Nonprofits can help address the COVID19 crisis and advance the social and racial justice movements happening today by taking an additive, supportive, and collaborative approach to communications, says Craig Minassian, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the Clinton Foundation. This includes sharing stories and content that help foster a better understanding of the issues and needs, fact-based information and resources, and working together with other organizations to develop and amplify purpose-driven campaigns.
The economic uncertainty and scaling back of philanthropic support caused by the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the marketing budgets of many nonprofits. This puts a premium on PR and earned media efforts that help journalists discover stories and ideas to inform broader narratives and bring different human dimensions to the issues.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CRAIG MINASSIAN
DOUG SIMON: Craig it’s great to have you on the program.
CRAIG MINASSIAN: Thank you for having me and giving you the opportunity to talk about our work at the Clinton Foundation.
DOUG SIMON: That’s awesome. So, given your role, what advice do you have for communicators who are trying to navigate COVID within the nonprofit sector?
CRAIG MINASSIAN: Well it’s obviously a challenging time for any sector and particularly the nonprofit sector. But, the way we think about it is to take the attributes of what we try to do in our programmatic work and apply that to our communications marketing work. And right now, more than ever I think it’s important to be additive, supportive, and collaborative. And what I mean by that is are you being additive to the to the conversation happening in society and helping foster better understanding of what’s going on. Are you being supportive not only of the important conversations that are happening but of your partners, of you’re beneficiaries, of your staff and all of the people that your work impacts. And we’re also seeing the real value of collaborating partnering understanding other points of view and people. That’s something much of our work at the foundation is built on in terms of partnerships. And so really listening and understanding and doing everything you can from a communications and marketing standpoint to do what President Clinton encourages all to do is help expand the definition of the US and shrink the definition of them.
DOUG SIMON: Yes. Craig if you could, could you maybe share some of the new initiatives that the Clinton Foundation has taken on its time of COVID and social justice being so top of mind and such important compelling issues.
CRAIG MINASSIAN: Well we spent time thinking about how our programs, which broadly work on economic empowerment, improving public health, and inspiring civic service and engagement. And we do a tremendous amount of work in underserved communities. Everything from helping to communities that are disproportionally affected by climate change, to lack of access to health and education. So, we had a good starting point to say how could we make the programs even more specifically helpful to what’s happening. One of our programs is called Too Small to Fail, which is really tackling gaps in early childhood education. And particularly now with schools being closed and parents being home with their kids, we thought about how we could ramp that up with new tools and tactics to help parents navigate young children being at home. And there some creative aspects to how you have to evolve your programs as well. So, one part of the foundation is the Clinton Presidential Center and Library in Little Rock that was closed because of the pandemic. But, also the schools were closed. We realized you’ve got a central location that millions or thousands of people in the area knew we had a kid because there’s a restaurant there and so we partnered with World Central Kitchen to make it a place where we could distribute meals to families and students in need who used to depend on the schools and other community facilities to get meals and nutrition. And we just asked the five hundred thousand mark of meals that have been distributed and then partnered even internally with our Too Small to Fail program to distribute thousands of books to parents and kids who don’t have access to their normal places of education. So that’s one way we’ve adapted we’ve tried to do that across all of our programs.
DOUG SIMON: How important is it for you and other nonprofits to be creating awareness about what you’re doing some of these new initiatives through the media?
CRAIG MINASSIAN: I think you have to be very careful. This is a time where I think all nonprofits have a real conundrum. You want to be additive. You want to be supportive and you have to generate understanding of your work. But I think you have to do it in a way that doesn’t feel self-promotional and not cognizant of the conversation that’s happening. It’s a real challenge. I mean as you’ve probably seen in the sector many are struggling with financing and learn operating foundation ourselves as opposed to grant making foundation. So, we depend on donors and other foundations to support our work as we directly implement it. And this is a tough time and there are a tremendous amount of needs the nonprofit still better at this moment as you see nonprofits that are working in social justice or in feeding programs are naturally getting a lot of support and attention. And that leaves other nonprofits in a real quandary. So, you have to continue to foster understanding and demand for why there are needs beyond what’s in the headlines and how you’re supporting them at the same time being respectful and considerate of what’s happening and I think the best way to do that is just go back to the principles is your communications and marketing additive supportive and to the great can be collaborative collaborative.
DOUG SIMON: And we’re seeing that as a big challenge with fundraising for nonprofits that would have benefits event. You can’t get people together. They’re starting experiment look at different ways to do that virtually and still provide platforms for sponsors participants opportunities engage. So that’s a big changing way now. Of course, you know a top issue along with code social justice which is all part of it is the increased polarization in the country and the world and politics through all avenues. Obviously, with the Clinton Foundation, that’s something that you’re not unaware of but even other nonprofits doing work that you wouldn’t have thought would be controversial have to deal with this different environment. How do they best navigate through it?
CRAIG MINASSIAN: Well one thing we learned in 2016. We thought, well people know we do, they know that we’re helping across society. But, it was very easy for people to spread misinformation about us and any nonprofit because it would be irresponsible for a nonprofit to say you know, redirect millions of dollars from programs to advertising to defend your good name that’s not what nonprofits do. At the same time, you’re right this polarization is causing people to believe misinformation. They’re not being very critical of the sources of information. And it creates a real misunderstanding. And by the way, it creates a misunderstanding for a space that’s a huge part of our economy and work force. There’s about 10 percent of the U.S. workforce that works in nonprofits and that it is a big sector. We wish there was more understanding about what the sector does broadly and how they work. What you can do and what nonprofits can do is really start and make sure that: number one, your donors or supporters, the people that you work with, understand what you do. And it sounds a very obvious thing but a lot of people you know they give, they like what you do. They might like a particular aspect of what you do. They might you know for a whole array of reasons without spending a lot of time reading your marketing material and your communication material and so they are watching and consuming the same media everybody else’s and that this is something we ran into 2016. They were hearing you know the misinformation and disinformation but what we did and we really needed to make sure the weekly shored up the base so to speak make sure they understood from us what the facts were and what we were doing. And something that you’re seeing in what’s happening across society right now in particular with COVID it is misinformation and in fact this information is still not getting through. And so, for nonprofits who are working that space are trying to tackle it. That’s one place that can be added that can really help make sure they’re sharing factual information. And when it comes down on business you know the facts and engagement are really still the best antidote to this kind of disinformation. But they have to start with their core audience and expand from there.
DOUG SIMON: Obviously putting money into advertising is out of reach for so many nonprofits. So does that make it even more important to focus on public relations and getting their message out there to that.
CRAIG MINASSIAN: Absolutely. PR is in some ways more critical than ever or as we like to think of this as communications and storytelling. Journalists are looking for ways to put a human dimension and really foster better understanding of these really seismic shifts in society. And in some cases crisis is would that have no precedent. And so as a nonprofit community you can really help yourself and your organization by helping lead them to stories and help them find a way to bring out the human dimension in what’s going on.
DOUG SIMON: And we found that journalists are more interested in hearing from communicators within nonprofits within brands than they’ve ever been. Craig thanks so much for spending your time with us and sharing this valuable insight as well as the good work that the Clinton Foundation does.
CRAIG MINASSIAN: Thank you for having me.