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5 reasons why effective marketing and good development work are inseparable

5 reasons why effective marketing and good development work are inseparable

At the heart of marketing are stories. Stories activate our brain in ways that other forms of communications, such as statistics, don’t and is how humans learn, interact, share and conceptualize ideas.

This moment is an important one for NGOs because their reliance on fundraising is negatively influencing their marketing, and social media and online communications have changed the way marketing campaigns are delivered.

So what does this mean? There is nothing wrong with the act of storytelling. It is still the most effective way for NGOs to communicate with their audiences and share the voices of their beneficiaries. The problem is in the execution and our need to see change happen overnight.

I’m here to restore Weh’s faith in humanity and prove him wrong. Here are five reasons why effective marketing and good development work are inseparable.


  1. Effective stories inspire people to care about social causes by creating human connection and emotional resonance

The act of storytelling is special because stories promote human connection, build relationships and help the audience to understand their own and somebody else’s life. This is because the listener’s brain becomes synchronized with the storyteller’s and they experience the same emotions.

This process makes something that might seem distant or irrelevant relatable. Marketers in NGOs need to use stories to engage with supporters because we are often faced with the difficult job of connecting two very different people and their worlds. And communication methods like statistics can’t build a connection and human emotion.

Of course, the problem lately is the tendency to single out the wrong emotions. Poverty porn is an example of how NGOs take advantage of the power of emotion and storytelling.


  1. Well-crafted stories can communicate abstract and complex ideas in ways that encourage understanding

‘Less is more’ is a basic rule of good storytelling. Some of the best marketing is simple ideas masterfully executed through a personal narrative people can relate to. Big brands like Coca Cola are known for great marketing because they recognise they are selling an experience rather than bottles of dark fizzy syrup. People want to become a part of Coca Cola’s story. Obviously, NGOs tell more complicated stories than Coca Cola, but the idea is still the same.

Good marketers use stories to embed their values. Individuals usually support organisations whose values align with theirs. This is important for NGOs because implementing projects can take years and organisations need long-term supporters to provide continual funding, support and advocate for their work.

This is achieved by telling big stories through little ones. This doesn’t mean work is dumbed-down and any complexity removed. Often NGOs forget about the value element and focus solely on the product (and donating) so the audience is left wondering what the benefit is and what makes it valuable. This prevents audiences from inserting themselves into the story.


  1. Stories can encourage a two-way conversation and engage people as active participants

Online communications allows marketers to have a two-way conversation with their audience and bypass the ‘middleman’. This allows NGOs to educate, change misconceptions and exchange comments and feedback more easily between donors, supporters, and beneficiaries than ever before.


One Girl takes a different approach to marketing – they are very honest, friendly and personal. As a result, they are able to talk to their supporters about turning their engagement into action.

Now NGOs can engage their audience and encourage them to become active participants. Marketers can use stories to achieve social impact by positioning people in a cause and prompting them to find ways to conquer a problem and achieve a meaningful goal.

Screenshot 2014-05-22 14.58.05
How NGOs should structure stories for social impact.

This is important for NGOs because they can’t accomplish the level of change required on their own they need their audience, beneficiaries and donors to become active participants.

The problem lies in what is being used to define active participation and the expectation that because social media provides immediate feedback, that change will also be immediate. The focus on viral campaigns, likes and herd mentality often ends up delivering disappointing results for NGOs because these types of campaigns only create awareness. If the NGO doesn’t funnel the audience’s engagement into action, the attention drifts to another cause.


  1. Marketing can be used for beneficiaries to speak for themselves

Having a space for discussion also allows beneficiaries to tell their audiences what they need, want and share their learnings. This hasn’t always been possible but now through the power of storytelling and access to technology, beneficiaries can speak for themselves, work with others to create solutions and become active participants. NGOs can facilitate this process through their communication channels.


  1. Marketing can be used to create a sense of urgency to act and offers opportunities for people to take action

Good marketing helps an NGO to build a community of support and to expand its reach and resources. Good marketing campaigns allow NGOs to go beyond raising awareness of a cause. They encourage people to care, educate people about problems and solutions, create a sense of urgency to act and offer opportunities for people to take action.

The Hamlin Fistula Hospital took a risk and raised the ask of their campaign. The campaign has been a success because the organisation has focused on building relationships with supporters.


The main purpose of a marketing campaign should be about building long-term relationships with supporters, not funding. However, some NGOs have lost sight of this as donors place more pressure on them to achieve results in unrealistic timeframes.

As with everything, there are good and bad examples of NGOs using marketing but the bad shouldn’t deter us from using marketing altogether. The better approach is to look at why some NGOs have bad marketing and focus on what needs to be done to change this.

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Rachel is the Communications Director at WhyDev. She is a writer and communications consultant. Rachel combines her knowledge of storytelling and technology to help individuals and organisations in the social good space build their digital story. Over the last eight years she’s worked with international and local organisations across six continents. Her writing has been printed in numerous publications including The Big Issue, Dhaka Tribune and Maya. She is also the Regional Ambassador for NetSquared, Co-founder of Nia Children’s Foundation, a speaker, trainer and mentor. Read more of Rachel’s thoughts on her website: and be sure to say hi on Twitter at: RachelKurzyp

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  1. […] an emotional level should have primacy in development work, but what’s this based on? WhyDev talks about emotion as part of the advertising and public relations of NGOs, and Devex talks about the […]

  2. […] piece was originally written for and is featured on WhyDev and is the second part of a two-part series. Read the first […]

  3. […] At the heart of marketing are stories. Stories activate our brain in ways that other forms of communications, such as statistics, don’t and is how humans learn, interact, share and conceptualize ideas.  […]

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