Love, trust and fear: Smart messaging to defend foreign aid

February 5, 2018

As policymakers wrestle over this year’s federal budget, international NGOs are trying to defend U.S. development assistance from proposed cuts.

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a discussion with a panel of experts from World Vision, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign on how nonprofits, businesses and other advocates can make a stronger (and bipartisan) case for development. The speakers gave examples of how to use credible messengers, develop communications that evoke empathy and tackle misperceptions and pair statistics with stories to build a strong case for development funding.

“Foreign assistance is part of a broader conversation about America’s place in the world—what it means for America to lead,” said John Glenn, Policy Director, U.S. Global Leadership Campaign (USGLC)

Glenn highlighted the role that credible messengers can play in making the case for development assistance. For example, the USGLC often works with retired military leaders who understand the importance of investing in key regions of the world. They can meet with policymakers to provide a first-hand account of why development support is so important.

Christina Bradic, Policy Communications Manager of World Vision U.S. noted how faith-based organizations that are traditionally supported by conservative evangelical Christians can address misperceptions and use empathy to garner support among its audiences.

Bradic said that she has discovered that messaging is most effective when the audience identifies with the person who needs aid, seeing them as “people like me.” In one instance, World Vision created a communications product included a refugee mother’s “to-do” list to tap the empathy of American mothers.

From the funder perspective, “We tend to be evidence and data-influenced,” said Sara Rogge, Deputy Director of Global Policy & Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “But we realize that a variety of tools need to be used. How do you pair evidence and data with a compelling story?”

We also discussed tools available that are publicly available to support organizations that want to develop smart communications and take action such as the Narrative Project and Oxfam’s Foreign Aid 101 report. For a more detailed summary of the session and the Global Washington Conference, see a recap in the December newsletter from Global WA.

Teresa Guillien