Choosing the right NGO for a brand’s meaningful social project is a very important step – the first of many. The hard work continues by building and developing a long-term and sustainable relationship.
For a deeper dive into the matter – and to get an authentic glimpse of the NGOs’ perspective – we have interviewed one of our long-standing NGO partners, Andreea Furtuna, Program Director at Romanian Red Cross, with over 15 years of experience in the field. Below is a selection of Andreea’s key ideas and thoughts on how to best work with NGOs. Expect frank, open and helpful content.
The key takeaway of the interview is that companies, NGOs, and PR agencies all must work together to accomplish a common purpose: improving the life of people who need it. This is what holds us together.
Of course, to achieve this is not always easy, and challenges usually appear in the process, but with openness, good will, mutual respect, diplomacy, and a lot of patience things move towards the right direction. Also, in this formula, PR agencies play a vital mitigation role, especially in tough times.And finally, the personal relationships and chemistry between representatives of the three sides involved are paramount to great and successful projects.
Here are the key recommendations from Andreea for companies, NGOs, and the agencies on how things could work smoothly between them.
Tips for companies and brands:
Be open to align your CSR policies, often established internationally, to the local realities and needs. And the entity who knows this the best is your partner NGO, so ask for their advice and trust their expertise. Of course, we will respect your CSR strategy and we will adapt to your communication pillars, but our focus remains the beneficiaries. Together we can find solutions to the community’s needs.
Think about what other resources you can put at an NGO’s disposal, besides the financial ones – e.g., specific knowledge on a topic, logistics, networking. They are all very valuable.
The NGOs have limited resources and sometimes the advertising and PR requirements exceed our capabilities. Suggestion: take into consideration extra resources for communication and media exposure in addition to the actual budget for social projects. Invite your PR agency to work closely together with your in-house PR team and the NGO press officer and make sure to maximize the exposure – with benefits for both the company and the NGO. But please keep a balance between the budget for the cause and for advertising.
Planning is very important, especially for the NGOs which often have an extended presence with subsidiaries in several regions and many people involved. We will do our best to implement last-minute projects, but sometimes it won’t be possible, and we count on your understanding and adaptability. It is best to establish together a budget and a calendar at the end of the year for the following year to ensure continuity and allocate sufficient resources.
Let’s do valuable social projects throughout the year, not only in December. We know it is a special period when we all feel generous and an urge to help, but the beneficiaries need our help and involvement all year round. So, we count on your on-going commitment.
Volunteering activities are not teambuilding exercises. Companies should allow their employees to get involved in the charity projects and give a helping hand with no preferential treatment (no fancy lunch, no diplomas for everyone at the end). It happens way too often that NGOs are expected to create special events for the sponsor’s employees with insignificant or almost zero impact for the beneficiaries. With all good will, if an NGO can improve the experience and feel good of a company’s employees, they will surely do it. But when the set-up does not allow that, the organizers should focus on the priority: doing good for the beneficiaries.
Tips for NGOs:
If your mission is clear and communicated in a transparent way, things will go smoother with brands and agencies. Complete information on your website, in your annual report and up-to-date communications on social media are a must.
You must be mature enough to hold on to your mission and say no if you are asked to make compromises just to secure financial help from a company. Always keep your verticals!After all, your main stakeholders are the people who benefit from your programs.Of course, the ideal situation is to be able to do good, with the support of your partners. But the reality is often far from ideal.
Adapt, find solutions, be flexible, never stop learning!
Tips for PR agencies:
We both know who „the client” is, but we hope in sensitive situations the agency will be the NGO’s ambassador in front of the company’s representatives and spokespersons.
Be brave, take decisions, be firm and simplify the communication process.
Keep a very open relationship with the NGO – let them know what is possible and what is not. Give them heads up if they don’t achieve companies’ expectations, make suggestions and – most importantly – listen to your partners.
Stay well informed – the main criteria for working with an NGO is its proven capability to deliver the mission and have a positive impact. We often see that popular NGOs with great media presence are attractive for a public association, but always take a close look at their real activities.
At the end of any cooperation project, all actors involved must feel the positive value of their partnership. But the beneficiaries must be the real winners.
Alexandra is a founder and the main shareholder of Free Communication in Bucharest, Romania.
With a degree in architecture and urbanism, Alexandra has chosen to take challenges of the communications field more than 20 years ago. With an extensive experience in PR & marketing, she has coordinated integrated communication services for large international brands and companies in challenging industries as healthcare, aviation, finance & insurance, automotive, retail, construction.
Alexandra also holds a degree in Executive MBA from ASSEBUSS/Kennesaw State University Program.
At Free Communication she is in charge of business strategy and development, international relations and development and supervising strategy for key clients.