The 2018 Colorado Nonprofit Conference: Intrepid proved to be an opportunity to meet and reconnect with friends and colleagues, hear about missions from across Colorado and reflect on what fearless and bold leadership or service means to me. This lens of intrepid leadership in nonprofit and public service gave me a broader view when considering what new tools or ideas I’ll put into place.
Mike Miles, CEO of Third Future Schools, challenged us in his address to think about how we prioritize the work in our organizations while being brave enough to step into the arena and challenge the status quo. In other words, what intrepid leadership looks like. What spoke to me was his deeply passionate plea that above all, we keep our work and priorities based in values. I walked away reminded of how critical it is to remain dexterous and flexible as the quickly changing economy and climate across Colorado impacts the lives of different Coloradans very differently; it is so critical to include equity and equality in that values touchstone. The needs and lives of those we serve are also changing quickly. I was also struck with the idea that perhaps a change in what outcomes we evaluate can be as impactful as the evaluation of how we deliver programs and services. In this way, we can better keep up with the changing needs of everyone.
While it’s important to meet the communication and mission goals of leadership and boards, intrepid communications require leaning on sociological data or user research to move beyond the catch-word awareness and get to real, trackable and impactful action. In my session with Robert Austin, AP, PRSA, we looked with humor and honesty at how important it is to establish clear, personal and applicable awareness goals that will reach our target audience with a defined call to action. We discussed the Information Deficit Model and the mistaken belief that new knowledge changes behavior. The data tells us: it doesn’t! It’s not enough to share information and assume that this knowledge about an issue will create action. A key mistake he has seen in consultations with nonprofit organizations is the conviction that, “If people only knew X, they would do Y.” Messaging has to be personal with a well-crafted call to action that not only reaches your awareness goals but moves the audience to real engagement.
Throughout sessions on branding, brandraising, fundraising and marketing, the themes of authenticity, credibility and human connection came up again and again. Whether through social media, fundraising events, public relations efforts, newsletters or even in person, speaking about the “how” of an organization’s work instead of the “why” is less compelling and thus an obstacle to true connection. This is true when an organization confuses “features,” or the details of what an organization does to execute mission, and “benefits,” which tell the human story of impact. Connection is what moves potential donors, volunteers, supporters or clients to action. Sarah Lehman, for example, posed that to be intrepid, we need to consider tying our own stories to the missions of our organizations even when that requires us to be vulnerable. It invites people to connect personally and can instill the desire to collaborate and open in the effort to work together in helping you solve your challenge.
I left the conference feeling energized about opening myself to new, intrepid modalities for communicating about the great work of Colorado nonprofits while also going back to the basics of telling and sharing stories that move beyond knowledge to action. There are so many daring and fearless leaders doing great work, my mission is to make sure their stories are heard.
Dannielle Stewart is a nonprofit professional and attendee of the 2018 Colorado Nonprofit Conference. You can follow her on Twitter @NonprofitProDen