Marketing humanitarian aid – again and again.

How do you market a brand – when you have nothing to sell? How do you engage consumers in a new product – when that product is a humanitarian emergency? And how do you do this successfully – time, and time, again?

The “Likes don’t save lives” video highlights the need for online activism to result in real donations to support UNICEFs life saving work abroad. 

Ethiopia is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts to hit the Horn of Africa in decades. The Syrian refugee crisis is hitting its peak thus far, with almost 5 million people registered as refugees with UNHCR. Fiji is still recovering from the devastating effects of Cyclone Winston just last month. Nepal is continuing its recovery efforts as a result of the 2015 earthquake. The civil war in South Sudan continues to worsen, with 1.6 million internally displaced people, countless outbreaks of disease, and the world’s worst food crisis threatening the lives of 4 million people.

In these times of need, the global movement of non-profit organisations aim to attract funding to support their responses. To do so ensures an increasingly strong demand on the brand of the organisation as one that continues to support people in times of need, while maintaining a solid impression of financial responsibility.

Trust – the essential ingredient to a non-profit brand

While the objective of having a “brand” continues to be differentiation from competitors, in the non-profit sector the focus on this differentiation strongly relies on emotional connection and trust. In addition to this, non-profit brands are also seen as needing strong values that underpin and drive the work which they do, in order to remain legitimate in the sector.

Professor John Quelch from the University of Harvard highlights that non-profit brands rely on the consumer (hereafter more appropriately referred to as the donor) to link the reputation of the organisation with it’s brand, believing that the organisation is doing, and will continue to do, lifesaving work where it is required. This belief attracts respect and admiration, in addition to those all-important emotional connections with the donors. Ultimately, this has the opportunity to connect the donor’s money to the cause.

Importantly for non-profit brands, negative press that may impact the trust built can have rapid and long lasting effects to the organisations future fundraising efforts. Common issues to hit the press impacting donor trust include the percentage of money attributed to administration costsexecutive salaries of CEO’s and simple overspending. Issues such as these are heavily linked to the demise most recently of the Shane Warne Foundation.

A humanitarian emergency as a “new product” 

One of the greatest challenges facing non-profit organisations is continually raising money when additional need arises. Increasingly, both natural and man-made disasters are demanding more humanitarian responses than ever. In 2016 alone, UNOCHA have identified the need for 20.1 Billion to provide aid to 88.7 million people around the world.

In a similar way to a for profit organisation marketing it’s latest product, NGO’s responding to the latest humanitarian disaster essentially are left with a “new product” which must be marketed in a way that encourages donors to part with money.


Angelina Jolie’s appointment as Special Envoy with UNHCR has enabled increased media coverage and engagement on the plight of refugees. Photo credit: Natalie Behring-Chisholm/Getty Images

In addition to relying on the trust and goodwill already created by past responses, or long term community development work, non-profits utilise a range of methods to tug the emotional heart-strings. While 24/7 media images of the latest tragedy ensure a basic understanding of the need, non-profits utilise a range of methods, including articulating the exact benefit that will result from every dollar donated, utilising  celebrity endorsements (although not without some criticism) to build greater connection to a difficult subject, and ensuring the brand of the organisation is directly connected and visible in relief efforts for recognition and transparency. Non-profits have also found social media to be pivotal to ongoing fundraising efforts – with particular success recently shown in campaigns like the UNICEF ‘Likes don’t save lives’ campaign (highlighted above) and Save the Children’s “Most Shocking Second a Day Video”, which imagined if Surrey was Syria. This video has now reached over 53 million hits on Youtube and resulted in a 1000% increase in Save the Children’s YouTube subscribers.

Sadly, the sheer amount of humanitarian emergencies that require funding have impacted the ability of aid agencies to raise the required funds for a full response – particularly for long relief efforts such as the Syrian response. As a result, pressure to capture the audience’s attention, stay relevant and raise the required funding demands innovative marketing strategies and continual attempts to build upon trust currently held with donors.

Post by Kristy McLean | 500155585 | kmcle

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