Corporate, NGO speak: mutually unintelligible? — Dina Zaman

JUNE 2 — If there is one love-hate relationship that is evident, it would be between the non-profit sector and corporates/governments.

Corporate social responsibility projects, fundraisers, monitoring and evaluation working papers — very few come to fruition with both parties at loggerheads.

The non-profits decry capitalism and how corporations are just spending money to look good, while are extremely dependant on profit making multi-nationals per se, for their ‘charitable’ programmes.

For profit organisations think these:

(1) how will this enterprise benefit my company financially, and

(2) professionally?

It is understandable that NGOs see beyond money. They have communities to care for. Such endeavours revolve around behavioural change, emotions, psychology, and education. They are passionate, angry, and determined to see their communities thrive.

Unfortunately, many (not all) do not operate like a business, and expect corporates to fund their work without any explanation. They believe that a corporation will benefit almost instantly the moment money is handed out to them. This is what one calls the ‘Karma’ factor.

Corporates however view this differently. There’s a bottom line to meet. How does a proposed project fit with their corporate strategies and branding? Oh dear, this does not look sustainable at all, I’m not keen on this one!

Some NGOs manage to hoodwink MNCs, and then they disappear. No transparency, no paperwork is done. You hear of horror stories of how some members of a non-profit use money to buy German cars, to the detriment of the very people they say they are helping. Is it any wonder that business organisations shy away from NGOs then?

Of course not all NGOs work that way. However, there is a need for many non-profits to behave like a business, instead of viewing businesses as their personal bankers. This may sound rather strange, especially for an outfit concentrating on a particular cause, but non-profits would do well to study the business they wish to approach.

Handouts/welfare mindsets no longer work. Pushing one’s agendas and ideals also may not sit down well with a business entity.

Sometimes it is the very basics which actually become a barrier to funding: poor communications and presentation.

Letters asking for funding, sans information of the organisations and their causes. Angry NGO staff approaching corporates all set for war and refusing to negotiate. Wearing inappropriate clothes - yes, call this shallow, but one can still look decent and washed in cheap and presentable clothes. This has nothing to do with mercenary capitalism: take pride in one’s self. You’re representing a cause. Unless you’re a member of a long lost jungle tribe, and modern clothing is an alien concept to you, an even well-worn and yellowed but clean and pressed shirt works. And if you have a beard and represent a faith-based organisation, please brush out food matter from it. Some CEOS have weak stomachs.

Here’s a tip: read books on advertising, marketing and public relations. Yes, the scourge of NGOs who have better things to do than read about shallow people and businesses. This is, however, one ‘enemy’ an NGO must befriend.

In an increasingly image and marketing driven world, the pie is getting smaller. You want money? Nothing comes for free, baby.

Corporations must also communicate to NGOs what they want and the audience they are targeting. What could have been thought as an external CSR programme, would actually be an internal programme for the organisation. Sometimes, a corporate’s KPIs which may have changed along the way, are not relayed to the NGO outfit.

And many times, corporate and NGO jargon appear as mutually unitelligible languages. Both parties end up scratching their heads. At times, in sheer desperation a charity is sourced, and they realise that the match is not a heavenly one! So a break-up happens in the middle of a courtship. Time is wasted and the community needing support, is aggrieved.

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