South African nonprofit organisations (NPOs) play a major role in providing essential services to under-resourced communities, and advocating for change. However, as many NPOs are cash-strapped, and their staff capacity is stretched, some are considering cutting back their communications initiatives in these tough economic times.
This could have unintended consequences, however, warns Inyathelo, an NPO established in 2002 to help other NPOs to build capacity and reserves for long-term sustainability.
It’s vital that NPOs maintain a strong voice and visibility if they are to keep a high profile and continue to attract funding, says Feryal Domingo, acting executive director of Inyathelo.
Voice and visibility amplify the mission and initiatives of NPOs. Adopting a cohesive communications strategy and consistent messaging strengthens the organisation's identity and recognition.
“Admittedly, many NPOs are budget-constrained and short-staffed, and developing and implementing a communications plan may seem too complicated and expensive. However, voice and visibility are essential for engaging and retaining donors, partners, volunteers and sponsors who share the organisation’s values and aims.”
Defining voice and visibility
Visibility is about how an organisation is profiled and positioned, and the awareness and interest it can generate about its work, issues, and the sector.
Voice is about the organisation’s point of view on issues related to the work it does, the sector it works in, and the environment in which it operates. This requires insight into the NPOs external environment.
There are several reasons why voice and visibility matter, says Inyathelo:
- Maintaining visibility enables NPOs to showcase their impact and outcomes. Sharing success stories and research-driven insights not only validates the organisation's work, but also attracts more support and resources.
- Maintaining a visible presence enables NPOs to raise awareness about pressing issues, advocate for policy changes, and mobilise support from policymakers and the general public.
- A visible NPO fosters trust and credibility, and helps to build lasting relationships within its community, including with beneficiaries and volunteers.
Developing a communications plan
Many communication channels are available to enhance an NPO’s voice and visibility. These include websites, social media platforms, newsletters, media releases, public events, sector workshops and open days, and partnerships with media channels.
All communications work should aim to support the mission and goals of the organisation. For this to be implemented effectively, and to be measurable, an NPO needs to draw up a communications plan.
Planning typically begins with analysing the NPO’s target audiences and their communication preferences. This is followed by defining clear messaging aligned with the organisation's mission.
The plan should include a schedule for content creation and distribution, along with metrics to measure the effectiveness of these communication interventions.
Planning should also incorporate crisis communication protocols, so that the organisation can manage its reputation and ensure transparency. Crisis scenarios could range from natural disasters in beneficiary communities, to cybersecurity issues that could reveal donors’ financial details and personal information.
Media training is extremely helpful in ensuring that your spokespeople represent your organisation appropriately, know how to respond under pressure, and can navigate difficult or unexpected questions.
“It’s important to be accessible and to respond quickly to media questions and requests. Being able to deliver what the media needs, when they need it, builds your reputation.”