Laura Potgieter | 18 July 2021
The statistics around child abuse in South Africa is overwhelming. Sadly, the Non-Government / Profit Organisation (NGO or NPO) sector is an aspect of our country that is exceptionally mismanaged. Organisations that are executing change and representing the rights of children, sharing the horrific figures, and calling Government to action just don’t seem to be making much headway. According to Women and Men against Child Abuse, 1 in 3 children experience some form of physical or sexual abuse, 80% are abused by people that they know, 1 in 9 cases are reported, 7% of child abusers are eventually convicted. These figures are a minor reflection of how much of a concern this is for our society. Are we not, perhaps, blatantly failing to protect the rights of children because of lack of management in our NGO sector? Whilst ensuring that perpetuators are caught and held accountable and children are removed from dangerous environments, funds must be raised and digital media and marketing amongst other things, is needed.
Are grassroots organisations in a position to support children?
DevCom was infuriated and frustrated by the challenges that Child Welfare Tshwane faced at an organisational level, but this provided us with the fuel to step in and assist the organisation on an extremely limited budget. Mari Lee, Founder and CEO reflects, “In all my years of handling various aspects of communication, this was a service that was close to my heart and one that could not go unnoticed. When CWT approached DevCom for assistance with getting their stakeholders on board with major brand and transformation plan changes that had already been implemented, we took action to bring our professional wand into the mix.” As with many NGO based organisations, the very structure of the organisation often lacks depth because board members are chosen because of their networking capacity within the donor environment and the staff members working in the community feel under appreciated. The lack of communication is a huge elephant in the room! “They aren’t wrong – it was a quite a project for us to tackle and a pleasure to work with an organisation that really had the end goal in sight, even though there were these challenges. We found that everyone at CWT was there to make a difference to each child that they dealt with, that the rights of children were paramount and that they would literally do whatever it took to protect all children that came along their path, and more, if possible.”
Challenges that Non-Government Organistions all face, is vast
No organisation needs the same from us, we are a niche consultancy and direct our communication strategy according to the unique needs of our clients. This organisation was no different – we also found a huge gap between Management, Board Members and Stakeholders, no different to what we find within other organisational structures. Here’s the gist of it and something that might ring true for us all when we spare a moment to look at our internal communication and leadership structures.
- Communication between board members and staff barely existed. Staff were hesitant to communicate with us, listen and or give feedback. DevCom was viewed as an organisation that had been appointed by management to intervene. The staff had lost faith in their management structure and trust had been broken. Meeting with us was seen as another long meeting for communicating the same message. Staff were overloaded and had status and project reports to complete and send off by certain due dates. It was difficult to gather the information that we needed to compile research about the difficulties that the organisation was facing. We needed to hear what everyone thought, we had to make the entire organisation feel important and heard.
- The corporate identity of the brand had been the same for many years as there is always a huge funding gap for major changes that included brand alignment. The recent name change had been launched and yet the documentation, both internally and externally, hadn’t been changed or communicated to each staff member or the public. Staff weren’t excited about the brand yet because they didn’t know anything about the change or why it had been done. This was a valuable opportunity to create excitement about their new brand – the potential was endless!
- Interaction with publications and media around newsworthy stories were simply not a priority and was only handled as needed, an afterthought. This isn’t an effective method of communication because there is an opportunity in the media and being able to present their voice, represent the organisation and its views and use this form of communication for donor response. The community needs to hear the human stories, this creates awareness. The opportunity to showcase the impact that was being made, was tragically being missed.
A communication strategy that would help everyone have a voice and feel heard, for the children…
Child Welfare Tshwane consists of 80 permanent staff, 150 volunteers and 12 board members. This overwhelming and vast audience was the driving force when it came to finding the right communication tool that would make a difference and change how everyone in the organisation views one another, to focus on the end goal. The social workers in the organisation play a significant role because they have direct contact with each child, and they are on a journey with the children, walking a long path. They are all passionate and dedicated, they are exposed to so much, and no amount of debriefing seems to help these 90% women and 10% men overcome what they experience at grassroots level. They must fight hard for the rights of children without much help from “the outside world”. This was an emotive aspect of our work with CWT as we considered and managed the expectations and feelings of both the social workers and management. Our plan needed to make things easier on everyone as they felt overworked.
Time for action – let’s align!
We provided a starter pack that aligned to the brand changes – this included all the material needed for administration purposes – templates, marketing material and training guidelines. By disseminating this starter pack, many of the issues around time management had been dealt with, as the staff felt empowered with information and that their time constraints were recognised. In keeping with the brand identity change, a particularly important aspect of any communication strategy, the brand was launched more effectively and a feeling of relevance to the organisation was reached. Community members felt excited about the work that was being done, shared their stories, began to encourage one another. “I have always believed in the power of words – we can’t create passionate communication strategies without sharing our views and a piece of ourselves must be told to make it feel real and resonate with the audience. We encouraged each social worker to share some of their stories or tell us about a case that had recently imprinted on them. This was well received – the narrative created a picture that was beautiful and full of hope.”
The result – we had content for marketing, social media, newsletters, stakeholder involvement and to build a fresh donor database. We were involved in this project from 2005 – 2007. Since then, we have continued with our support of community-based projects, including the Nataniel Progress Project and a Jumping Kids project. Stay connected to see more on these vital and crucial campaigns.
Nelson Mandela day is a day that we ask our country to give of their time, resources and provide any financial relief that is possible. Our diverse country has inherited Child Welfare organisations, but like many NGO’s, if we focus on the basics and make it a little easier to bridge the gap between leaders and staff members – the results could be astronomical! This year is no exception, we encourage you to get involved with your communities. Everyone can make an impact and must take responsibility to change the world for the better! Act, inspire change!