Working with the Hero Squad
Changing Children’s Lives, One Rand at a Time
By John Tompkins, Maggie Dick, Mohini Tangri, Elizabeth Mugo
After spending a semester learning as much as we could about South African history and culture, we were ready to start our adventure in learning and service in corporate communications in a different country. Our group worked as communications consultants for Jo’burg Child Welfare, one of South Africa’s biggest non-profit organizations. In a span of three weeks, we were able to complete a comprehensive audit of the organization’s digital media and implement improvements to its website, and its Twitter and Facebook feeds. We were also able to make four informational videos and a photo gallery for the organization.
Jo’burg Child Welfare (JCW) is an independent NPO (non-profit organization) that provides direct services to children in the greater Johannesburg area. Its mission is to provide holistic adoption, foster care and childcare services to children in and around South Africa’s largest city, promoting their rights, well-being and dignity. JCW provides comprehensive care through three different centers for children from newborns to age 18. The organization is also involved in advising and advocating for legislation to protect children, and works to ensure that children have a voice in the services they receive.
Jo’burg Child Welfare had a developed digital media presence when we began our work. But when we met with representatives of the organization for the first time, they outlined some of the communications challenges they face, such as limited staff and funds. One of their biggest challenges was and still is their high volunteer turnover rates. Since JCW delegates the handling of its social and digital media accounts to communications volunteers who only stay a few months at most, it’s difficult for the organization to have a standardized and regularly updated online presence. The staff also told us that they needed more visual content for their website and social media accounts to give people a better picture of their services. This was a task easier said than done as the organization cannot post or publish pictures and videos that reveal the identities of the children in its care for legal and ethical reasons. But in spite of this difficulty, they told us that going forward, they don’t want to just tell people that visit their online sites about their many services; they want to show them what they do. We specifically designed our platform to address these communications challenges.
WHAT DID THEY WANT US TO DO?
In our first meeting with JCW staff members, they expressed interest in having us examine the entirety of their digital media platforms. We were told that the primary goal of our efforts should be to ensure an increase in future donations to the organization. In order to accomplish this, the staff members wanted us to increase JCW’s visual presence online, particularly through an online photo gallery that showcased not only the children the organization cares for, but also the areas of the centers that are in need of refurbishment. They also wanted our efforts to help educate the public on who they are and what they do as an organization. To do this, we suggested composing a number of informational videos and infographics for JCW’s website and social media accounts to clearly show, not just tell, people what the non-profit does. Finally, due to high volunteer turnover rates, the staff informed us that a general manual to standardize their social and digital media presence would be incredibly useful.
WHAT WE DID
To address JCW’s concerns, we worked to create four videos and infographics: one to highlight the general organization and three to showcase each of the child care centers. To enhance the organization’s online photo gallery, we added nearly 500 new pictures to the page. Additionally, we created a manual that provides samples of what to post on social media, includes tips on using Facebook and Twitter, and incorporates step-by-step guides on creating infographics. Finally, we edited the text on the organization’s website to make the site simpler and easier to read.
This video outlines Jo’burg Child Welfare’s primary mission and goals to give people a brief picture of what the organization is about and what it does. We interviewed a number of the organization’s staff members about their roles in the non-profit and their favorite aspects of the organization’s services. In addition to giving outsiders a general picture of Jo’burg Child Welfare, this video explains the critical role private donations play in keeping the organization running.
We proposed the idea of creating a photo gallery because the site was lacking pictures to showcase the different facets of the organization’s operations. Jo’burg Child Welfare had not been able to create a photo gallery because it is currently understaffed. The photo gallery provides a more holistic picture of Jo’burg Child Welfare for those who may not be familiar with the diversity of operations within the organization. The emotive power of pictures could prompt a site visitor to donate, adopt a child or volunteer. Edith Shikumo, the corporate fund developer, and Maria Grigoropoulos, fund developer In-Kind, loved the idea. Our photos included children, outside spaces, facilities, living areas, security and furniture or buildings that needed updating.
We compiled approximately 500 pictures for a photo gallery. Below are samples of the photo gallery for each center.
OTHANDWENI FAMILY CARE CENTRE
MASIBAMBISANE DAYCARE CENTRE
PRINCESS ALICE ADOPTION HOME
Our group created a training manual for Jo’burg Child Welfare to guide volunteers and interns in the field of communications. In the past, JCW has struggled with creating sustainability and standardization in its media outreach efforts due to the high turnover rates of volunteers. We created this manual to expedite the training process of new communications staff volunteers and interns. The manual focuses on two main communications outlets: social media and infographics. For JCW, the manual serves as a reference point for incoming volunteers on using Facebook and Twitter to effectively present the mission of JCW to the public. It also serves as a guide for making and editing infographics. With JCW’s primary concern of increasing donations in mind, the manual strengthens the organization’s communications efforts, which will help the non-profit raise the money it needs to continue to provide critical services to the children of Johannesburg.
