Our friend and colleague Alan Jenkins at the Opportunity Agenda blogged this week about what NOT to say to advance the progressive agenda.
Number 2 on Jenkins’ list is “entitlement.”
2. Entitlements. When used to refer to safety-net protections, the term “entitlements” suggests handouts and dependency rather than a societal investment in shared prosperity and economic independence. It also obscures the tremendous subsidies and other benefits that corporations and the wealthy receive through other channels. Let’s instead call popular programs like Social Security and Medicare by name, while challenging “public service cuts,” and supporting “economic security policies.”
We couldn’t agree more. The negative connotations of “entitlement” are deeply rooted in American society. We’re a “pick yourself up from your bootstraps” kind of culture and grimace at the notion that anyone is “entitled” to anything in the land of opportunity. When working on issues like Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance, we carefully craft messages to communicate the values we want an organization to portray.
If you’re word geeks like us, read other entries here from our “Bad Words Blog” series. And let us know what your language resolutions are for 2013.
One of the best things about ringing in a new year is that we can look back on the previous year with a wiser eye to evaluate all of the goods and bads that made up the past 365 days. On an individual level, we can assess whether 2012 was an overall good, bad or OK year based on our goals. We learn from our successes and our failures to make 2013 a better and more successful year. Can your nonprofit organization do that?
If you’re looking to improve your nonprofit organization’s outreach and visibility, the first and most important step is to create a communications plan for the New Year.
To jump-start your nonprofit’s communications – follow our recommended steps:
Engage in media outreach and measure your organization’s results. We specializes in analyzing media coverage around an issue, making strategic recommendations based on this analysis, and engaging in strategic media outreach.
And of course, no nonprofit communications plan is complete without social media & online engagement. From integrated audiovisual content, to managing your nonprofit’s social media accounts – take a look at the diverse nonprofits we’ve helped engage effectively online.
Measuring your nonprofit’s communications success of the past year is a crucial way to generate more funds, increase advocacy, and conquer organizational goals.
And as the old adage goes, you learn from your mistakes (and successes). Take a lesson or two from 2012 to be more effective communicators in the coming year. As you reflect, ask yourself:
What were your organization’s goals?
Did you reach them?
Did you coarse-correct midway through and set new goals?
What were methods of outreach that worked? And why?
What didn’t work? And how could you improve?
During the first sleepy days of the New Year, spend some time reflecting on the past year and set yourself up for a well-planned effort in 2013. From the team at Douglas Gould & Company, we wish you a successful new year!
Community Colleges vs. For Profit institutions. It is a battle you may not have anticipated, but thing are getting ugly. According to a recent story, the University of Phoenix has spent years and millions of dollars lobbying against community college expansion in Arizona, while at the same time launching “partnerships” that make it appear that they’re working together and benefiting each other. What is going on here?
Community colleges have long offered affordable associate degrees to typically underserved populations, in a local setting to help advance livelihoods and careers. Recently, some colleges in Arizona wanted to expand to offer baccalaureate degrees as well. Community colleges are much affordable than for-profit schools that often leave students with lots of loan debt (a serious issue for recent graduates) and no work-ready credentials
Further confusing the issue is that many people don’t know the difference between community colleges and these proprietary schools that spend large sums on flashy advertising nationwide. We’ve been involved in two statewide opinion research projects that show this confusion is real, and can be very harmful to students – as we’re seeing more and more allegations of consumer fraud and discrimination with for-profit businesses.
In fact – one of our clients, the Mississippi Center for Justice, filed a class action suit this year against Virginia College, another for-profit institution, on behalf of their clients who claimed fraud, breach of contract and negligence. According to the clients, Virginia College targeted minorities and women with its predatory product – a degree that was worthless because the College isn’t properly accredited.
Our goal is to work with advocates to get the word out, educate consumers and clear up confusion People need to be very aware of the financial and career implications that come along with these propriety institutions.
When I was in high school, my gym teacher, Mrs. Maloney, instructed me to “referee” basketball during our class so that should give you a little insight into my athletic prowess…and my vertical reach. Just the same, I’ve always been a huge fan of Title IX, which turns 40 this year. Known primarily for leveling the “playing field” in athletics, Title IX has delivered a Claressa Shield’s style punch of gender equity in many other ways, too.
Claressa, by the way, is the 17 year-old 2012 Olympic Women’s Boxing gold medalist. She’s from Flint, Michigan, where poverty and community breakdown have taken a tremendous toll on many young people, including her brother who’s currently in jail. While preparing to compete again in Rio, she’s on track to graduate high school next spring. Despite all her travels, she’s an honors student who maintains a B or better average – and wants to be a photojournalist. That’s certainly Title IX in action.
