5 Sensible Ways Non-profits Can Rise Above The Challenges

by Kim Faulkner & Vernice Chua 1 November 2016

In our previous article “When The Dream Hits Reality”, we identified the Top 10 challenges faced by Social Service Enterprises (SSEs) and Charities.  

As a quick recap, the Top 10 challenges are outlined below:

  1. Gradual erosion of the original “cause-vision” as societal needs and landscape evolve.
  2. Proliferation of organisations appearing to champion similar causes, leading to fragmentation and duplication of efforts.
  3. A struggle to attract and retain talent in the effort to enhance professionalism and remain relevant.
  4. Insufficient capital to build a basic pool of manpower, and as a result, high turnover due to poor human capital investment and remuneration.
  5. Poorly managed service centre or sub-par centre environment experience.
  6. A mismatch in expectations and role of board members and management.
  7. Weak, ad-hoc, communications outreach programmes and activities which become “lost” in the increasing marketplace chatter.
  8. Inefficient, unclear, or emotionally exploitative public fundraising efforts which are either ignored, or which create a negative image for the organisation and beneficiaries.
  9. Cause fatigue amongst general public.
  10. Dilution of impact over time, as relevance of the organisation declines within the CSR landscape.

In this article, we’re headlining our recommended responses to the issues outlined, as “5 sensible ways” because they are a rational and disciplined approach to staying relevant for any cause-related organisation.

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1. Periodic Evaluation and Re-envisioning

Periodic evaluation of what the organisation has done, and its plans for the future, ensures that it stays relevant and purposeful.

Issues 1 -2 are the result of a lack differentiation and relevance. Social service enterprises need to continually evaluate the impact of what they have done, and monitor how the social landscape has changed as a result. 

Having a heritage of good work does mean that you will have changed the landscape, but society’s needs may have also evolved and as such, any organisation that rests on its laurels, risks becoming irrelevant.

Market Research or an Impact Audit can help guide how the organisation can enhance relevance and impact for the future.

Being able to understand changes to the landscape and envision a “new” future, will help create a more inspiring brand that can become an indomitable force in driving a sustainable and impactful cause. More importantly, it will address Issue 10 on declining relevance over time.

 

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2. Clarity in What You Stand for

Being clear about what you stand for empowers staff and attracts the right people.
 

Issues 3-4 are the result of an unclear or uninspiring cause. Some organisations are afraid of “standing up” for the cause for fear of turning off some people. But we believe a great brand needs to have a clear point of view to act as a “filter” for the right people.

It is a delicate balance for social service enterprises to be able to offer competitive market salaries to staff, and to get people to work for a cause just because they believe in it.

We need to pay for good people and inspire those whom we believe have a capacity to make a difference. Keeping staff motivated and challenged is as important as attracting the right people. 

Social service enterprises need to be clearer, sharper and more innovative than commercial enterprises to retain their “best and brightest”. Never underestimate the power of a strong brand which people want to be associated with.

 

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3. Epitomising Brand in Service Centres

The service centre has to be the epitome of your brand promise and an extension of your cause vision.
 

Issue 5 is the result of insufficient budget and poor brand experience management. The service centre is often the most important channel of outreach and impact for the social service enterprises. Yet budget issues often mean that these are located in sub-optimal spaces with low visibility.

Having an environment which tells your story well is half the battle won. The importance of a well-signed, well-lit service centre experience with powerful, inspiring environmental graphics cannot be overemphasised. It will help draw attention to the service, enable the public to locate you, and enable both staff and visitors to better understand your cause.

Budget constraints may mean that the front office is staffed by volunteers or people who are concerned with ensuring the “right people” receive the right attention. But they do need to be trained and coached to deliver the requisite experience — and this is more than operational efficiency. It is about the people and place being aligned with the brand purpose. 

 

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4. Align the Board with Strategic Purpose

Align the board with the strategic purpose of the cause and impact.
 

Issue 6 is a BIG one, and often the result of mismatched expectations and an erosion of trust between the board and management.

Strategic counsel from the board becomes an interference when board members have strong perspectives on the issues facing the social serviceenterprise, but have insufficient faith or understanding of the challenges faced by the management team. Equally unproductive are board members who show up for board meetings sporadically, with little or no preparation, feeling that their presence is sufficient support for the cause. Both the board and management need to be clear about the impact goals and constantly ensure that the cause is strategically aligned from all perspectives.

Does your board care about how the organisation is making a difference to society, or are they just there to fulfil a voluntary obligation?

 

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5. Keeping People Energised

The need to keep people energised so the cause is championed with passion and coherence.


 

Issues 7-10 are the result of a misapprehension of what a social service enterprise or charity needs to do. It has to tackle societal or environmental issues with a view of scaling its impact. 

Communications, especially in fundraising, are often angled to drive guilt. While telling real stories to build awareness is important, retaining the dignity and pride of beneficiaries becomes even more crucial in the social service landscape. Fundraising managers need to tell stories in positive and inspiring ways, rather than constantly painting a fearful and unworthy picture of beneficiaries. What our world needs is hope, not fear. 

With so many causes fighting for public attention, donors become increasingly wary and weary of being asked to give more. The charities which fundraise by intercepting passers-by on the street, will need to re-examine the effectiveness and repercussions of this mode of fundraising. 

Cause-fatigue is on the rise, and donors increasingly need to feel energised to give, rather than intercepted for a donation. But cause-fatigue also happens within organisations. People within also need to be stimulated and energised by learning and growing personally, and this can only happen when the organisation is continually evaluating its relevance and effectiveness. What can it do more of? What can it do better in? How can the organisation brand become the rallying cry for the cause?

 

Same But Different

The 5 ways in which we advocate that social service enterprises and non-profits deal with the challenges they face are not dissimilar to those faced by commercial enterprises in the world today.

The real difference is that the former have a real opportunity to galvanise society and governments to make decisions which would scale and improve the conditions under which non-profits operate. Wouldn’t this make our world a better place?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim has over 30 years of branding, marketing and design experience in Asia and has lectured and written extensively on the subject of branding, strategy development, marketing and design across the region.

Vernice has been passionate about creating sustainable and impactful brands since 2000. She believes the world needs saving and all of us should begin now.