Friday, 24 June 2011

Stories of success vs stories of despair

A while back several people talked about the fact that perhaps one of the problems with NGO (particularly INGO) marketing is that the aim seems to be to convince people that there is a problem requiring action when in fact many people know and accept that but aren't convinced that the action proposed will be effective (Owen Barder makes the point very effectively in this post). I thought it was a good and important point at the time. Of course, there are still people who deny the existence of problems, but over the years I've met many people who acknowledge the problem but aren't convinced by the proposed solution or are put off by the many apparently contradictory solutions presented to them.

In the spirit of that, it struck me that this story from the UNHCR (which I came across here) is far more persuasive than the overwhelming number of appeals I heard recently to help destitute people. It isn't that I'm not moved to help those who are in desperate need, but it makes it seem more sensible and worthwhile to help those who are in desperate need if I also hear stories of how the 'helping' achieves the goal of long-term success (in this case, successful, happy return).

Of course, my perspective is biased by my knowledge of development and a deep concern with impact and effectiveness (and SmartAid), but it seems to me that journalists and activists who are concerned with responsible use of donor funds could achieve a lot by recognising impact where it does happen. And, perhaps more importantly, that NGO marketing should be prepared to distract from the urgent long enough to ensure (without being dishonest) that there is equal attention paid to showing results as to showing need. Tough to balance with the often desperate need for funds, especially for smaller NGOs and in emergency situations, and something most people probably know, but maybe worth thinking about. At least, a good reminder (for me) that stories of need are never enough if we want donors, small and large, to be willing to keep supporting the work we do because they believe in the results not only because they are guilt-tripped by the immediate need.

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