How the best nonprofits excel at awareness creation

Charity Water rubber awareness bracelets. How do nonprofits like Charity Water leverage their communications teams to ensure they remain relevant? Photo by: Malone & Company Photography / Silicon Prairie News / CC BY

Communications professionals working in the not-for-profit sector have arguably one of the most difficult tasks in their organizations: How to keep their nonprofits relevant in a world taken by the ice bucket challenge one day and the Ebola outbreak the next.

Their jobs are made more difficult not just by constantly shifting priorities but also by steadily shrinking budgets.

So how do the best-performing nonprofits leverage their communications teams to ensure they remain relevant? What do their communications efforts involve to create awareness around their cause?

As an international affairs communications lead, I have the opportunity to work with some of these nonprofits. Here are some insights I’ve gathered from working with them.

They make their purpose known.

Nonprofits have a very precise understanding of their purpose. They are also clear on how the purpose of their existence will solve a given problem.

Take Charity Water, for example. Its mission is simple — “to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.” In its communication efforts, specifically, you will see a clear correlation between the availability of clean water and women’s rights.

They focus more on opportunity than on guilt.

The best-performing nonprofits know exactly how their cause will create opportunities. They also know how to utilize their social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook) to create dialogue and form great partnerships. What they do not do is play on guilt. They despise finger-pointing, opting to give their naysayers and supporters tools to make their case instead.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, has placed its credibility, time and money on a big bet. Its communication efforts call upon all of us (governments, companies and nonprofits) to become global citizens and make improving lives of the poor a priority.

They tell stories — about their failures.

They are committed to storytelling from day one. They know exactly how to tell stories of impact. They are also not afraid to tell stories of their failures. Check out this post from the Case Foundation, which talked about the importance of admitting mistakes when partnerships fail.

Authenticity is extremely important to them. On one side, they encourage their beneficiaries to tell stories in first person; on the other, they also tell stories about the complexities of solving the problems on hand.

They think small, they think inspiration.

Whatever their budgets, the best-performing nonprofits utilize freely available digital tools to constantly share their stories. As you can imagine, many of the issues nonprofits are trying to address need years — even decades — to fix. Therefore, they consistently share status midstream. They see the importance of telling stories of an issue’s process and progress. Remaining accountable through the years is important to them.

Check out UNICEF’s Ebola Stories. There is a need to create awareness on the progress made and on where issues lie not just to ensure steady decline of new cases, but also to prevent future pandemics from breaking out. When you read stories from its campaign, #ISurvivedEbola, you get an idea of how important inspiration is to its efforts around the outbreak.

There is much to be learned from the best-performing nonprofits. Whatever the cause, one must remember that awareness-creation efforts must leave a lasting impression. Engage in telling great stories — stories of people and circumstances that were changed because your project or association focused on social impact this year.

Know of other ways nonprofits can remain relevant despite myriad and changing development challenges? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Shweta Kulkarni

    Shweta Kulkarni is a global health communications professional, with a special interest in international health policy. She serves as the communications manager at MedTech Europe. Her work involves building partnerships between the industry and international organisations. She holds a masters degree in communication and information studies, a bachelor degree in computer science from Rutgers University, and a corporate social responsibility certificate from INSEAD Business School.