‘Engagement’ is a container concept that demands powerful cooperation between different units and experimentation with interactive and dynamic means of communication. It requires a well-thought-out, relevant and sharp narrative, but also the courage to take a leap of faith sometimes if necessary. Communication tools are also becoming more interactive and dynamic and target groups, especially the younger generations, want to be included in actions and want to be involved in social and sustainable issues.
My research question was: ‘how do you bring together these conflicting needs and the interests of the different units and expertises that are involved in engagement? – Luka Gabreels
List with best practices for engagement
Organisational best practices:
- Make sure to identify, strengthen or establish linkages between units working on engagement-related topics and subjects, such as the private fundraising, lobby & advocacy, communication, network relation management and marketing units.
- Closely aligned with the first, give engagement a central place in the organisation and treat it as the primary expression of the corporate narrative and strategy to the outside world.
- Integrate content calendars to keep your engagement and corporate narrative consistent (vital to building up a brand and a name with which people can engage themselves).
Communicative best practices:
- Define your target group and create personas to specify and optimise your content.
- Define your unique selling points based on internal analysis and an analysis of your ‘competing colleagues’.
- Think inside-outside and outside-in: link your own corporate narrative and values to external developments. Choose your message and subject strategically within the larger frames and debates of the target group.
- Personalise your communication and representation: show the people behind the walls of the organisation and facilitate the target group’s identification with the organisation/brand.
- Localise and decolonise your communication and representation: prioritise the people working in-country offices or/and doing the work in your communication and representation. Empower these people, shift the power in communicative terms as well, and temper prejudices of NGOs being bureaucratic with too much distance between the global office and the people that matter.
- Combine values with pragmatism: start lobby and advocacy from the level of common values and stress the shared wish for change and the need for cooperation/political adjustment.
- Communicate in decisive, controlled and optimistic ways about urgencies to public audiences: avoid empty accusatory messages that demotivate people. Combine urgencies with concrete perspectives and suggestions for action and hope-based approaches.
- Digitalise your communication and private fundraising: keep up with the trends and communicative preferences of the target group.
- Pay attention to the ‘packaging’ of your message: wrap it in attractive and dynamic visuals for instance.
- Focus on interactive means and stimulating dialogue rather than on sending information with static content: engagement asks for personal commitment and interaction with the target group. Take your constituency with you in your actions.
- Provide positive experiences: link your narrative and brand to a personal experience of the target group. Do this positively, but also with a serious and activist edge.
- Find the balance between accessibility and openness and activism, as long as it is positive (at least when dealing with public audiences).
- Focus on community management and discourse change rather than on raising incomes.
- Be present at network events and events of your target group, such as the Bevrijdingsfestival or hang up posters at universities or other public spaces.
The general core of public engagement strategies
Plant seeds with contextualised and relevant content; repeat this content, preferably in combination with a personal experience; and build up a relationship with the target group through personal, localised, interactive and dynamic communication and representation.
Next steps Cordaid on engagement
The study was well received by Cordaid and can contribute to a future strategy on engagement. Meanwhile, Cordaid is expanding its Fix the Systems campaign in the Netherlands. Based on its own values and identity, Cordaid responds to social developments and crises (food, climate, health, migration) and calls for individual, collective and political action against systems that do not work for vulnerable and marginalised people in the Netherlands and worldwide.