8 things NGOs can do to survive the pandemic

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Forbes Middle East’s “Women In Philanthropy and Charitable Care” webinar brought together some prominent female leaders and commentators to discuss these challenges and the role that women in particular are playing in philanthropic initiatives.
Forbes Middle East’s “Women In Philanthropy and Charitable Care” webinar brought together some prominent female leaders and commentators to discuss these challenges and the role that women in particular are playing in philanthropic initiatives.

DUBAI — Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Labour Organization (ILO) had already predicted that global unemployment would rise to 190.3 million during 2020. Lockdown has caused the global unemployment rate to spike even more than predicted. In the US alone, unemployment increased from 3.8% in February to 13% in May according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Higher unemployment figures and salary cuts mean that those who once might have supported non-profit organizations are now in need of support. Donations are drying up and NGOs are struggling to survive.

Forbes Middle East’s “Women In Philanthropy and Charitable Care” webinar brought together some prominent female leaders and commentators to discuss these challenges and the role that women in particular are playing in philanthropic initiatives.

Speaking at the event were: Dr. Sawsan A.S. Al Madhi, director general of Friends of Cancer Patients; Rima Fakih Slaiby, former Miss USA and ambassador of the Children’s Cancer Center in Lebanon; Nisreen Qatamish, director general of the King Hussain Cancer Foundation; Dr. Dima Jamali, president of the UN Global Compact Network Lebanon; Manna Dabholkar, CEO of the GIFT Global Initiative and Commissioner of Cybil Brand; and Barbara Winston, president of UN Women for Peace Association. The session was moderated by Suraya Turk, senior partner at Legal Circle.

Ban Soon-taek, patron of the UN’s Women for Peace Association, sent a special message for the event, saying “We are facing collective trauma that requires collective healing. Non-profit organizations need their community supporters, especially in these trying times.”

Here are eight things NGOs can focus on during the pandemic to help them continue their work:

1. Differentiate yourself from other NGOs

There are millions of non-government organizations and all are competing for both international and local funding. “There is a lot of competition, even now, in the philanthropic space,” said Dr. Jamali. As in business, NGOs need to critically think about how they position and differentiate themselves from others.

A study by Microsoft found that the average attention span of a human is only eight seconds. NGOs need to stand out from the crowd and grab customers attention immediately. Find a different way to engage with your audience, or a unique way to spread your message.

2. Restrategize and repurpose

The term “these are unprecedented times” has been overused the last few months, but the reality is that these aren’t normal conditions that we’re facing. Now is the time for out of the box thinking. “There is opportunity in each situation and plenty of opportunities during COVID-19 for non-profits,” explained Dabholkar. Organizations need to assess their organization and identify where they can adjust their strategies and what resources they can repurpose.

Consider whether funding from other initiatives can be repurposed for other, more critical needs. Some organizations who have large, one-time payments coming in have started offering payment plans to make it easier for donors to continue supporting them.

3. Embrace technology

In the last few months, NGOs have had to rethink their strategies and find innovative new ways to raise funds. Despite its devastating impact, COVID-19 has been the driving force for innovation and digital transformation. Dr. Al Madhi explained: “COVID-19 is the great accelerator.”

Many organizations have found a new audience online and are able to increase global awareness of the work they do and their needs. This has created greater access for people to see the difference these organizations are making and more opportunities to get involved.

Embracing technology isn’t merely creating an online presence. This can also include gamifying engagements with their organization, sending newsletters and updates about the work they are doing or utilizing technology to optimize procedures. Explore different technology that is available and brainstorm how it can become a tool to continue the work you do.

4. Reach out to your network

There are many individuals who want to give back to the community but don’t know where to start or are unaware of what programs and organizations are available. If an organization has a good relationship with their donors, they can also try and reach out to their donor’s network.

By utilizing their network, NGOs can spread awareness, reach potential donors, revive previous donors and find individuals or organizations that can provide a solution to something they’re struggling with.

Before reaching out, organizations need to create a clear communications campaign and identify why they are reaching out, what they want to say and what response they are looking for.

5. Create global awareness

If people don’t know what you are doing, they won’t support you. Creating awareness is one of the most important things that NGOs can focus on; however, they need to create global awareness and not only focus on the regional community.

Regional awareness limits your reach. By reaching out to the global community, organizations can spread their message further and reach international stakeholders. “I’m hoping to spread that awareness and let people know that anything helps. This [global awareness] is the only way to bring change,” explained Slaiby.

6. Build trust with your stakeholders

Trust is an important aspect of fundraising. If people don’t know how their donations are being spent, they are unlikely to support an organization. Having a strong digital footprint and sharing the work you do provides better transparency and builds trust with existing and potential stakeholders. “Social media is a great tool. When you do work, you show your work. That is how you build trust,” advised Dabholkar.

Other ways that charities can build more trust is by registering for the tax-exemption charities list, receiving reviews and testimonials from donors and the community and being listed on trusted charity listing websites such as Charity Navigator in the US or Charity Choice in the UK.

7. Collaborate More

Collaboration is a hidden gem that most NGOs are not utilizing. With a greater variety of expertise and knowledge, there is a bigger scope for problem solving. “We have enough capacity to feed, clothe and educate everyone in the world. We just don’t have the system and the structure,” said Winston.

8. Remain optimistic and spread love

In a world filled with pain and suffering, NGOs bring hope and light. The most important aspect of what NGOs do is to spread love and hope to the community. Whether it is a word of encouragement, a post on social media or a note with a care package, continue to spread love. “Women are compassionate and reciprocal. What I would like to advise and empower women to do is to keep going and don’t stop, even when there is a crisis,” encouraged Slaiby.

The pandemic has revealed many flaws and challenges, but it has also created a fruitful environment for innovation. If humanity stands together to help those most vulnerable, society can emerge from these times even stronger than before. — SG


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