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How do you create a media empire for your nonprofit?

9 August 2011

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 August 9, 2011
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US Magazine

Picture it.

Tell me the last time you saw a nonprofit program associate on the cover of a supermarket magazine.

Time Magazine

Time Magazine Nonprofit Story

Tell me the last time you saw a nonprofit bus driver portrayed as the center of a news story.

People Magazine Most Beautiful people: Social Worker

People Magazine Most Beautiful Social Workers

Tell me a story of a nonprofit social worker that brought you to tears from mainstream media.

Right. You can’t. Because these aren’t the stories that are being told.

If you work in nonprofit communications, whether you’re a communications associate or a communications director, your job is incredibly important. Not just because you’re helping your nonprofit get more attention, but because you are fighting a culture war. You can help people have aspirational identification with people who help other people for a living, instead of glamorous airhead movie stars, yeah?

Think about the shows you watch, the people you are told to admire, it encourages us towards aspirational identification with the rich, the powerful, the glamorous, AND, I would argue, makes us devalue our work, our own aspirations, our worldview and our solutions to the issues that really matter.

I mean, look where we put our attention. Wouldn’t it be incredible to just open up a paper and read stories about what different nonprofits are doing, the whole time NOT being sold watches or jewelry or high fashion? And the heroes in these stories all look like you and me, different colors, different sizes, all kinds of hair, maybe some people have acne scars, I mean, imagine it. They are being held up as heroes, and they aren’t trying to make you insecure about how you look or who you are. They have jobs like we do.

I was over at Tiger Beatdown, you know, READING, when I came across this article by Emily Manuel on True Blood and class war.

Even if you don’t watch the show, you might look at women’s magazines while waiting in line at the grocery store and see the latest star crisis. You might even browse Perez Hilton in an off-moment, to partake of a little Schadenfreude at the foibles of celebrities. So this applies to you too. Hear me out. Emily, WHY IS TRUE BLOOD LIKE CLASS WAR?

True Blood

Emily writes:

“This points to a broader, infrequently noted, problem with popular entertainment–the continual reinforcement of class structures, the way it encourages us towards aspirational identification with the rich, the powerful, the glamorous. We watch the rulers and not the ruled; True Blood is followed on HBO by Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm, two shows about the elite of Hollywood. In a world where the Tea Party protest for the rights of billionaires to receive tax breaks, it’s hard to underestimate the effect of capitalist ideology in convincing working people to identify with the powerful against their own interests. True Blood is just one tiny little data point in a broader pattern, but it’s a telling one.”

You can highlight your program people in your communications. YOU can find the funny things, the unique things and the important things in their stories. Their stories deserve to be told too. You are fighting a culture war for the right to declare what is really important.

With all of this noise, our role of nonprofit communications is even more important. What is the media for, but for us to tell our stories?

Maybe you are not on the front lines, bandaging a sick person, or leading that art class for disadvantaged kids, maybe you’re not cleaning up that estuary or counseling a homeless mom, but what you can do is fight the power, in your own way, by encouraging people, giving them hope, showing the compassion of your agency, and helping them FOCUS ON WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT. Which is helping others, however we can.

It reminds me of the lyric by David Byrne of Talking Heads: “When the world crashes into my living room, Television Man tell me who I am.”

The news crashes into our living rooms every day, all of the articles and blog posts we read crash into our heads and the build up of information makes us focus on whatever the news outlet wants us to focus on.

So now with social media and other tools at our fingertips, we can become media outlets. WE can choose what we broadcast, and we CAN gather a large group of people who want to listen to us. Whenever you’re responding to a tweet, or thanking someone on facebook or joining a linkedin group, think about how you are building your media empire, not just for you, but for the donors, the people who need more meaning in their lives, who are looking for stories like yours to get involved with.

Thank you for fighting against the tide of meaningless drivel and thank you for talking about what is really important.

Nonprofit Communicators, I salute you.

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