Monday, February 21, 2011

Everyone Has a Story to Tell

By Chartese Burnett

We are bombarded everyday with news accounts of tragedy, violence in Egypt, the war in Afghanistan, child abuse, homicides, the contentious political landscape, budget cuts that threaten to eliminate vital programs that benefit society, and on and on and on. Everywhere you turn, there are sad stories with which we are deluged on TV, on the radio, on the Internet; and of course, these days, via all the social media outlets.

However, just as there are stories of destruction and death, there are also stories of hope that abound. For those of us play a part in these stories, let’s start telling those. Let’s begin to utilize all of these effective outlets – TV, radio, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wordpress, etc. to share with the world the stories of survival, triumph and miracles.

Let’s inundate the public with those stories. Let’s share with the media and their captive audiences the good news: that victims are surviving, that patients are overcoming disease, that endangered species and the environment are being protected, that underserved children are being embraced and educated, that we are making strides and reaching new heights in America and in the world and attacking the many ills that affect society, health and the environment.

As my friend Joe Schreiber shared with my Sports Media Today class at the University of Maryland: “Storytelling is key in the world of publicity and journalism.” Schreiber helped launch and produce NBC’s George Michael’s Sports Machine, which aired for 23 years, making it the longest running locally produced, nationally syndicated sports show in television history. The show earned 11 Emmy awards. He is an accomplished producer, journalist and now working with many organizations to help them with their messages through various multimedia platforms.

In the world of public relations and journalism, those professionals who are most successful in spreading their message (getting their news covered and/or getting their work published) are most often those who are the best storytellers.

It is no different in the world of philanthropy. Organizations whose mission is to connect with constituents -- who include board members, donors, and the research community, among others -- MUST tell their story. They must recognize the value of the communications, media and public relations function. Many nonprofits have yet to embrace the importance of telling their story through the many tremendous opportunities to do so; including a comprehensive and extensive communications plan, along with passionate and experienced personnel to execute it.

Creating awareness for events, initiatives, programs, newsworthy research funded, significant findings from studies – should be at the core of the outreach, pr and media efforts for any nonprofit entity. A strategic approach to communicating the organization’s mission, with the ultimate goal to fund and further the mission, i.e. a call to action, is the key to garnering the support of existing donors, potential major gift givers, and alliances with corporate partners and sponsors.

Especially in challenging economic times, it is even more important to position yourself positively – when there are numerous organizations, entities, and individuals vying for the same pot of money in the world of giving.

As a PR professional, one of the rules of thumb is that you have to be able to answer the “so what?” question when pitching a story or news item to the media. You have to be able to explain why a particular media outlet’s readers, viewers and/or listeners should care. What’s in it for them? Why is it important – to them or to their community or to the world at large?

Talented, skilled and compassionate communications professionals know how to craft that message, engage the audience and to answer that question.

Just like any other business entity, nonprofits must have key messages that serve as the definition of WHO they are, WHAT they have done and WHAT their brand represents.

Positive and strategic PR for a nonprofit should not only motivate and retain existing audiences, but should also serve to expand opportunities for new audiences to engage in a meaningful way.

At Maroon, we are very privileged to work with or serve as the public relations teams of several nonprofit clients, and we are blessed to be able to share THEIR stories of funding research to cure diseases, supporting patients and families living with life-threatening illnesses, protecting the environment and endangered species, cultivating a generation which values volunteerism, and educating and empowering our underserved youth through the gift and joy of reading.

However, these stories belong to ALL of us. It is not only THEIR story… it is YOUR story… it is OUR story. For isn’t the onus on each and everyone one of us not be silent, but to speak up for those who are not able to do so for themselves and to make a difference?

We will continue to work hard at telling stories in a meaningful and impactful way – stories about heroes, miracles, and about people who are changing the world.

Chartese Burnett is Director of Non-Profit PR at Maroon PR. Contact her at

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