US Embassy in Athens spearheads initiative to help Balkan NGOs

SOCIAL MEDIA. Members of 43 nongovernmental organizations from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) recently spent four days in Greece learning from colleagues here how to maximize their use of digital media.

The series of seminars, titled “Tech Camp: Tools in Civil Society in Greece and the Balkans,” is an initiative of the educational section of the American Embassy in Athens, carried out in cooperation with the nonprofit HIGGS, which specializes in strengthening civil society through education.

The NGOs struggle with more or less the same problems: inadequate state structures and services, limited resources and skepticism from much of society. “We choose countries whose ‘ecosystems’ need a boost,” explains HIGGS director Sotiris Petropoulos, adding that the participants are encouraged to recommend their own solutions, as well as to network and take advantage of European Union programs for interregional cooperation.

“Don’t bombard your social media followers with posts,” Gerasimos Kouvaras, managing director of Action Aid Hellas, told the seminar. “Ask your public a question, ask them to do something, use humor and, most importantly, make them want to share what you represent. Statistics have shown that we share things that resonate with us.”

The experienced managing director also advised NGOs to use the free tools available on social media, but at the same time to make sure not to neglect their own websites, “which should be tagged in every post.”
Athanasios Gemenis, an expert in marketing and communication, also offered some valuable tips. “When presenting your work to potential sponsors, don’t waste time on esthetics. Put the emphasis on the story and on your sustainability plan.”

Funding is, understandably, the biggest challenge for NGOs. “In a country with so much unemployment and poverty, we can’t ask people for money,” said the head of an NGO from FYROM.
“In order to organize a crowdfunding campaign, you need to have a group of people backing it but also a decent preparation period, ideally of three weeks,” explained Kelly Wilson from US organization GlobalGiving, adding that this is a method that words.

“It is dangerous for an organization to rely solely on one or two donors or state resources. It needs to use the acquaintance network of every one of its members,” she added.

The secret to success, Wilson said, is “a campaign that will convince not only people who trust the members of the NGO but also those who believe in the cause, as they can become reliable supporters.”