How Nonprofits and Associations Can Thrive in Times of Disruption

The following was originally authored for Hager Sharp’s agency blog. You can read it here.

Every four or eight years, the United States officially swears in a new president—oftentimes bringing a new set of challenges. That’s why as a social-change communicator, I felt it would be beneficial to attend the PRSA National Capital Chapter’s most recent Breakfast Breakthrough titled, “What the (Donald) Trump Administration Means for Associations and Nonprofits.” Attendees kept the discussion lively and came away with expectations, takeaways, and tools for news monitoring.

While observing and listening to attendees’ different perspectives, I discovered some helpful tips based on the presentation and my own experience with nonprofits:

  1. Social media is key: now more than ever—From the campaign trail to now, President Trump has never been one to shy away from voicing his opinions on Twitter. Nonprofits and organizations can adapt that same boldness on social media to advocate for their own causes. This may require a change in procedures for some organizations, where the clearance process can slow down their ability to seize the moment. In fact, a key thing about today’s social media is how quickly organizations can get their message out. The Pew Research Center found that Facebook was the third most popular source of news among all voters this past year. Being authentic on your networks is a great way to engage and gain public trust.
  2. Study the media habits of your audience—If you are trying to influence elected officials and their policies, it’s always helpful to understand their media habits. One suggestion for doing this is to utilize Twitter to follow their accounts and the accounts that they follow. Know which media outlets matter to them. For example, this Axios article provides information on President Trump’s daily media diet. For members of Congress, their hometown paper may carry more weight than The Washington Post. Once you understand the “media diet” of your elected official, you can understand how best to target your media messages towards getting his or her attention.
  3. Value insiders’ and outsiders’ opinions—When the breakfast attendees were asked about the last time we analyzed who our audiences are, not many of us raised our hands. Before your organization adapts boldness on social media, it’s important to know who your supporters are—on and offline—and assess how they feel. At the same time, organizations need to assess the sentiment of those outside of their base of supporters to get a sense of what they’re up against and whether there’s an opening to change hearts and minds.
  4. Embrace partnerships with like-minded organizations—Everyone knows the old saying, “There’s strength in numbers.” History has shown this to be true, from the early movements in the 1900s for women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Both events were the result of individuals and organizations with similar beliefs coming together to advocate for the same cause. Even after those events, organizations benefitted by combining their efforts and becoming stronger advocates in the process.
  5. Facts matter, but emotions do too—Many of the great leaders for social change all share one thing in common: each of them successfully gained followers by incorporating facts into their messages along with relentless passion. As organizations seek to become thought leaders for their causes, the importance of using data and emotion to tell a compelling story will be crucial for inspiring current supporters and gaining new advocates.

Nonprofits and associations don’t have to fear the impending changes. Instead, by studying their new landscape and adapting boldness on social media, organizations can take advantage of opportunities to make sure their issues are at the forefront. It’s also important that organizations assess their own supporters and detractors, unite with like-minded groups, and combine emotion with facts to tell a compelling story aimed at securing more advocates. Attending this PRSA Breakfast Breakthrough gave me more confidence that the effective use of communications will serve nonprofits well—even in times of disruption.

3 PR Lessons (For Better or Worse) From Donald Trump’s Campaign

If you’re like me, the best news about this election season is that it’s finally over. Donald Trump became the next president-elect in a race most news outlets believed heavily favored Hillary Clinton. And no matter how you felt about either candidate, data from the Pew Research Center proves this was the one of the most divisive presidential races. Millions of Clinton’s supporters woke up Wednesday morning in despair. And, had the results had been in her favor, the same feelings would’ve been true of Trump supporters.

But for just a brief moment, let’s take a look at these election campaigns objectively. Trump’s campaign often gets dismissed for the attitudes it fostered towards minorities and women, but a closer look reveals that his campaign strategy was stronger than Clinton’s. Here’s why he was able to be successful:

  1. Inspiring change (for better or worse)—When Americans look to elect new leaders into office, they’re counting on those leaders to change the way things have been done. The idea of change is what led voters to elect President Barack Obama to two terms, and it’s Trump’s form of change that resonated especially well with white men and women without college degrees, who longed for the days of high-paying manufacturing jobs. Meanwhile, instead of promising her own form of change, Clinton’s campaign was too reliant on continuing the successes of Obama’s administration.
  2. Authenticity (for better or worse)—If you were looking for a candidate who was always politically correct, Trump was definitely not for you. From his rhetoric in the debates and on the campaign trail, to his 5 a.m. Twitter rants about sex tapes, Trump had no filter when expressing his thoughts. On the other hand, Clinton was widely accused of being “calculated” and inaunthentic. Her campaign speeches addressed progressive issues, while her leaked emails revealed a different story. Because of this, Pew discovered only 33 percent of voters viewed her as honest compared to 63 percent for Obama in 2008.
  3. Branding (for better or worse)—The most memorable campaign slogans have taglines that resonate with both supporters and their opponents. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was both a source of inspiration and a punchline of ridicule for voters this election season; but either way, you talked about it. As for the Clinton campaign, they relied on two slogans: “I’m With Her” and “Stronger Together.” As TBWA/Chiat/Day NY CEO Rob Schwartz notes in a recent PR Week article, “if you look at ‘I’m With Her,’ it was about the candidate, and ‘Stronger Together’ was really about the party.” Ultimately, what made “Make America Great Again” so successful was that it spoke directly to the people.

Overall, supporters of Trump saw what some skeptics of Clinton realized: she represented the status quo of a nation that they believed ultimately left them behind. It’s also worth noting, even Trump’s authenticity has been questioned as some people don’t believe he stands by his disparaging remarks about women and minorities. Regardless, while Trump’s election victory has left the country divided, there are still lessons to be learned from his campaign—for better or worse.