Interiority Consulting | The Non-Profit Network

Ruendree has more than 16 years’ experience in technology and electronic information management in the non-profit sector. Not only does she have extensive technical skill in designing and developing websites and cultivating social media communities, she has considerable editorial experience in print media as well. While working at the SA Truth and Reconciliation Commission she discovered her passion for working with the non-profit sector, and decided to make a career of combining her computer expertise with her social conscience. After working at Michigan State University on a South African Heritage Training and Technology Programme, Ruendree returned to South Africa and founded Interiority, a company dedicated to helping non-profit organisations navigate the digital world. She holds a BSc (Information Systems), and is an award winning web developer. Working with non-profit organisations across South Africa has given her a vast and intimate knowledge of the sector, its needs and future direction. She specialises in social media communications for non-profits.

You have a background in Computer Science and Information Systems. How did you come to applying that skill within the non-profit sector?

While I was studying Computer Science at UCT I also edited the student newspaper, Varsity. I’d always struggled to reconcile my love for technology with my passion for making a contribution to building our country. Working at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made me realize how critical technical expertise is to the work of the non-profit sector, and I decided to focus my energy in this space. My work evolved from technical support to information systems work into website development and social media communications work. One thing I have noticed is that often “techies” are not comfortable with text; much less have an understanding of the non-profit sector. Having a technical background makes it possible for me to function as a bridge between non-profits and developers, and also means I have an understanding of which systems provide the best solution for the problem at hand. I am often disappointed in the lack of technical skill, or willingness to engage with technology at management level in NGOs because this establishes a culture in the organisation that is difficult to change.

Describe the progression of what might have been perceived as technical / web toys to useful work-related tools within the non-profit sector.

Non-profits are often resistant to changing the way they work. Just 15 years ago, I was hearing all kinds of excuses as to why they didn’t need to use email! Now there is a strong resistance to embracing social media or developing a web presence beyond simple static site. Yet internationally, web and social media are used as a critical component of communications strategies, branding and marketing a cause and fundraising. This area is very slowly emerging with South African non-profits but it is still a challenge for many non-profits to see Facebook or Twitter or other social media channels as anything other than frivolous distractions or a waste of time.

You’re known for having said “a donate button is not a fundraising campaign”. Please explain!

I’ve seen many non-profits place a donate button on their website and be disappointed that money didn’t start rolling in. A donate button is like putting a jar on the reception desk and hoping that people will drop in a few rands as they walk by – not exactly a solid fundraising strategy! Online fundraising follows the same rules as offline fundraising. You need:
•    a compelling reason for people to support you;
•    communication and marketing of that reason to as many people as possible;
•    an easy and accessible way for people to give you money;
•    to build relationships with your donors (e.g. say thank you, follow up with them about how the money was used to benefit your cause, contact them about further fundraising drives.)

Online fundraising still has to be integrated with your overall communications and fundraising strategies.  Just because you put a donate button on your page doesn’t mean that “the computer” now runs your fundraising.

What do you say to organisations new to social media platforms, who for example ask “how do we get to 1000 likes on Facebook”, or other?

The first thing I would explain is that it’s not about the numbers. We often get caught up in chasing “likes” and building the numbers of followers but what we need to focus on is building a following. It is more useful to have 100 likes on Facebook if those 100 people engage with your work, comment, like and share your work with other people, than it is to have 1000 likes from people who seem to ignore everything you post.

When you do post, it is useful to follow the 70/20/10 rule. 10% of your content should be “promotional” e.g. advertising your events, asking for donations; 20% should be sharing other people’s ideas or Facebook posts; 70% should be about building your brand and sharing content related to your work. However, you should be creative about how you share your content. Don’t simply post articles from your website or blog. Use infographics, pictures, videos and relevant quotes to engage your users. The more “frivolous” content is inevitably the most popular, but it helps build your audience and this means there will be more people listening when you’re sharing more serious issues. Just make sure your less serious content is still in line with your brand and your message.

Finally, set a budget. Facebook advertising is cheap and effective. Spending as little at R30 to promote a post can mean it will be seen by 700 people instead of 30 people.

What communications and media challenges have you faced in your work and what learnings have you extracted from them?

The biggest challenge I face with e-communications work is in convincing NGOs to take it seriously. So few NGOs work within a communications strategy or framework, and after all these years I’m still encountering NGOs who leave their social media work to their interns or techies to manage. This completely disregards the importance of effective communications skills and reduces social media to a “nice to have” or a sideline. Not only can this damage your brand, but you will be wasting considerable time and effort throwing out messages and hoping that it reaches someone. Think about it, would you let your interns or IT support write your press releases or conduct media interviews?  Why then would you put them in charge your message that could go out to hundreds, thousands or maybe more people?  Your social media manager (yes, your organisation should have a social media manager) must have a clear and solid understanding of your work, your brand, and be an effective online voice for your organisation.

There is still a disconnect between the work an organisation does and its social media platforms. Ideally, programme staff and senior management should be actively engaged in social media as they are best placed to engage in conversations about the issues you care about.

One of the biggest obstacles is the belief that the online audience, particularly in South Africa, is still too small to invest the time and energy to communicate with. However, according to the Network Society study ( one in three South African adults use the internet. We’re expecting this to increase to two in three adults by 2016. More people go online daily (22%) than read a newspaper everyday (17%). Two out of three Internet users (66%) speak an African language at home, most of them have not been educated beyond school level and four out of ten live on less than R1, 500 per month.

Your audience, your constituents, your potential donors, the media, members of parliament, and thousands of non-profits all over the world are already at the party. Join them!