Last February, communicators and marketers from over 40 Canadian NGOs met in Ottawa.
The subject was international development—and how we can engage more Canadians about it.
At the meeting, we heard from pollsters who told us that the majority of Canadians have no idea what international development is—what it means, why it matters, or who does it.
Kevin Chapelle, Manager of Public Opinion Research for Global Affairs Canada, noted that many Canadians know nothing about development.
“We have a huge challenge ahead of us in terms of getting the word out there,” he said.
Margo Matias-Valencia of the One Campaign noted that issues such as development and foreign aid do not rank highly with Canadians, and that most think Canada is giving too much foreign aid—although they don’t know how much that is.
Julia Anderson of CanWach noted they did two surveys about Canadians and development, in 2015 and 2017.
Their research showed no movement in understanding about international development over the two years.
“The ranking remains the same,” she said. “We haven’t moved the bar.”
She added that 64% of Canadians cannot name one NGO.
What was needed, she said, was a “national framework” for all NGOs to use to engage Canadians.
Matias-Valencia added that this framework needs to employ simple messages, noting that words like “development” and “foreign aid” don’t resonate with Canadians.
“We over-explain what we do and how we do it, we put too much into each message,” she stated. “We’re not engaging the people we need to reach. We shouldn’t be afraid to use simpler messages, not package too many things into stories.”
Later, during a break-out session about communicating with Canadians, it was agreed that NGOs need to work together to increase their effectiveness. But people also agreed it would be hard.
And why is that? With each NGO focused on meeting its budget and attracting new donors, it would be hard to convince EDs and CEOs—not to mention fundraising colleagues—that they should collaborate as a way to lift all boats.
And that’s where TOFU, MOFU and BOFU came in.
It was Katherine Harris, who directs communications at Plan Canada, who brought it up.
TOFU, she reminded us, stands for “top of funnel.” MOFU is “middle of funnel.” And BOFU is “bottom of funnel.”
The term comes from the world of marketing, and describes the process people go through before making a decision to buy. (Similar to the Communications Ladder.)
TOFU is where people simply become aware of a product. MOFU is where they begin to do research to find out more. And BOFU is where they decide to buy—or, in this case, to make a donation.
Since a majority of Canadians know little about development, Katherine asked: Could we work together to simply get more people into the top of the funnel?
In other words, at the top of the funnel we don’t worry about brand awareness. We aren’t concerned with making a sale. We simply want to get people to stop and pay attention to something they might not have thought about before.
Those who want more information can follow a link, and maybe discover an NGO they want to support and be a part of.
It was suggested we could emulate campaigns that promote milk or eggs. They are not designed to promote a particular business, but the sector as a whole.
Can NGOs do it? Can they put aside concerns about brand awareness and getting immediate donations in order to increase the size of the donor pool over the longer term? That’s the big question.
Or, as I like to say, just trying to make this year’s budget is a matter of management. Trying to ensure your organization survives 10 or 20 years from now involves leadership.
That, and TOFU, MOFU and BOFU