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Monday, September 1, 2008

5 communication ideas for NGO-s

Here are some communication tips I have gathered during couple of years while working with guys from the Good Deed Foundation of Estonia, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations, PRAXIS and recently for two days with Civic Responsibility Foundation of Lithuania (PAF).

1. Establish Texts

CSR is scary. I do not mean as a concept, but as a word. And if even CSR repels people, then "long term citizen society development strategy" can kill a citizen. The problem is that these vogonesque phrases do not inspire people. Did the guy in Tiananmen Square stand up against a tank because he had read a civil society development strategy baked at some NGO? No.

So you need to find texts that inspire people.

Publish Cory Doctorow's Little Brother in your country and make sure it will spread in schools. Or like my Lithuanian colleague and writer Tomas Staniulis suggests - have a local writers workshop in order to come up with original work describing the civic ideas in an understandable form.

2. Add Logistics and Business

Often the NGO people are with the background in humanities and social sciences. While there is nothing wrong with it, the skills may be a bit one-sided. As the success of Estonia's civil action "Let's Do It!" proved, it is good to involve people with experience in management, leadership and logistics. They can help you pull things together really well. (PAF in Lithuania has also been set up in order to bring together experiences, skills and civic activism from all parts of the society).

So, do not ask for money only, ask for skills from people with the best experience in management and logistics.

3. Create Role Models and Change, Not Only Criticism

It is easy to know things, but it is much more difficult to convince the others. Often the NGO activists find themselves in trenches against the establishment. The unfortunate case of Estonia being that an occasional academic is labelled "a theorist" and sometimes even "admirer of the leftist ideas", because he wanted to make his point. The fault is not only on the listener's side.

Work on positive role models and examples. These talk in a more powerful language than a critical article. (Although, articles are needed too.)

Another way to be a constructive criticist, is to bring out both good and bad developments and write positive articles, when you see things happening that you like.

4. Use Real Problems

Find important problems to address. Problems which are real enough. Like the suburbanization and housing boom with resulting new residential regions without quality infrastructure. People are virtually locked-in to their over-priced gyproc houses. Show them how to organize into local activist groups in order to make their villages better places to live.

5. Show results

I hear a lot of stories about what help is needed in NGO's. Rare is the case when I hear how the help was used. So, make reporting back and thanking the contributors really important part of your daily routine.


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