The irresistible power of storytelling for organizations

“Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.” Read more

Great writing tips for authors, bloggers, columnists & journalists

Writing for Inc.com, Andrew Griffiths provides some excellent writing tips for authors, bloggers, columnists and journalists. This is all based on experience writing 20 books and 3,000 articles over 20 years!

My favourites include:

  • Always visualize a person who is your ideal niche whenever you write
  • Don’t waste a whole session on a piece that isn’t working
  • Keep an anecdote and story list
  • Figure out when you write your best words

Check out all 10 tips here

10 ways to improve your communications strategy

Are you currently developing, reviewing or delivering your nonprofit communications strategy? If you’re thinking about the type of strategy you need, why not start here. If your looking to take your communications strategy to the next level of effectiveness, consider the 10 tips below. They are all sourced from a Gaurdian article on the importance of communication in aid work and how to get it right.

1. People engage best with people, not abstract issues

Use case studies, testimonials and human interest stories to illustrate your issue in a real, accessible and relevant way.

2. Communicate the difference people can make

Rather than only focusing on the negative aspects of the problem, show that it is possible to address the problem and communicate what each audience member can do to help address it.

3. Find a private sector partner

Find an influential company that can act as your champion, so it can push your cause among peers.

4. Strategic communications can change policy

Aim for policy change by advocating for your cause in the media and amongst politicians. Policy change is one of the most tangible ways to achieve your social development goals. For example, the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team engaged with Pakistani press and politicians to advocate for education in the country. This contributed to the Government finding more funds for education and passing the free education bill.

5. Monitor everything

Speaking of monitoring, continually monitoring your progress and impact can help you generate a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not. You will then be able to make informed and effective adjustments to your strategy and use the positive monitoring data for stakeholder engagement and advocacy.

6. Know your audience

By clearly identifying your audience and understanding their behaviours, you can tailor your strategy and messages to best suit their needs.

7. Shift from compassion to solidarity campaigning

Move from convincing your audience to feel sorry for those you are helping, to working together with those in need to improve our shared world. Move your audience from focusing on pity to championing empowerment; from “it’s sad, but I have my own problems” to “we’re all in this together.”

8. Select the relevant data

Data is essential for transparency and evidence-based advocacy. With that said, ensure that you use the right data that is consistent with your strategy and messages, to ensure maximum impact.

9. Do more with less by being inventive

If you’re a small NGO lacking in resources, you’ll want to remember this tip. Work with freelancers and pro bono communications specialists, and organize competitions among students to generate content. Leverage free social media platforms and strategic partnerships that are cost-effective.

10. Listen to people on the ground

Talk with the people you are working with and serving in your project sites. Listen to them to understand what the real problems/needs are. Then together with them, incorporate this feedback into your communications strategy. This will ensure that your strategy can be as effective and relevant as possible for your these top-priority stakeholders.

Featured photo: Marc Wathieu, Flickr Creative Commons

Developing your advocacy strategy: Three questions to ask

In previous posts, I explored to definition of advocacy and the foundation areas for an effective advocacy strategy. But what is the very first action you should take in developing your strategy? Writing for Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jim Shultz stresses that organization’s need to first ask themselves three essential questions.

1. What do you want?
Deciding what you want – what impact or outcomes you want to achieve – requires some serious analysis. This begins with clarifying the deeper problem you are trying to solve and what you think it will take to solve it. As a result, you may find the you have big ambitions. But as Shultz notes, “these grand solutions are almost never initially within political reach, and organizations need to make strategic choices about what to fight for in the shorter-term”.

2. What does the political map look like?
Shultz stresses: “You wouldn’t make a move on a chessboard without studying where the pieces are, and you shouldn’t set off on an advocacy campaign without looking hard at the political map involved.” Mapping out the politics can include looking into who has authority and influence at different levels of government, as well as the political processes and structures that may affect your strategy. Having a good understanding of the context and dynamics will ensure that you adapt your strategy in the right and most effective way.

In addition, I contend that you should also explore the socioeconomic and sociocultural context when addressing this question. These aspects are linked to the political map and can significantly affect the implementation of your strategy.

3. What will you do?
Once you understand what you want and what context you are working in, you need to define the actions and tactics needed to deliver your strategy effectively. Truly explore what you think will have a real impact, assess your capacity to take these actions, and explore strategic opportunities, such as potential partnerships and events.

Reflecting on the three questions, Shultz notes that many organizations fail to take the time to genuinely think in a strategic way. “It is simply easier to think about the next action—a protest, a report, a lobbying visit—without seeing it all through a strategic lens,” he says. Strategic thinking will ensure that your advocacy is as intentional, consistent, relevant, context-specific and impactful as possible.

Shultz notes that effective strategy is an art, not a science, and there is no magic formula that works automatically in every circumstance. But these three questions are a good starting point in place of such a formula.

Featured photo: Protest at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, December 2008. Credit: allispossible.org.uk, Flickr Creative Commons

#ImagineaSchool: Documenting Syrian children’s struggle for education

Some students want better grades. Others want to make the basketball team. Over 187,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon just imagine attending school.

When it comes to powerful international development campaigns, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) continues to lead by example. #ImagineaSchool is a multimedia campaign launched by UNICEF Lebanon, giving a rare insight into the lives of Syrian refugee children and their struggle for education. Through the campaign, we are invited to hear  and share their stories, as well as support their cause.

According to UNICEF, around half of Syrian school-aged children – over 187,000 – are out of school in Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. Instead of getting an education, thousands of Syrian children, some as young as six years old, are working in agriculture, factories, construction and on the streets. #ImagineaSchool provides an intimate look into the lives of these and other children.

What makes this campaign so powerful is its interactive documentary, which immerses viewers into the children’s daily struggles for education. The documentary invites viewers to choose from a selection of challenges that they themselves faced in school. Once these challenges are selected, text and video testimonials tell the story of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon who have faced similar challenges, albeit in a much worse context. Some of them are no longer in school and others continue to struggle to stay in school.

Through powerful before and after photos, we see that that all five of the classes presented in the documentary have lost a significant amount of students. We hear about why some children don’t go to school – “I want to work to help my family. I wish I could study in the afternoon,” says one child – and what children that are in school struggle through everyday. “Here, we have a problem with the bus. It’s small so sometimes we fall out of the window,” says one student. “They always hit us at school, so what do I get out of going here?” says another.

But despite these struggles, hope remains.

“I want to learn and read more. I want to become a great journalist and report the news,” says a young boy. And in another profile, a young girl underscores the power of her education: “If something happened tomorrow in Syria, my knowledge would be a weapon.”