Rule of Three... NGO Comms with HandsOn Hong Kong
HandsOn Hong Kong is a non-profit organisation connecting local non-profits with volunteer manpower in the city, and its comms team plays a big role in fulfilling this mission. In this inaugural Rule of Three, we caught up with Fiona Barker, HandsOn's Communications Director, to get a piece by piece look into NGO comms and on how communicators can more thoughtfully engage with the NGO sector.
1. Three misconceptions people have about NGO comms.
“We have no budget.” I won’t shy away from the fact that budgets are small, but we still make a deliberate allocation for marketing and comms. They are a hugely important part in making the organisation’s existence and mission known. What that looks like requires more flexibility and creative thinking to stretch the budget. It might take the shape of media partnerships, cost-effective social media spending and retail fundraising collaborations.
“There is no career path for comms professionals.” In reality, our sector provides ample opportunity for a lifetime of exciting work. You have a unique role in that you work across the entire organisation - from funding applications to donor and programme development. Your career path has the potential to land you in a key figurehead role on the leadership team.
“We are not strategic communicators.” This is a simple one. It’s so clear to me that communicators play a key role in joining the dots between objectives and impact, and the non-profit sector is no exception. Specialist areas such as appeals, proposals, grant applications and pitches are just a few that require strategic thinking. These enable us to attract, engage and retain supporters and help meet the organisation's mission.
2. Three things PRs looking to make the switch in NGO work should know.
You’re both the builder, and the ‘doer’. Although strategic thinking is essential, you are likely to always execute in your role. So it’s even more important to keep up on trends in social media and technology, be fast to adopt new platforms and keep your skills relevant.
Subject-matter experts are still your best friend. Trust, credibility and authenticity are your best currencies as a storyteller in the charitable non-profit sector, and real-world examples help to solidify this. There will also be many experts and thought leaders within the organisation as well as board members to lean on.
Supportive ecosystem. NGOs are generally very supportive of one another, so there is a whole network of extended contacts and communicators who collaborate on issues together - whether it’s to corroborate statistics or to campaign social issues together. This is an incredibly powerful part.
3. Three ways the comms industry can better support NGOs and local communities.
Help the sector have a voice. Communication acts as a catalyst and creates awareness among the public. The more stories we tell - as journalists, editors, influencers, bloggers, etc. - the better we can make these NGOs’ existence and missions known and in turn educate the world on things that matter.
Listen. Communicators are great at putting their agendas out there, but it helps to pause and listen to what’s happening at a grassroots level. At HandsOn, we continually remind ourselves to practice this too and listen to what our frontline charity partners are telling us about their concerns and needs.
Volunteer. So many organisations are looking for support. What that looks like can be varied; often charities and NGOs need professional, pro-bono or skills-based support, so whether it’s volunteering your expertise in social media management, media relations, photography or translation, it all helps make a positive impact.