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Media strategies for NGO sustainability
Frank Julie
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 experience:

Design 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!

Network 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 your successes.

Annual 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.

Make 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.

Invitations 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.

Strategic 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.

Community 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.

Information 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.

Posters, 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!

Develop 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.

Hold 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!

Block 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.

Use 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!

Write 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.

Use 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.

Block 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.

T-shirts, 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!

Use 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.

Develop 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.

Television: 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.

Word 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 and anywhere!

Written by: 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 frankjulie@telkomsa.net

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