There is a certain stigma around nonprofit organisations (NPOs). In the minds of many, charities are associated with poorly developed brand using amateur attempts at social media to ask for more money. Yet these NPOs are doing excellent and vital work across the globe and rely on public funding to do so. The problem comes in with communication. Too many organisations take good communication for granted and therefore fail to communicate their vision, needs and successes. In order to support your vision, potential (and current) donors need to understand what it is you do, why they should care and how they can help.
Charity: Water is one organisation that has taken communication seriously. Instead of just getting on with the work (which they are very effective at doing), they put ordinary people at the centre of everything. They place a simple call to action on citizens of the world and receive overwhelming support in response. So much so that since it was established in 2006, Charity: Water has raised over US$40 million, ensuring that 3 400 000 people can access clean water in developing countries.
As a case study, Charity: Water has done plenty right. Two key aspects are their transparency and their storytelling techniques. Using quality videos and digital media, they engage with ordinary people where they are. They have a clear message and they communicate it in a way that makes people want to click on the next two-minute snippet to learn more about the work they do. Their videos show the remote places they work at and quantify the exact impact that providing clean water makes on communities and individuals in developing countries. They are at an advantage in that their running costs are sponsored by corporates. This assures donors that every cent raised is sent directly to the region it was raised for. Through good communication, Charity: Water has made the work they do real to people thousands of miles away, and has created a positive association with their brand. In other words, they have made their brand loveable.
By doing so, they have put the onus of fundraising on everyone. Those who view their promos and engage with them online are left with a clear understanding of their work, and no excuse for not getting involved. Charity: Water provides people with a clear and simple call to action while also inspiring them to make a difference.
By setting a standard of excellence, both with their transparency and their communications, Charity: Water is developing a new model of engaging people that other organisations could learn from. Their transparency clearly shows what the power of proof can do for an organisation, their simple messaging and dedicated storytelling makes Charity: Water as personal and relevant as possible. Here are five ways your charity can follow suit:
Clearly communicate where the money goes. Being able to say that it takes X amount of money to fund Y motivates people to raise at least X (if not 2X or 3X). Put another way, honest and quantifiable targets give people something solid to aspire to when it comes to raising money for your organisation.
If they are to reach new audiences, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) desperately need to stop relying on the same old communication techniques. Sustainable funding requires a growing donor base and today’s potential donor looks very different from that of a decade ago. E-mail newsletters, wordy websites and annual reports no longer cut it. While existing donors may appreciate these, potential donors need to be enticed and such enticement needs to be short and snappy. Social media and online video sharing, when done right, ticks all the boxes with the added advantage of giving a human face to your organisation with the potential of viral sharing.
Have a clear ask
Depending on the complexity of your organisation, you may have various asks, but make sure that for every piece of communication, there is at least one that clearly comes to the fore, so that people always know what it is they can do to help you. One way of getting this right is by targeting specific communications to specific audiences (along with the audience-appropriate ask), rather than trying to make each message cover all angles, audiences and asks.
Invite everyone’s involvement
Once a person contributes to a cause (even if that contribution is a small one and even if it is not a financial contribution) they are invested. Give people ways to get involved. I know of a charity that has a wall which they literally set aside for when donor corporates want to bring their staff along to contribute. The same wall gets painted every time. Ridiculous perhaps, but they are applying the principle that if there is nothing that needs doing, create something because once you have contributed, you are personally invested.
Tell your success stories and keep it personal. People do not want facts and figures, they want faces and families. They want the real life stories. They also want personalised thank yous - technology has left us with no excuse in this regard. Use your new communications to complement your old ones and harness both to champion your champions (everyone loves a story about little Susie who raised R100 through her lemonade stand to save the rhino).
The bottom line is: clear, engaging, compelling communications requires an investment of time and resources, but done right, it will launch your charity to a new level where your donors are your greatest advocates.
- Carolyn Cramer heads up ‘Coz it Counts’, a boutique PR agency focused on telling the stories of South Africa’s NGOs. coz it counts clients include Afrika Tikkun, World Wildlife Fund, and Relate Bracelets. Visit www.cozitcounts.co.za for more.