Such an approach that blatantly targets the pocket will inadvertently have a short life span more so under current circumstances when the target audiences are holding on to their purse strings. Over time the sympathy fatigue will set in. The NGO will be seen as nothing more than a “gimme more gimme more” organisation. Not only is this detrimental in the long run but it does not do justice to the cause.

The fundamental of causal support is empathy and belief. It is important to reach out, to maintain and to sustain that support.

Hence, more than just highlighting marketing activities and appealing for money, NGOs should focus on story-telling, which is a function of Communications that is under-valued.

These stories do not need to be positive all the time because life is not. Neither do they need to play up the NGO’s role in being the “saviour” of those it champions. Rather, they need to be real and relatable -- stories of life’s challenges, of resilience, of despair, of triumph!

Furthermore, the stories need not be all about their work and cause. They could be about the NGO’s staff – their sacrifices, their passion.

In telling these stories the NGO CONNECTS with the target audiences. In a creative and compelling way, it puts forth its corporate vision and mission, and its brand identity. It builds its corporate image in a manner that resonates with its existing and potential supporters. It is a subtle appeal for support. It reaches the wallet by reinforcing what the organisation stands for and believes in; cementing the fundamentals of empathy and belief.

Communications highlights the journey not just the desired destination. Often it is the journey that makes the destination memorable.

Finally, in the never-ending search for funding, an NGO may feel that it has exhausted its current supporter base and would like to reach out to a new segment to expand and diversify reach.

Just as Rome was not built in a day, expanding base cannot take place at the command of the marketing team(s).

Just as no two persons are the same, no two target groups are similar. The same strategy and approach may not apply across the board particularly in a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic population. What worked before usually do not work with a new base.

Once again, it boils down to building credibility, empathy and trust within that desired new support base. This takes time, understanding and, in some cases, re-organising /expanding internal resources to cater to the very different traits of the new group.

So, to all NGO communicators out there, remember, the next time your marketing team tells you to send out a Press Release or set up a media interview to highlight an activity, to appeal for funds and support, ask yourself if that is indeed the right approach.

Underneath the frenzy of fund-raising, where is your organisation’s true North? What is your story?

Only when you know that can your organisation be taken through the darkness to the break of day (with apologies to ABBA).

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