Any company can use online media to connect their brand with their audience, but how does a non-profit grow their organization despite expected declines in charitable contributions? Even with a limited budget, digital levels the playing field to organic and earned media opportunities for non-profits such as Living Classrooms, a client I had the privilege of consulting for last spring.
Along with a team of classmates at American University, we set about creating a strategic communications plan for Living Classrooms, a non-profit organization serving underprivileged youth in the DC-metro community since founding in 2001. One of the challenges unique to this client was their difficulty distinguishing not only from a successful parent organization, but also standing out from other non-profits in DC currently struggling for funds, so our team decided branding would become a strategy. Their hands-on education approach meant almost all of their funding was used towards their programs, and presented a challenge to developing new sources of fundraising. Meeting these budget limitations helped us build a strategy with specific objectives (met through some work on our own part).
As discussed in our presentation (and memo), creating and using a blog and Twitter were critical tactics to meet the campaign’s goals. These online tools serve an agenda-building relationship with the local news media, which Living Classrooms would try to earn media coverage without using expensive advertising. However social media is not synonymous with free media: even though these platforms are free to use, they require thoughtful and persistent work from dedicated professionals in order to work well.
Any organization can ask someone to Twitter for them, but only a professional can make it relevant for reporters, bloggers, and others who would want to tell Living Classroom’s story. My role in this process was to build these media tools for them, and to start using these so that Living Classrooms would could model on them; unfortunately they did not have the budget to hire someone to write so my model was key. While new media levels the playing field, a public communications professional can lift an organization above from the rest, so that a non-profit like Living Classrooms can stand out online.
These tactics also play a critical role in winning and retaining new donors, since they allow Living Classrooms to provide regular updates which demonstrate the value of their donation. Because Living Classrooms, like so many non-profits, is involved in so many programs donors don’t always know about all the work their donation allows an organization to accomplish everyday. These regular updates demonstrate the compelling work Living Classrooms does through stories told in words, videos, and pictures in the channels which new donors are likely to discover this cause. This serves as a compliment to the newsletter and mailer our group designed, often adapting the same material for online use.
We’re still waiting to see which parts of our strategic plan will be used by Living Classrooms this year, so in the meantime please check out the blog I set up to learn more. For a communications professional with a strategic approach, online tools can become a successful tactic for non-profits to overcome limitations and expand their communication budgets, ultimately changing minds and lives of those most in need of help.