Learning Area 7: Resources

What financial resources and skills do we need?


Henry Ford is quoted as saying that “a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” The same could be said about development organisations that stop communicating. In a crisis, however, marketing is often mistakenly seen as expendable.

While it is difficult to estimate overall spending on development communications, 26 countries report on their development awareness spending. In 2018, they collectively spent USD 434.9 million, representing about 0.5% of their overall development assistance.

With development budgets falling, this spending is likely to come under growing scrutiny. Communicators will need to turn this crisis into an opportunity to focus their investments on activities that bring greatest returns and help their organisations achieve policy goals.

Meanwhile, development organisations need to consider whether their communications teams have the support they need to respond to a growing number of demands. As this Toolkit demonstrates, today’s development communicators are highly specialized professionals operating in complex institutional settings. They need skills, training and greater recognition.

Infographic - Essential skills for development communications teams


The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) invites countries to report how much they spend on “heightened awareness” or “interest in development co-operation.” The DAC also lists activities that could be funded: brochures, lectures and special research projects.

chart - top spenders on development awareness

This definition no longer fully reflects the scope of development communications, and reporting countries interpret it in very different ways. Moreover, several countries choose not to report any of their communications spending. The DAC’s figures thus need to be treated with great caution.

The COVID crisis is likely to pressure communications teams into lowering their costs. This comes at an already difficult time for communications professionals, who face a growing number of complex tasks. Indeed, communicators have been identified as one of the job families with the lowest levels of engagement and job satisfaction.

Here are five ways organisations can support and motivate communicators, particularly in a crisis:

  • Provide more training opportunities. Businesses today devote a growing share of their marketing budgets to training. Promoting digital dexterity and helping staff use existing digital tools can be more efficient than buying new tools.
  • Measure & analyse. With a better understanding of their return on investment, communicators can focus their spending on activities that deliver real value. In the private sector today, analytics represent about 7.2% of marketing budgets.
  • Link communications with operations. Communication is not an afterthought. It needs to be included upfront in the budgets of development programmes and projects.
  • Clarify roles & reward collaboration. Responsibilities for communications are often scattered across departments, ministries and agencies. Communicators need institutional incentives to coordinate and collaborate.
  • Value communications skills. In many organisations, staff rotate in and out of communications roles as part of their generalist careers. This can bring policy expertise into communication teams, but also crowd out highly qualified communicators.


  1. Browse the OECD Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database on ODA spending. Sector code 99820 covers the ‘promotion of development awareness’.
  2. Learn about trends in private sector communications and marketing in the annual CMO Survey and Gartner white paper on skill development.


Germany created Engagement Global, a specialised service agency dedicated entirely to public engagement on development cooperation and the SDGs.

The United Kingdom Government Communications Service proposes a large range of training courses and advises communicators on their professional development.