How can NGOs run awareness campaigns cost effectively?

NGOs should utilize online media platforms to deliver more wide-reaching awareness campaigns cost-effectively. Photo by: @sage_solar / CC BY

In today’s era of information, technology and social media, money should no longer be a barrier in promoting the work of nongovernmental organizations.

“Budget limitations can often lead to some really innovative campaigns,” Tim Middlemiss, communications director at the Agency, told Devex.

And he should know.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredible organizations on some really exciting projects that seem to catch the attention of other wonderful organizations,” Middlemiss said. “The sector is pretty broad, and often campaigns and markets with a limited budget.”

A social business nonprofit, the Agency works solely on projects that further human development, foster human rights, promote sustainability and drive social equity. It has been operating in Sydney, Australia, and New York, United States, since 2007. Its clients come from a diverse range of cultural, political, social and religious backgrounds, including Amnesty International, World Vision, WWF, Fairtrade and Greenpeace.

Most of the solutions the Agency develops for NGOs often incorporate a range of traditional and new media, the communications director said.

“If a traditional television or print ad gets in front of the right audience for you then don’t take it off the table [just] because it doesn’t seem ‘innovative,’” Middlemiss explained. “But it’s important to consider new ways of communicating. New channels, different stories or a surprising tone can break through the noise, and move beyond the inertia and ‘compassion fatigue’ of your targeted audience.”

The key to any solution involves understanding the audience.

“There are different strategies not only for different demographics, but also for different organizations and intended outcomes,” he pointed out. “There’s no place for a one-size-fits-all approach, because supporting a charity or a social cause is so wrapped up in that supporter’s personal identity, we need to understand them as best as possible.

Regardless, there are three key things NGOs can do to ensure their campaigns can reach a wide audience while keeping costs low.

1. Keep the younger demographic in mind.

Recent polls have demonstrated foreign aid is an increasing concern among the younger demographic.

Within Australia, polls by Galaxy Research and the Lowy Institute show that foreign aid cuts will be a concern for the majority of 18 to 26 years old heading to the polling booth in 2016, many of whom are voting for the first time.

For Tony Milne, an executive officer at the Make Poverty History campaign in Australia, these polls reflect young Australians’ belief that foreign aid has an important role to play in poverty reduction efforts and inclusive development.

Research also shows that Generation Y — the generation born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s — are best targeted online and across multiple platforms. It is proving a winning strategy for many campaigns.

Indeed, the Campaign for Australian Aid targeted young people through online campaigns in the lead-up to Australia’s federal budget release in May. Before the budget was announced, the campaign — which the Agency managed — used social media and a food truck to help grow awareness on how Australian aid is helping the poorest people around the world and build support for the program.

2. Build and improve your digital presence.

The team behind Good Return, which provides microloans and financial education services in the Asia-Pacific region, knew it had to improve education and awareness. It had struggled to make current and potential supporters understand microloans and their impact on the lives of people in developing countries.

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With the world becoming increasingly digital, including a growing tendency to donate online, an online solution was key to its new campaign. It began by redesigning its website to improve access to information. But the team was also inspired by crowdfunding sites, which have received strong support from Generation Y, to enable supporters to directly fund microloans.

“Information, education and accountability are critical in getting donations,” Sujinda Hwang-Leslie, social enterprise director at Good Return, told Devex.

But it is important for information to not just be about facts and statistics. People need to connect with people.

“We want to connect not just intellectually but emotionally. By providing information on families, including mothers and children and how support changes their lives, we can do this.”

Good Return has already seen more donations for microloans through its awareness campaigns, but it has plans to grow its digital presence further, particularly to improve its lending platforms and introduce more interactive features, including live Q&A sessions.

3. Take risks.

NGOs, according to Middlemiss, should not be afraid to take risks in designing their campaigns.

“The sector is perhaps a little more risk-averse than it needs to be, and has been following behind commercial brands without carving out their own identity,” he told Devex. “I think more than the channel of campaigns, it’s important to look at the content that’s communicated and encourage charities and not-for-profits to consider deeply their long-term plan for their audience, the frames they want to encourage, and the grand narrative of their brand.”

The rewards could be worth the effort.

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About the author

  • Cornish img

    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a freelance data journalist based in Canberra, Australia. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane and online through Lisa has recently been awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.