During one of the board meetings at my organization, i was tasked to come up with communication strategies that would push our organization to the “world map” and improve its image both in the country and the world at large. From experience this would be easy to do since the organization has a website and information is frequently shared, however this doesn’t do the trick. I started thinking of innovative ways that would push for increased the web view statistics and also learning within and outside the organization which led me to a simple innovative guide that helped me plan effectively .
In an article published in the guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk ) a panel of experts gave fifteen ways on the need for communication in aid work and how to get it right. These include:
People engage best with people, not abstract issues: Single case-study stories done properly can illustrate wider issue in a real, accessible and relevant way. But most information gathering is NOT geared to this. Most programmes gather information to populate their log frame KPIs in a very static and lifeless way.
Communicate the difference people can make: As a fundraiser, what motivates supporters is communicating the difference people can make to a problem. That means showing the need with the opportunity for improvement. The spirit and dignity of people is part of that.
Be honest about your own agenda: Charities choose who to show solidarity towards depending on their own agenda, and fund according to their priorities. When a campaign is focused on complicated policy outcomes without adequate attention to how they are relevant to people, people can’t see how they can engage.
Celebrities can help capitalise on news coverage: Very few issues, countries or organisations stay on top of the news agenda for long, but the use of celebrities is one way of tapping into it. The responsibility of each group is to do their jobs and make sure they don’t make anything worse than it already is, but I’d see celebrity involvement for what it is: helpful, high impact and potentially catalytic, but not a substitute for many other aspects of an organisation’s or individual’s goals.
Agencies should adapt to aid’s increasing insignificance: While still being significant to people, aid is less so for economies with the emergence of other means of development such as remittances. Unless agencies adapt they will find themselves tumbling down the hierarchy. One of my colleagues Andrew Rogerson even said they face an ‘existential threat‘.
Find a private sector partner: Recruit one company as your champion, so it can push your cause among peers. It can be useful to give them a platform to make the announcement that they’re changing their policies or donating funds, for example.
Strategic communications can change policy: For example, the Global Monitoring Report released new figures on the state of education in Pakistan in October last year and used the figures to campaign in the press in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Malala. The statistics were picked up by Pakistani politicians and by Gordon Brown in his role as UN special envoy. This media work contributed to the country making the positive decisions it did to find more funds for education and passing the free education bill.
Monitor everything: Integrating communications and continually monitoring progress and impact can be really useful. You can start to pull out what worked and what didn’t and adjust your approach accordingly. It’s also a great opportunity to look back at what could have been done to increase impact.
Know your audience: Research is key to clearly identify target audience, where they get their information from and how they communicate. It’s then possible to tailor your message and test it, but don’t assume people will get it.
Be led by people in relevant countries: International campaigning can support this and can help to tackle the international issues of the role of outside governments and corporations, but is never enough on its own.
Shift from compassion to solidarity campaigning: Corporate tax dodging is wrong because failure of multinationals to pay their taxes in Zambia means that the country is deprived of the money needed for schools, health and support to farmers. But the same tax dodging also hurts people in the west. So the campaign against tax dodging isn’t a north-south let’s help them thing – it’s a together-we-are-powerful 99% thing.
Select the relevant data: One cannot reasonably paint the whole picture and hope to be targeting the right audience. The hard balance to find is between saying what pays off and sticking with the whole story you are supposed to tell. Our utmost concern as communicators should be to ensure the integrity of our message and that it is in sync with our mission. We owe that transparency to our audiences and donors.
Do more with less by being inventive: Particularly for small NGOs, a lack of resources can be a big obstacle effective communications. Overcome this by drawing on freelancers, opening competitions among students, daring to ask for pro bono, being efficient in your use of social media to relay your messages and finding synergies with strategically-chosen partners. That will be the best way to convince a disapproving majority.
Face the critics: It is fair to raise concerns about the way that aid can be misused or misguided, or ask whether it’s right to ring-fence development aid. More aid organizations should openly explain their case and stand up for what they believe in.
Listen to people on the ground: I think it’s important to talk with the people you have working on the ground and hear from them what the real problems are/what’s needed, before you get round the table in HQ and devise the comms tools to suit. Don’t assume you already know the answer, because things are rarely as simple as they seem.