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strategies for NGO sustainability
August 05, 2007
Very few NGOs see a dynamic link between their long term sustainability
and having a consciously designed media strategy to create visibility
about your work amongst current, potential and unknown donors. I
must still find in my experience, an NGO who can produce a media
strategy with clearly identifiable, predetermined and actual outcomes.
Most organizations engaged with media more by default than by design.
Remember, an organization is a product of its environment. Hence
it needs to constantly communicate to its environment how it is
performing in relation to the reason for its existence.
One of the most
obvious signs of organizational decay and death (even if an organization
may be well-funded) is the total absence of communication between
the organization and its external environment. To design and implement
a comprehensive media strategy does not have to cost you an arm
and a leg. In a world of information explosion, knowing who to communicate
to, what, why, when and how, is becoming vital. Unless you can afford
to pay a full-time staff member, get yourself a dedicated volunteer
with ample time whose primary responsibility is just to focus on
the implementation of this strategy. Here are some ideas from my
your own newsletter: This must be the primary voice of
the organization. It is here where you inform the outside world
about who you are, what you are doing, why you are doing it, where
you are doing it and how well you are doing it. It is here where
you acknowledge your donors and create awareness about your needs.
Don't deny yourself your own voice. A quarterly newsletter
will be a good start and it can be electronic to save printing costs.
An electronic newsletter can be send all over the world at the press
of a button! So use it! If you don't have a newsletter right
now or does not aim to launch one in the near future, then your
organization is in big trouble!
update/Board update/Donor update: This is mostly in electronic
form and consists of 1-2 pages to inform your current and potential
board members, strategic advisers, patrons and network partners
about your successes and challenges. And let them know what you
are doing to address your challenges and how you plan to build on
report: Since an NGO needs to publicly account for the
resources entrusted to it, it must produce an annual report. This
is also a legal obligation in terms of the NPO Act. This is one
way of showing that you are transparent. Make sure that your annual
report is sent to all relevant stakeholders and ensure that it is
a truthful reflection of your performance. You only fool yourself
by lying or exaggerating results of your work and compromise the
trust others have in your organization.
press statements and send letters to the editor: Depending
on the sector within which you operate, make press statements or
write letters to selected newspapers about public issues that affects
you e.g. child abuse, women abuse, unemployment, health, landlessness,
human rights, etc. Show others that you are prepared to take a stand
and to defend it.
to journalists: Whenever you launch a new program or have
a graduation or any other public event, invite journalists to attend.
In this way you strengthen relations with newspapers. One story
in one paper can potentially reach thousands of people. Make sure
that journalists are treated like donors.
adverts in newspapers: Find out which newspapers are read
mostly by your various stakeholders. And if you can afford it, place
strategic adverts in them. First try to negotiate free adverts or
otherwise highly discounted adverts. Make use of "community
diaries" in newspapers to advertise your work.
murals at strategic points: Contact residents in your local
community to offer their walls for murals to advertise your work
or a special event. Most people will be too happy to support your
work in this way as their contribution to community upliftment.
boards: Develop information boards that can be placed at
strategic places wherever people assemble or need to queue for a
service e.g. at an ATM. Chain the board to a pole so that it cannot
be removed easily. Make sure all your contact details are correctly
reflected on the board with short, simple and clear messages.
pamphlets, brochures: Develop posters, pamphlets and brochures
that do not date quickly and put them up or leave them at shops,
clinics, schools, churches and surgeries or any other public space
where you are dealing with a captured audience. This can be a potent
form of marketing your work since people for e.g. in a surgery will
instinctively read what they see. And they may have ample time to
write down your contact details!
a website or blogspot: A website allows you to highlight
your work on a global scale. If you have one already, continuously
update it to ensure information is as fresh as possible. Websites
with information that dates back to more than 6 months can create
an impression of inefficiency. Websites can be expensive to maintain
and hence a blogspot can be a substitute for a website. This is
a free service on the Internet and requires no domain fees. Space
can be unlimited.
open days/special events like lunches, etc: This is becoming
more and more popular amongst NGOs. It can be a powerful means to
introduce and showcase the results of your work to various stakeholders.
Your primary objective is always to get potential donors to where
the action is. Organize these events properly and at least 3 months
in advance to make maximum impact. Once again, get journalists to
cover the event to optimize awareness in the community. Organizations
that are corrupt don't have time to hold open days because
they have too much to hide!
emails: This is low cost and can be very effective. Always
collect email numbers of relevant stakeholders and keep them updated.
Send emails via "BCC" (blank carbon copy) method to
hide the identity of the receiver in case of people using email
numbers for spam purposes.
community radio: Community radios are there to highlight
issues within the community. Most of them have special programs
dedicated to community issues. Find out who is the station manager
for the community radio closest in your area of operation and start
building a relationship. Invite them to your events and submit articles
to them about your organization and any special events. Enquire
from them about special time-slots to highlight special issues that
you are qualified to comment on. Even commercial radios have community
dairy slots. Use it!
to journals/magazines/websites: Learn to write and offer
articles focusing on the sector to magazines, journals or websites.
Many networks with websites offer to host articles for others to
download. Instead of starting your own magazine/journal find out
what exist already and offer your articles to them.
faxes: This method can be costly and time consuming compared
to email. But it can be highly effective. Whereas email can just
be deleted, faxes must first be read before it can be destroyed.
Use it when you need to inform a special group of people about a
certain issue or event.
sms's: Use this method if you need to mobilize support
for a cause in the shortest space of time. In rural areas this can
be very effective since most people will have access to cell phones
(maybe not airtime!). When used during off peak times it can also
be cost effective. When you are part of a network and need to communicate
fast, then this method can be very useful.
stickers, buttons: Don't underestimate the importance
of these. They can be low cost and permanent. Put your contact details
on your t-shirts or stickers. Give them to your partners and beneficiaries.
They will be marketing your organization for free!
your letterhead: Very few organizations realize the importance
of using their letterhead as a means of marketing themselves. Develop
a simple but effective letterhead with full contact details, NPO
number, tax exemption nr, board members, strategic advisers and
patrons. Include your vision statement and logo.
a DVD: This can very effective visual information about
your organization. Keep it short, not more than 10 minutes. People
don't have time to watch a feature film! Try to cover all
the departments in your organization.
This can be useful especially if you operate on a national
scale. Cultivate journalists in the television industry and let
them know that they can contact for commentary or documentaries.
of mouth: This is the most powerful means of media. And
everybody in the organization should be involved in this. Make sure
members are well informed to talk about the organization anytime
Frank Julie, independent development consultant and author of "The
Art of Leadership and Management on the Ground" (A practical
guide for leaders and managers to develop sustainable organizations
for permanent social change)
To read more
about the book, view its detailed contents and comments from community
leaders and academics around the world, please go to www.frankjulieblogspot.com.
To order the book and get a free list of donors in South Africa,
please e-mail Zandile Stols (PA) at firstname.lastname@example.org
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