Magazine article Communication World

Keep It Growing: A Simple Pictorial Map Helps Constituents Understand a Nonprofit's Complex Business Model

Magazine article Communication World

Keep It Growing: A Simple Pictorial Map Helps Constituents Understand a Nonprofit's Complex Business Model

Article excerpt

Timbali Technology Incubator is a nonprofit organization that helps small-scale farmers in South Africa use their land profitably, productively and sustainably by providing training in technical skills as well as business management, accounting and sales. It also negotiates with large produce buyers to ensure that small farmers can compete in the market. Over the past eight years, Timbali has created 205 small micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs), with total sales of R41,481,755 (US$4.1 million). One hundred percent of small-scale farmers supported by Timbali survive their first two years in business--a valuable outcome in a country where unemployment is as high as 26 percent.

But for all its success, Timbali recognized that it was not reaching enough prospective clients or potential supporters. DevCom, a development communication consultancy that has been involved with the organization since 2010, created a monthly e-newsletter to showcase Timbali's success stories and build greater awareness of the organization's efforts among its contacts in the development sector. Within a year of the e-newsletter's launch, Timbali had attracted three more finders: Swiss-South African Co-operation Initiative, Eskom and Industrial Development Corp.

The next challenge was to identify communication gaps and better tell the organization's story. The communication team realized that focusing first on the internal audiences would yield the best results. As part of a communication audit, DevCom developed surveys that were sent electronically to employees, funders and stakeholders. Farmers completed the forms in facilitated sessions, to accommodate language barriers and literacy levels, and data from off-site farmers (those located outside Timbali's facilities in Nelspruit) were gathered during Timbali team visits. The research indicated that Timbali's complex model confused all audiences. It also showed that they did not understand the funding model and the cost of development, and what motivated the farmers to be part of the Timbali network. It was clear that perceptions of the big-picture benefits could only be changed if stakeholders understood the complexity of the model.

The solution came in the form of a cartoon map depicting the Timbali process and model. This map was delivered to all audiences through a number of channels, including video clips, mobile messages, newsletters, and printed posters and postcards. …

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