When The Dream Hits Reality

by Kim Faulkner & Vernice Chua 22 September 2016

Over the last 15 months, Activiste IMPACT! has been actively engaging with charities and international non-profit organisations to better understand the challenges they face. We have compiled a list of the most common challenges based on our observations and interactions with them.

What we saw was that whilst all of them began with good intentions – either a cause to right a wrong in this world, or a cause to provide aid to those who need help most – most found themselves hampered by the realities of running a financially sustainable organisation, attracting the right talent and partnerships. 

Thus, not in any order of priority, the following is our list the Top 10 challenges faced by Social Service Enterprises and Charities: 

  1. Gradual erosion of the original “cause-vision” as societal needs and landscape evolve.
  2. Proliferation of organisations appearing to champion similar causes, leading to fragmentation and duplication of efforts.
  3. A struggle to attract and retain talent in the effort to enhance professionalism and remain relevant.
  4. Insufficient capital to build a basic pool of manpower and as a result, high turnover due to poor human capital investment and remuneration.
  5. Poorly managed service centre or sub-par centre environment experience.
  6. A mismatch in expectations and role of board members and management.
  7. Weak, ad-hoc, communications outreach programmes and activities which become “lost” in the increasing marketplace chatter – traditional channels as well as social media.
  8. Inefficient, unclear, or emotionally exploitative public fundraising efforts which are either ignored or which create a negative image for the organisation and beneficiaries.
  9. Cause fatigue amongst general public, not being able to differentiate between similar causes.
  10. Dilution of impact over time, as relevance of the organisation declines within the CSR landscape.

These are not uncommon challenges in the business world. All start-up enterprises and profit driven companies face the same set of challenges and issues. But business leaders understand what it takes to build sustainable business engines over time – a  differentiated, credible, and relevant brand which would inspire and stretch across time and space.

We believe that a strong brand will not only help drive the business, but it will also facilitate consistency in operations and communications, and more importantly, deliver an inspiring message which resonates with partners, employees, and donors; urging them to invest, contribute, and own a part of the cause. 

This is the multiplier effect of an inspiring commercial brand. Beyond highlighting a "Need", it also creates a powerful "Want" – a desire to participate in and be a part of the cause.

In the case of a social service enterprise, creating that inspiring brand becomes an indomitable force in driving a sustainable and impactful cause. 

A strong and inspiring brand becomes your most powerful "cause advocate", bringing people to want to come to the table.

Consistently invested over time, the brand comes to life and takes on an integral role in the organisation. We will explore this in greater detail in the next instalment of this article.

Some of the benefits of a stronger non-profit brand is are that it will begin to attract the right employees, board members, volunteers, and corporate partners who share and believe in your cause. You will start to organise relevant programmes and drive outreach communications with a consistent focus to generate long term impact. And you will understand the importance of a well-lit service centre with powerful, inspiring messages and the impact it will have on your beneficiaries. 


CHART dreamreality


The social service sector is filled with inspiring heroes. Our world can do with a little more hope. 

Let us begin to think differently about shaping the causes we care about in inspiring ways – Strong brands which challenge the attitude of indifference, correct social stigmas and mindsets. 

Stay tuned for the next instalment of this article which will look at what Social Services Enterprises and non-profit organisations can do to meet the challenges identified here.


Kim has over 30 years of branding, marketing and design experience in Asia and has lectured and written extensively on the subject of branding, strategy development, marketing and design across the region.

Vernice has been passionate about creating sustainable and impactful brands since 2000. She believes the world needs saving and all of us should begin now.