NGO communications: 7 things to never do again

02 february 2015

At Dóchas, we are keen to change the way people in Ireland think – and speak – about global development.

We know that public support in Ireland is unusually high but that many people think “development” is a matter only of aid, charity and generosity. Our research shows that the majority of people in Ireland do not think their day-to-day lives have any impact on poor countries. And we know that people are increasingly wondering whether overseas aid really works.

So we think it is time to change the way NGOs speak about their work, and to make more explicit linkages between decisions here (by consumers, politicians, companies) and poverty “there”.

We began by developing a Code of Conduct for NGO communications (and we have recently produced this Guide for the implementation of the Code), and then we did some research to analyse the way Irish NGOs really speak.

And then we started a new service, focusing on all the positive news from developing countries.

We did not do this on our own. In fact, we got lots of inspirations from others:

Some 10 years ago, the “Imaging Famine” project got us going.

Our colleagues across the EU have taken up our Code of Conduct on Images & Messages.

Our colleagues in the USA are having a similar discussion. Read e.g. this blog post by Tom Scott from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with “5 things we need to know about communicating with the public about global development

And our colleagues in Italy, inspired by the Narrative Project, came up with “7 things to not do ever again”:

  1. To think that only the results of our projects can get people to support cooperation;
  2. Use pity and induce guilt in public opinion with respect to poverty;
  3. Use the word “Help”;
  4. Starting a story starting with the “Problem”;
  5. Use too long periods of time to achieve the results (by 2030, in 15 years, etc.);
  6. Minimise the problem of corruption;
  7. Justify development cooperation with problems of national security and immigration.

Read more about the Narrative Project:

The Narrative Project – Overview Deck July 2014 from James North

Also read:

The Narrative Project also suggests 4 key values to form the heart of any public communications about Global Development: