Fear for a good image | article

27 May 2011

Our articles

To recruit volunteers and donors in the Netherlands it is essential to invest in the image of your organisation. Local aid organisations in Southeast Asia often think quite differently, worried about portraying themselves as “too well off”. A missed opportunity according to Judith Madigan.

Publication in Vice Versa, May 2011, 'Angst voor een goed imago' by Judith Madigan.

Renowned organisations in the Netherlands are increasingly investing in branding, marketing and communications. With less funding available from governments, the available donors and volunteers are in great demand. This does not apply in countries like Cambodia; however, where many believe that branding is equivalent to pens with logos, plastered cars and a slick look.

A while back I spoke with a small local organisation that provides education to children with intellectual disabilities. Small yes, but with a strong and effective grassroots approach. Although a thorough profiling and positioning could give them an additional boost, they were afraid to change their approach, as they believe donors expect a small-scale organisation and a low-key image with few communication means. This thought still surprises me.

Much more to gain

Why would a strong image and professional resources stand in the way of successful fundraising? Donors now realise that some of their money will go to organisation and implementation. Money is also needed for fundraising, branding and marketing. Surely donors are actually looking for sincere commitment and clear communication with the same goal?

There is so much to gain by a visible profile and transparent communication. A good example is All Ears Cambodia, a local project for people suffering from hearing impairments and deafness. While the project is carefully set up with advanced equipment, this professional approach was in stark contrast to their communications. All Ears Cambodia did not even have a decent online presentation. A new image and communication brought more balance and any misperception that this might work against them was soon gone. Moreover, their annual budget has doubled over the past three years.

Strong profile

Local work can be small in scale but this should not stand in the way of developing high profile and professional communications. With this comes a move towards independence as organisations become less dependent on the declining subsidies from major donors. The limits to approaching potential donors are becoming blurred by online marketing and social media. But to cross them, one should go overcome the fear of having too good an image. Especially local organisations must profile themselves to supporters who are looking to feel connected to their message.

Judith Madigan is director of the non-profit organisation BrandOutLoud. BrandOutLoud helps local aid organisations become independent through branding and communication.