In today’s nonprofit landscape, funds and staffing are increasingly scarce, while the competition for attention is fierce and abundant. So how do savvy digital communicators for nonprofits cut through the clutter? How do you gain awareness, win hearts and minds and inspire action for your organization and cause? Here are five take-aways that top experts shared last week during the “Connecting for a Cause” nonprofit seminar held in Seattle by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Puget Sound Chapter.
1. Storytelling: Start with the “Why”
Before you can tell a story, you need to know why you are telling it. Why is it important? Why is it relevant? Steve Mallory, Director of Ideation at Edelman Public Relations, recommends using the 5 whys technique developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation for identifying root causes of manufacturing problems. More than a manufacturing analysis technique, the 5 whys can be applied to identify the truth of a story and to develop authentic, unique messaging to rally supporters for your cause.
The technique is simple: Start by asking a “why” question and keep asking until you feel that you’ve identified a root cause (or the deepest-level answer) and can go no further. Generally, five iterations of asking “why” is enough; never settle for one. “We sometimes settle for one why, or two whys, and we won’t get to truth, real deep, honest, hard-bitten truth,” Mallory says.
2. Storytelling: Get Creative and Collaborate Internally
As you develop your story, make sure that key stakeholders within your organization are in alignment. As Hanson Hosein, Director of the Communication Leadership (Comm Lead) graduate program at the UW, says, “Organizations need to work internally to understand what they’re trying to achieve.” It’s also crucial to ensure that the organizational environment helps foster a process of creativity and collaboration. For those looking for insights on how to foster such an environment, Hosein recommends Creativity, Inc., written by Dr. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.
“To be creative, you have to have a really robust feedback system within the organization,” Hosein says. For that to happen, two conditions are paramount: Trust and the ability to provide feedback without fear of consequences. With these two conditions in place, organizations can keep honing their story, a process that is crucial to achieving a high-quality result. “You just can’t accept that first story … You just have to keep pushing away,” says Hosein.
3. Crisis Communications: Consider the Audience, Tracking Tools, Questions and Spokesperson
Beyond the obvious (to best manage a crisis, you should first have a crisis plan in place), which elements of planning are especially important for successfully negotiating a communications crisis? Shelby Barnes, former senior vice president of Intellectual Ventures and personal publicist for Nathan Myhrvold, and Comm Lead alumna, suggests a SWAT analysis. As those who are experienced in traditional SWOT analysis know, a SWOT analysis is used to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In a SWAT analysis, audience and tracking tools are also considered.
With regard to audience, when thinking about your audience, think about whose trust is going to be affected by the event, advises Barnes. Having tracking tools in place will help you monitor audience conversations, which can help you determine whether a situation is truly a crisis or just a bad day.
Also, list every possible question that you think may be asked and determine who your spokesperson is, advises Katherine Boury, communications manager for Seattle Goodwill Industries and former media relations officer for the American Red Cross. Be especially mindful of the potential impact that your spokesperson may have. “Sometimes people with subject matter expertise may not have the compassionate language needed,” Boury explains.
4. Diversity: Do Your Research and Avoid Token Gestures
We’ve all seen it, the token diversity group photo. A well-intended gesture, this photo features people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds clustered together in one happy, smiling group.
Although it’s important to highlight diversity, consider other ways to do this, suggests Chris B. Bennett, co-publisher and editor of The Seattle Medium. “People are often much more interested in specific individuals and their path through the organization,” Bennett says. Highlighting specific, relevant statistics and one or two individual pictures and stories can be more effective.
Also, “You need multiple options for people to respond to whatever message you’re trying to get out,” Bennett says. For example, if your audience includes an older population, make sure that you include a phone number and email contact in any press releases. Alternatively, if your audience is younger and active on social media but can’t afford computers, make sure that your website is optimized for mobile phones.
5. Media Relations: Tailor Your Pitch
Effective journalists take time and care to build relationships and expand their networks, and they suggest that you do the same. “I have coffee with someone once a week,” says Kristin Fraser, a field producer for the Al Jazeera America Pacific Northwest bureau. She’s also happy to share her network with others. When you’re ready to pitch a story, tailor your pitch, advises broadcast journalist Tonya Mosley.
Get to know reporters’ areas of interest, what they’ve done and even their competitors. If you can provide specific access, such as an interview with a key source or a non-staged photo or video opportunity, let the reporter know. At the same time, if you’re unable to provide a reporter with information, be straightforward and let him or her know up front. When pitching to an editor, get to the point quickly. “My theme is, I don’t have time,” says Richard Wagoner, metro editor at The Seattle Times.
Note: This article is a follow-up of last week’s preview article for the “Connecting for a Cause” nonprofit seminar.