Operation Bobbi Bear - the power of professional communication and marketing

Tuesday, 30 March, 2004 - 23:00

The resource mobilisation strategy: To capture the attention of potential donors by using professionally produced marketing materials and communication documentsOrganisational facts and figures Operat

The resource mobilisation strategy:

To capture the attention of potential donors by using professionally produced marketing materials and communication documents

Organisational facts and figures

Operation Bobbi Bear is a non-profit organisation (NPO) based in Amanzimtoti, KwaZulu-Natal. Its mission is to rescue and uphold the rights of sexually abused children, minimise their risk of HIV infection, and help them towards wholeness. It works with sexually abused children from birth to sixteen years of age, as well as with sexually abused adults who have a mental disability.

The therapeutic approach of the organisation's work revolves around the use of a toy, called 'Bobbi Bear'. Bobbi Bear is designed in such a way that it helps child victims to express and demonstrate exactly what happened to them, without having to touch their own body.

Operation Bobbi Bear runs four programmes:
  • The Rescue Centre – a drop-in and information centre for the child victims of sexual abuse and/or their primary carers.
  • HIV/Aids Toy Awareness and Prevention Programme – a presentation for pre- and primary school children, which teaches universal precautions.
  • Child Safety Officer Training and Mentorship Programme – the training of community-based mothers and grandmothers to become carers for children who have been abused and to advocate for their rights.
  • The Tree Clinic – a meeting place to monitor vulnerable and orphaned children, to empower mothers and children to develop HIV/Aids awareness, to manage wellness and to encourage living positively with HIV/Aids.

Each week, the organisation takes on an average of three new child sexual abuse cases, makes over twenty referrals of cases, which do not fall within its operational ambit, and facilitates about twenty police de-briefings for child abuse cases. This type of work started in 1992, but Operation Bobbi Bear was only legally constituted as an organisation and registered under the NPO Act in 2000. The current staff quota is two full-time paid employees, six part-time stipended employees and one full-time volunteer.

A brief organisational history

The founder of Operation Bobbi Bear first took action against sexual crimes in 1992, when the gang rapists of a young woman with a mental disability walked free. The founder had no specific background in the field of law, but was a trained abuse counsellor so she started lobbying the authorities case by case, using whatever information she could get from the victims and their families.

One day, in a moment of frustration, she demanded to see the reporting docket of an alleged statement made by a four-year old girl. The police officer handling the case replied that actually the child did not make the statement, since she would not speak, and that he had written the statement himself. The statement said "I was raped" - a statement completely insufficient for any court of law.

At that moment, it became clear to the founder of Operation Bobbi Bear that how an abused child and a police officer communicate can determine the extent to which justice is done. Furthermore, even if these communication barriers were overcome, this was often at the expense of the well-being of the child who would experience 'secondary' abuse at the hands of police and medical staff. The challenge was to ensure accurate docketing and clear legal evidence, without in any way compromising on the care and support for the victim.

Subsequently, the idea of using toys to improve communications while providing a safe and supportive environment for the child emerged. Through trial and error, organisational staff came up with Bobbi Bear's design and functions. Bobbi Bear is given to child victims at the police station and helps them express and demonstrate exactly what happened to them, without having to touch their own body. The child is also able to draw on the bear with a felt-tip pen. All this enables a rapid assessment of whether or not penetration of the victim occurred so that anti-retroviral drugs may be administered if necessary. Later, the bear is used as evidence in the courtroom. The child gets to take home a new, different coloured bear as a 'friend'.

The work of Operation Bobbi Bear is done by specially trained Child Safety Officers. The Child Safety Officer is a support for the child from the moment the Rescue Centre is alerted to the crime, until after the case is over – which may take anything from nine months to four years. The Child Safety Officers give clients and their families practical help, counselling, support during the physical checks as well as medical and legal advice.

Why a shift in the resource mobilisation strategy?

Since its establishment as an organisation in 2000, Operation Bobbi Bear had not been able to expand its reach and impact despite a clear need for more interventions. The main reason for this was that the Director (founder) was trying to do everything. So, if the operations of the organisation were to respond adequately to the problem of child sexual abuse, the organisation would need to expand. To do this, more resources would be needed.

When the implementation of the new strategy started in early 2003, the staff consisted of the Director plus three volunteers. Together they comprised an operational committee, which constituted the only active organisational governance structure.

Just as the core work of the organisation, most resource mobilisation was done by the Director. An excellent 'sales person', she would make informal applications and 'pitches' to friends and contacts, as well as to local businesses. These were the primary sources of financial and non-financial resources. Similarly, other organisations supplied goods and training, forming the second largest income stream.

There was no marketing of the organisation. Communications were incoherent and inconsistent – different staff would say different things about the organisation. There were different logos, and even different names for the organisation. Media coverage, though ad hoc, was positive and focused largely on the lobby and activism efforts of the staff.

Where did the idea for the strategy come from?

The Director knew that to increase the reach and impact of Operation Bobbi Bear, good plans would need to be put in place. She was also aware that the communication and marketing materials of the organisation were inadequate. They did not look 'nice'; they were made on a photocopier and did not make you want to read them. The words did not accurately describe what the organisation was doing. Furthermore, there seemed to be some confusion amongst the volunteers about what exactly the organisation existed to do. Everyone was doing their own thing.

To complicate matters further, the Director felt that solutions to these problems lay beyond her area of skill and expertise. She did not feel confident to find a way forward on her own. Through a foreign donor agency, she met an organisation development (OD) consultant, who agreed to help at a reduced rate.

During the strategic planning process that ensued, the crucial connection between organisational expansion and communication became clear: if the organisation was to expand, it would need more resources. Getting more resources would mean communicating with more donors. And good communication with more donors would require efficient communication materials.