Thanks to the good people at the Southern Poverty Law Center who publish Teaching Tolerance, I was able to read about the myriad ways in which Title IX has made the world a far better place for all, thanks in part to this historical policy declaration in 1972:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity received federal financial assistance.
Like most 40 year-olds, Title IX deserves lots of credit and extra encouragement to keep fighting the good fight. So to celebrate it, here are IX outstanding ways it’s bringing us closer to gender equity:
I. Colleges and universities must provide equal consideration to both sexes in admissions and financial aid.
II. Schools must treat male and female students equally in career and technical education – including encouraging girls and women into non-traditional careers.
III. Schools can no longer force pregnant students from classes or school-sponsored activities.
IV. Teachers and administrators at the primary, secondary and college levels are protected against sex discrimination in hiring, promotion and salary considerations.
V. Single-sex programs must not perpetuate stereotypes about girls’ interests or abilities.
VI. Girls and women must be allowed and encouraged to take upper-level math and science courses.
VII. Students receive protection against sexual harassment from teachers, staff or other students.
VIII. Standardized tests questions must be designed free of gender bias.
IX. Both genders must have equal access to computers and technology.
If you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty good about this list. I’m also pleased to learn that more than half of medical and law students today are women. And it gave me a new perspective to answer my ten year-old son who asked me recently “When did men and women decide they wanted to be equal?” Of course, we’re not fully there yet, but in some way I feel like I can answer, “Well, 1972 was a pretty important year.”
What advice would you give to the President to help ensure a healthy nonprofit environment? That was the question posed to a variety of nonprofit leaders recently by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. It’s a great question, and the answers were enlightening. With the economy in a precarious position and unemployment at higher than ideal levels, where do nonprofit priorities fit in?
Advice and suggestions ranged from large and lofty to specific operational requests. The larger goals included asking President Obama to urge Americans to increase overall giving from 2% to 3% of GDP – the equivalent of $150 billion per year. Another larger scale goal was to encourage collaboration between nonprofits, the private sector and the government – to both pool resources when all are stretched thin, and help spread programs more broadly.
Some of the specific advice included promoting arts education and not increasing nonprofit postal rates.
The overarching theme that emerged from the suggestions was that of protecting organizations from government regulations. It was echoed by multiple people in various forms, and it speaks a lot to the overall philanthropic landscape right now. Everyone is under pressure and nonprofits are seeing increased demand for help, while having fewer resources to achieve their goals.
This Q&A exercise shows the importance, more than ever, of operating in a truly strategic way – with communications especially. Organizations need to infuse strategic, targeted messages into everything they do, utilize media (both traditional and social) in an effective way, all while focusing an end goal. With the right partner, it can absolutely happen.
“In exchange for removing barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights.”
The above is a quote from Mitt Romney, given during a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative recently, on the topic of foreign aid and how he would change the current system. He stressed that aid to foreign countries should focus on growth and entrepreneurship in order to avoid future dependence on the US for aid.
The “Prosperity Pact” as he calls his new plan, would be structured to encourage economic growth and promote free enterprise, including trade partnerships, with a heavier dependence on the private sector to help identify barriers to entrepreneurship. He stated that too much foreign aid focuses on delivering a social service rather than promoting long term reform, and that aid should be tied to a country’s trade and economic policies.
He stated “nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America’s own economy–and that is that free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation.”
While this was the most we’ve heard from Mr. Romney on foreign aid issues to date, and he only briefly touched on the topic of humanitarian aid, it still raises a few questions:
What would happen in a disaster situation (such as Haiti or Japan) – would aid be contingent on promises of changing economic policy?
How would his administration determine what countries are worthy of aid?
And how will it be decided who gets what?
And with what strings attached?
How would humanitarian aid be distributed?
How strongly is he going to “share” American ideals? I
If the system is going to be more privatized, how will the NGO’s and non profit work be affected?
What about the large sums of money that get sent to foreign countries through private donations?
Doesn’t Mr. Romney know that a large majority of the aid we give is American made products, like corn and grain?
While we can only stay tuned and hope that the upcoming debates provide some additional insight on this topic, there could be changes in store for international non profit organizations.
As we arrive at the day of reckoning for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the U.S. Supreme Court, this excellent media analysis from the Pew Center for People and the Press reveals how media coverage of the issue contributed to public confusion and increasing opposition.
While many of us noted the failure of the President and the advocacy community to continue to “sell” or at least explain the virtues of the ACA, this report documents a number of other key media coverage issues that contributed:
Heavy coverage of Tea Party town meetings where the ACA was routinely bashed.
