In my one all-too-brief day at the CIVICUS World Assembly, held 3-7 September in Montreal, I heard many conversations in different contexts about the importance of communicating with and engaging the public in civic action. It was an important point in the panel I participated in, where we discussed the role of brand in the non-profit sector. Those conversations touched on the importance of brands as ways to shape and reinforce relationships at the person-to-person level. Those personal relationships build trust in institutions and form the basis for collective action.
The idea of broad and diverse public engagement also seems to be informing the strategies of many of the organizations present, including CIVICUS itself. This focus on public engagement has enormous potential. It can create stronger coalitions of allies, volunteers and activists to carry out the work of organizations joined under the CIVICUS umbrella. Equally importantly, it can provide more long-term sustainability on the financial front if NGOs can make their case for support directly to the public.
Many NGOs feel a compelling need to diversify their funding beyond philanthropies and other institutional funders that often make short-term, project-specific funding grants. By tapping into the energy and commitment of a wide array of people, NGOs could diversify their financial resources for action and engage the powerful voices of the public for influence on the policies that shape the lives of their constituents.
Rob Garris is managing director, Bellagio Programs, at the Rockefeller Foundation.