Show ‘Why’ to Earn Your Audience

For successful nonprofits, having a strong mission is only the beginning. Storytelling is one critical component.

“The starting piece, what underpins any effective communication, is knowing that your organization has a solid mission,” said Gregory Bradbard, president of the nonprofit Hope through Housing Foundation and senior vice president of strategic partnerships for National Community Renaissance (National CORE).

“Beyond that, everyone in your organization needs to know what that mission is, what specific problem they are trying to address, and why that is important.”

Hope through Housing provides supportive services to residents of CORE’s affordable, senior and market-rate properties, including financial literacy training, senior wellness, and preschool and after-school programs.

Show ‘the why’

“Nonprofits are really good at telling what they do and how they do it, but sharing why their mission is critical to recipients is the important part,” he said.

At the end of the day, what compels people to get involved, donate or volunteer, is the why, Bradbard said.

“For example, one senior, her Social Security was about $600 a month, her rent $445. The rest was for her living expenses, food, transportation and medical. One of the things we do is provide food pantries to our residents so that they have enough food to eat.”

The nonprofit could talk about how it provides housing and services like a food pantry. But it would be difficult to appreciate it without the why it is so important and how that service helps recipients.

It’s also important for nonprofits to know their audience when telling their story: “With one group, we may focus on how we can help people become selfsufficient. With another, we may discuss the numbers of people who are unhoused and the need for more housing to get more people off the streets.”

And always be looking for champions, Bradbard said: “Who in the community believes in what you do. That might be a city leader, or might even be a former client. Invite them in as ambassadors for your organization and encourage them to spread your story.”

Published in the Foothill Reader, a print product of the Los Angeles Times

Saying No To A Client

In the service business, which I consider myself to be in, the simple and usual approach is to say the customer is always right. But sometimes no is the right – and difficult – answer.

I worked with a client, where the top executives essentially wrote the press releases, sometimes three or four pages long,  and were dismissive of the communications and marketing department. The responsibilities were sometimes handed out to other departments in a haphazard way. Obviously, this was unsustainable.

When I came on board, I said no – often. In fact, I was told I said “no, we shouldn’t do that” too much. My initial, defensive, reaction was that I could only advise them what my experience and the data showed me. Of course, my attitude was an issue as well. I did change my delivery once I became comfortable with the company’s tendencies.

First, I began to collaborate more, using both inside and outside sources, on documenting best practices for the company. When I was involved in decision making, I would give them two approaches: One is what they would have normally done, and the second is what I thought should be done. Though I didn’t phrase it that way. It didn’t resolve all the problems. But it cut down on the pushback.

People think, because they’re successful in other fields, that communications and marketing are easy. Even when they’re confronted with the evidence that they’re not, or experience disagrees with their assumptions, it still can be a challenge.

It can also be viewed as a daunting task to alter ingrained and counterproductive communications attitudes, especially if you’re an outside consultant. So don’t view it that way. Answer the basic questions and your role in helping to educate and plan a strategy.

What’s the challenge? What’s the solution? What’s your effort to begin the changes? I can’t control what others do with the information I provide, so I had to learn to let that part go. It hasn’t always worked out the way I wanted, but it certainly changed my perspective.