Amplifying Voices to Enact Meaningful Change: Nonprofit Leaders Share Case Studies in Purpose-driven Communications

The communications world is rapidly changing and with those changes comes a shift in audience expectations. Not only must communicators adjust to the increasingly digitized landscape, but societal changes and social movements are highlighting the urgent need for transparency and measurable impact. 

The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and the COVD-19 pandemic are drastically changing the way we approach communications, encouraging organizations and leaders to explore new ways to ensure their communications efforts remain mission-driven, strategic, and most importantly – authentic. 

We explored the importance of purpose-driven communications during our virtual DC Communicators panel “Speaking Truth to Power: Why Purpose-Driven Communications is More Important Than Ever.” Nonprofit leaders from the United Nations Foundation, the National Audubon Society, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined Proof Strategies for an engaging discussion on the necessary building blocks of a purpose-driven communications plan.

During the program, each speaker provided a case study detailing the lessons they have learned in reaching their audiences effectively and authentically.

In this blog, we outline some of the takeaways from the case studies shared during the discussion. To listen to the full conversation and download other event resources, visit here.

National Trust for Historic Preservation: African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Germonique Ulmer, Managing Director of Social Impact at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, kicked off the panel with a case study from her former organization, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the wake of the country reeling from white nationalists marching in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched a campaign designed to change the narrow view of our nation’s history and highlight the overlooked historic places that showcase African American excellence and achievements. 

The campaign, which garnered over 500 media hits, a center stage spot at the ESSENCE Music Festival, and much more, leveraged influencers who had an actual authentic connection to the cause and expanded the diversity of the National Trust’s audience to a much younger community of activists.

“We realized it was better to double down on what we do well,” Ulmer said when reflecting on lessons learned during the campaign.

“Our energy was best spent on the work we know best as a communications and PR team and we hired the help that we needed to do the things we wanted to do around this campaign. Finding and using influencers, that’s not something we typically do a lot in our PR work at the National Trust, so we found the resources we needed to do that and do it well.”

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: The Grand Challenge

Edward Wyatt, former Senior Communications Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shared a case study that demonstrated the importance of amplifying the voices of those who have the most at stake. The Grand Challenge, a platform that has been used by the foundation for the past 15 years to tackle challenges of global health and development, set out to shift the narrative on poverty. 

This was the first time the foundation used the Grand Challenge to tackle domestic issues. The foundation used several tactics, such as workshops, ambassador videos, and paid media, to recruit a diverse array of advocates and storytellers to drive a narrative shift in the country. 

Through this campaign, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was able to drive the message behind its mission.

“By turning the spotlight to people with lived experience in poverty,” Wyatt said, “we’ve been able to give voice to the idea that every person deserves the chance to lead a healthy and productive life.”

National Audubon Society: Meeting a Season of Racial Reckoning

After a video of a white woman calling 911 on Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher and New York Audubon board member, went viral this May, the National Audubon Society knew they had to publicly respond to the rampant acts of racism overwhelming our country. 

David J. Ringer, Chief Network Officer of the National Audubon Society, spoke on the organization’s external and internal challenges to inspiring conversations on racism and implementing meaningful action. What is the role of an organization focused on the environment during a racial reckoning? The answer is simple: everyone, regardless of race, should have safe access to the outdoors. 

“How do we actually take some of these challenges as a mantle of responsibility or purpose?” Ringer said. “The fact that we have so many white Americans who strongly associate with Audubon as members and supporters, we believe [it] actually gives a significant degree of opportunity to introduce them to things they have never had to think about and move through to a place where they can be more constructive allies.”

United Nations Foundation: COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund

When the World Health Organization came to the United Nations Foundation and asked the foundation to build global solidarity around a COVID-19 response, the United Nations Foundation had to move quickly. 

Rajesh Mirchandani, Chief Communications Officer, discussed how the organization was able to leverage partnerships and use flexible tactics to share messages their partners were then able to make their own. This inspired over 633,000 people and companies to donate. 

“We embedded our campaign message into a wider set of messages that resonated much more widely and allowed different people with different specific interests to tap into the message they wanted to take the campaign forward to their audiences in the most authentic way,” Mirchandani said. 

The panel concluded with a question and answer period that tackled how organizations can build trust with their audience, the best ways to prioritize objectives in order to lead an impactful campaign, and how to amplify voices without placing burdens on those who are actively encouraged to get involved.

Want to learn more?

Listen to the full conversation and download additional resources on purpose-driven communication here

Megan Cahalan, Fellow

Megan Cahalan, Fellow

Megan graduated with her B.A. in Organizational and Corporate Communication from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2019 before moving to the D.C. area. Before becoming a fellow, Megan worked as a Communications Intern for The Raben Group’s El Paso office. While there she conducted research and produced written content for local education-based clients and organizations specific to the border community.

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