Our first priority was to ensure that potential donors were made aware of the success of JCW’s child care programs. Visuals effectively communicate statistics and other success stories, so we decided to create infographics. We combed through JCW’s annual reports and calculated statistics that clearly demonstrated the organization’s successes in the last few years. Using Piktochart’s online services (which are free and offer eye-catching templates), we created a general infographic along with individual infographics for each of the child care centers. The result provides an easy-to-understand picture of JCW’s effectiveness as an organization, which clearly demonstrates to donors why they should give to the non-profit.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
JCW asked us to create 10 FAQs for procedures and situations that were not clearly explained on the website. The staff took care of answering them to ensure accuracy in the response.
We went through the text on JCW’s website and edited it to remove typos and bring energy to its wording. Doing so made the website appear far more professional and enthusiastic about caring for the children of Johannesburg.
Othandweni Family Care Centre offers a place of safety and comprehensive care to children from 0-18 years of age. At the center, JCW strives to create a home-like environment by ensuring that the physical, emotional, spiritual, cognitive and social needs of each and every one of the children are properly met. This video highlights a few of the many important services that JCW’s Othandweni center provides, from its granny program to its independent living skills initiative.
By interviewing Phineas Phiti, the center manager, Thandi Twana, one of “grannies,” and Linky Majezi, a former resident of the center, we were able to give people a glimpse into life at Othandweni and provide a personal perspective on the impact the center has on the people who work and live there.
The Masibambisane Centre for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children serves as a preventative community and safe haven for children who are in high-risk environments involving HIV, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and crime.
This video gives viewers a chance to see firsthand the positive role JCW’s Masibambisane center plays in Eldorado Park, which is a community home to some of the highest drug and crime rates in greater Johannesburg. By interviewing Mahlako Kotsi, the center manager, we were able to focus on the center’s after-school and daycare programs, as well as its positive impact on youths and their families in the area.
Princess Alice Adoption Home is a center that has provided residential services for 75 years to babies from 0-2 years of age who have been abandoned, orphaned, or consented for adoption.
The following video showcases the “happy side of child welfare” by focusing on the services the staff at the Princess Alice Adoption Home provides for the babies and birth moms in their care.
JCW representatives were impressed the first time we presented. We completed the requested changes to the videos and the training manual and included them in the final presentation.
The organization was thrilled at the product we were able to provide. In fact, they wished that we could stay longer and do more work for them!
Due to our limited time at Jo’burg Child Welfare, we faced a few challenges. We had some technical difficulties with our equipment and made multiple trips to each center to ensure that we had photos, interviews and b-roll. Additionally, we had limited access to equipment, which made coordinating with each separate center a challenge. Finally, the organization cannot post or publish pictures and videos of the faces of the children in its care for legal and ethical reasons. This was something we struggled with, as many of the children at the centers were curious and would face the camera while we were filming and photographing.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Through this experience, we learned how to be resourceful and work as a group. Our struggles with equipment required coordination with other groups to finish our work in a timely manner. Working with people who operated under a different cultural understanding of time was particularly difficult at first. But once we understood that 9 a.m. meant sometime between 9:15 a.m. and 10 a.m., it was significantly easier for us to schedule meetings. Additionally, adapting to a different culture required that we learn how to be sensitive and understanding of the issues that were personally frustrating to many South Africans.
Working with Jo’burg Child Welfare taught us the difference between a nongovernmental organization (NGO) and a non-profit organization (NPO). Like most nonprofit organizations, JCW did not have very much money or time to spare, which meant we had to use resources wisely. We quickly realized that there is a revolving door for staff and volunteers; therefore, JCW needed more than just suggestions. It needed people to actually act on proposals to help the organization in its mission. We were able to address this need by creating a manual that created a smooth transition between gaps in staff members and volunteers.
Perhaps the biggest thing we learned during our time in South Africa was that the needs of children in the areas we visited was great. Through our visits to the various JCW centers, we were able to see firsthand the ways in which the organization works to combat the global issue of child abandonment and child abuse on a local level. While each of the centers differs in its purpose, all of them work to create a safe environment for some of Johannesburg’s most vulnerable residents. We were very fortunate to work for and learn from an organization that fights for such a just cause.