The excess of coverage focused on the politics of the issue and minimal attention paid to the merits of the legislation.
The lack of coverage of the abysmal state of health care, which had been heavily covered leading up to Obama’s election.
The 2:1 use of ACA opponents’ terminology used in media reporting.
The continuing debate over contraceptive coverage.
It is never too late to start telling a good story, even if it is in reaction to a bad Supreme Court decision that kills the program. In fact, in recent days there has been more reporting on the positive impact of the program on health care access for children 26 or younger. However, we also need to tout the impact that the ACA would have on the 49 million people who rely on Medicare, many of them young disabled people and our parents and grandparents, as well as those who depend on free health care coverage, such as the children of low income families. In addition to highlighting the benefits, we need to remind people of the horror stories about people having their coverage cancelled or being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, among others.
While any organization puts itself in mortal danger by taking actions completely contrary to its professed mission and values, matters were made far worse by a lack of internal cohesion and the lack of a united front when the online firestorm started.
Obviously, Brinker and the anti-choice staff members who pushed this decision didn’t do their homework and there is an important lesson for any group embarking on a major change of policy – make sure you have your ducks in a row before going public. There will be some dissention in any group populated by strong-minded advocates, but this can be minimized, in many cases, by advance preparation and the careful processing of issues.
Working this issue through internally may have led Brinker to realize that she couldn’t go public with this immoral decision if her own people were going to fight back publicly.
Clearly, reversing course was the right action, but what follows in terms of staff re-shuffling and new procedures will determine whether they ever regain any of their luster.
The news that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had decided to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening program has touched off a firestorm of much-deserved criticism of Komen.
This latest move is part of a global drive by anti-contraception extremists who are trying to end programs that give women control over their childbearing. Caving in to extreme right-wing pressure – even when it comes from within your board – is always wrong for an organization that is so dependent on the support of mainstream Americans. This decision thrusts Komen into a debate that can only detract from its public image and cause donors and Race for the Cure participants to race for the exits.
The irony is that the public reaction was easily predictable because it happened before. Long before online organizing existed, ATT was pummeled in the press and by shareholders when they boldly announced in the mid-1980s that they would no longer fund Planned Parenthood because of right-wing complaints. As Communications VP for Planned Parenthood at the time, we ran full page newspaper ads all over the country under the banner “ATT Hangs Up on Planned Parenthood.” Besides the bad press, allied organizations that held ATT stock organized a protest and ultimately brought a resolution to the floor of the annual stockholders meeting, which was dominated by the debate over Planned Parenthood. What a black eye and what a distraction for ATT. History is repeating itself for Komen and this time in spades because of social media.
The blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter have lit up with anti-Komen posts. This attack on an allied organization will undoubtedly cost Komen many supporters and it will seriously damage its image as a group that values women’s health over politics. Many will shift their gifts to Planned Parenthood to support their cancer screening work.
The lessons for organizations are as follows:
Read and learn from history.
Caving in is far more costly than doing the right thing.
Don’t invite right wing kooks to serve on your board and if you do, don’t listen to them.
By now, everyone’s heard about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s (latest) gaff. When listing the three federal agencies he would move to eliminate when president, he as able to remember… two. In case you haven’t seen it, check out the video below:
The sometimes-harsh truth is that seemingly minor slips like this have huge consequences. It was a front-page story in the New York Times and a quick Google News search shows at least 5,600 articles. Many pundits have declared his candidacy to be effectively dead in the water – remarkable only in the fact that it came after months of missteps, gaffs or offensive comments.
For many of us – including unrepentant progressives like myself – this is a moment of delicious schadenfreude in an otherwise bleak fall.
However, it also calls to mind some of our recent projects. This fall, we’ve been on the road helping several clients train spokespeople for the media. The issues vary from community college and adult basic education to population and women’s reproductive rights. What never varies is the basic principles of speaking to the media. A few basic rules of engagement:
Speak in quotable sound bites that contain your core messages and issues.
Always remember that it’s not the reporter—it’s the audience. Your primary relationship is with the readers, listeners and viewers.
Never say “no comment.” There is always something you can say and if you don’t want to be quoted, say something really boring.
And lastly, never EVER start a statement by listing how many items you’ll talk about. You’ll always forget one.
It remains to be seen whether this gaff will be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of Gov. Perry’s campaign. What is clear is that in today’s vicious and partisan political environment it’s more important than ever to make sure that any spokesperson who’ll be talking to the media remembers these points and keeps in mind that whatever they say tonight can be tomorrow’s YouTube sensation.