What were the main steps in implementing the strategy?

Together with the volunteers, the OD consultant and Director went through a process of defining the organisation in greater detail. They looked at where it had come from and how it currently operated. The core mission, the vision and the name of the organisation emerged in a new form. This was followed by looking at roles and responsibilities of staff and devising a work plan for the way forward.

A critical part of the strategy was to hire an Administrator. The volunteer staff realised that their skills did not lie in the area of competent administration. Efficient administration provides important support for resource mobilisation efforts. So, this role would need to be filled if the organisation was to move forward. The Director believed her primary area of expertise to lie in managing and expanding the work of helping the child victims of sexual abuse. Extensive resource mobilisation (beyond local relationship-based requests for support) and accounting for resources used were not her strength.

A volunteer Administrator and Fundraiser was thus brought in on a one-year contract. This person was able to write well, keep track of grants and reporting deadlines, and deal professionally with donors – whether big or small. This lifted a huge weight off the Director's shoulders who could then apply her energy to the expansion of the four programmes.

The Administrator introduced a new level of operational efficiency to the organisation. Case monitoring and tracking systems were set up, as well as legal governance in the form of a board of trustees. On the fundraising side, the Administrator began approaching large South African and foreign agencies for grants. She also decided to find an employee to succeed her, and sufficient funds to pay this person's salary. This was important to ensure that the efficient systems that had been put in place were not 'lost' after her departure.

The Administrator's arrival coincided with the creation of three basic communication and marketing tools: a pamphlet, a letterhead, and a website. These were being devised on the basis of the new mission and vision of the organisation.

The Director had approached several communications and marketing professionals: a designer, copywriter, web-hosting company, and a printer – all of whom agreed to produce the materials at cost or for free. From Operation Bobbi Bear's side, the Administrator now took on the responsibility of managing these pro-bono and cost-price relationships, as well as ensuring that all staff began to use the new communications materials. Old documents were discarded.

With new communication materials on hand, the Administrator's applications for grants – both local and international – were made with greater confidence. Current funding could also be accounted for via more professional-looking reports.

  1. Reflection and planning
  2. Hiring efficient administrative staff
  3. Investing in professional communication and marketing tools

Operation Bobbi Bear's old logo

Operation Bobbi Bear's new logo

So, what has changed?

Operation Bobbi Bear now has:

  • An attractive image

    Operation Bobbi Bear's new 'look' communicates that it is an organisation worth having as a partner, that it is professional and worth investing in.

  • Alternative communication opportunities

    At Operation Bobbi Bear, communication does not rely on the networks and dynamism of the Director exclusively anymore. Rather, the organisation's core messages are accurately and attractively captured in documentation and other communication tools. This means that many more people (and potential donors) may learn about the organisation and the work it does. This provides a greater resources 'catchment area'.

  • More confidence

    Operation Bobbi Bear now has the confidence to approach larger donors and grantmakers for larger amounts of money. Furthermore, the organisation has the confidence to put 'the ask' on paper, since there is a professional look, and a clear and consistent image. The staff has also experienced a 'boost' in their work confidence, especially the Director.

  • More resources – both financial and non-financial

    Using the new materials, Operation Bobbi Bear has secured financial support from a major local donor. This donor supports trauma issues and through Operation Bobbi Bear's written communication it became clear that the two organisations held similar values. In fact, they may even decide to form a partnership. Operation Bobbi Bear has also become the 'charity of choice' for a large business network. The professional look of the organisation captured the interest of this network. The net result has been that Operation Bobbi Bear now has sufficient resources to support the new and expanded work of the organisation.

Organisational resources before the new strategy

The organisational operating costs for March 2002 to February 2003 were approximately R76 000.

Resources for the same period came to R137 500.

These resources were received from the following broad categories of sources:

South African individuals 35%
South African community groups and NPOs 30%
South African corporates 20%
Foreign foundations/NPOs 15%

Organisational resources after the new strategy

The organisational operating costs for March 2003 to September 2003 were approximately R151 700.

Resources for the same period came to the value of R186 500.

These resources comprised the following:

Volunteer services 10%
Food and supplies 30%
Toys and clothes 10%
Money 50%

They were received from the following broad categories of sources:

Foreign foundations/NPOs 38%
South African community groups and NPOs 20%
South African corporates 12%
Foreign government development aid 5%
Self-generated 4%
Foreign individuals 3%

Key Lessons from this story

The volunteer Administrator at Operation Bobbi Bear draws out the following important lessons for other organisations intending to use professionally produced marketing materials and communication documents to capture the attention of potential donors:

Have a clear mission and vision for the organisation

If the organisation does not understand its own mission, vision and objectives it will never be able to communicate these clearly.Developing clear and professional marketing materials starts with an organisational process to clarify its reasons for being, its values and the way it works.

Have a consistent image

There needs to be consistent content and a consistent 'look' in all communication material from the organisation. People, whoever they are, need to get the same message about the organisation, what it does and how it does it, no matter the means of communication. It is crucial that all staff understand this and use the same communications materials.

Hire efficient administrative staff

Most efforts at mobilising resources require the support of efficient administration systems and tasks. These kinds of tasks are best performed by efficient and skilled staff who do not get 'absorbed' by the core work of the organisation but remain focused on providing administrative support, which adds value to the generation of resources. 

Professionalise the organisation

Along with the 'new look' communication and marketing materials, there needs to be a parallel effort to make the entire organisation more professional. When someone sees a professional looking document, they expect the organisation 'behind' the document to be as professional and efficient in its operations.

Use electronic communication

It is important to use electronic means of communication. Sometimes it is not sufficient to simply have information on paper. Foreign donors and professional business people are impressed by email communication and a clear website.

Visit Operation Bobbi Bear at www.bobbibear.org.za for more information.

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