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Q & A with Communications Expert Thom Clark

Guest post by DeAnndra B.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Community Media Workshop President, co-founder, and resident communications expert Thom Clark, to pick his brain about the upcoming Developing A Communications Plan training.

It’s currently one of the most requested trainings and is offered by The Workshop multiple times each year. Led by Clark, it has been a core training at The Workshop for more than twenty years. There is clearly a demand, and need, for this type of communications training; marrying traditional media relations strategies with new media strategies.

Thom Clark

Q1 – How did the Developing A Communications Plan training come to be one of the most popular trainings at The Workshop?

It’s a basic strategy workshop we’ve done from day one. Born of the first week of the core training, Professional Media Relations, there was a need to provide a shorter training for a conference in Denver as an early effort to help children advocacy groups improve their access to the media and their storytelling. Collaborating with Workshop co-founder Hank DeZutter, we built a syllabus and curriculum as an effort to get down on paper what this training was really about.

Over the years it has evolved as I collaborated with former vice-presidents of The Workshop, including some spokesperson and messaging training elements, similar to week two of Professional Media Relations. In addition to some elements from Sue O’Halloran’s Storytelling training, in particular the elevator speech technique. The current version of the training is a basic strategy workshop with a sharper focus and far better materials, establishing the basic plan as something we ought to put front and center. It worked well and I am doing this training all the time now.

Can you speak to the need for a non-profit to have a communications plan?

Most nonprofits have identified a problem that they’re trying to solve. There are customers and clients they want to attract to programs, there are board members, funders, donors, and volunteers they need to tell their story to, which includes successes or challenges in addressing that problem. Often, there are policy makers, government officials, and regulators who also need to hear how an organization discovered a problem and have come up with, or attempted, a solution to it.

If a nonprofit operates in a vacuum, they wont be as successful in changing public policy or moving clients along to be more successful in their lives (after the program), much less raise money, and attract the right staff and board members if they’re not telling their story. Organizations can tell their story through their own media (websites, e-newsletters, etc.), and/or traditional media (print and broadcast). Media coverage doesn’t just happen, it takes strategy and some persistence to gain media attention to help amplify your work which will hopefully help raise more money and attract better staff and volunteers to the organization.

 – Here at Community Media Workshop we produce a media guide. How do you plan on incorporating how to use the media guide* into this training?

I could do a better job than the seven minutes I cover it, usually. “The book alone can be a training in terms of what’s in the front part as well as what’s in the back.” We do try to cover the media guide in trainings especially if participants have this tool in front of them.

In a recent training, I talked about how to use it as a browsing tool. I usually talk about finding reporters who you may not know are covering your issue, and get to know one a month, every other month. At the end of the year you will have 6 new reporters who are paying attention to your issue. I discussed how to attract the attention of a reporter, who doesn’t know you, by phone or email and it is largely by paying attention to their last piece, or last several articles and commenting on them, usually with a glass half –full approach.

*(Note: the media guide contains an editorial section with tips on pitching, worksheets for creating a communications plan, building a media list, an online communications plan, a social media policy and more.)

 – Can you tell me your top three objectives or goals that you would like attendees to get out of this training? If they leave with nothing else what are 3 things you would like them to walk away with?

First, we often use an elevator speech exercise that leaves most participants with a far keener sense about the importance of being concise. They have to decide what one program or offer you want to tell this new audience about. You have to get them to the point where they’re asking for more information instead of overwhelming them with too much in the first few minutes of talking with them.

Secondly, a better sense of strategically discovering which 6 or 12 reporters they need to build a relationship with and not worrying about a several hundred-name press list. They should pay attention to the media and figure out whom they need to learn and get to know.

Lastly, I expect people to have a keen sense of the 3–legged stool model of goals, audience, and message working together leading to better storytelling. That’s really at the core of what we do. That basic approach to strategy has not changed much over the last 20 years even with all the new technology available and changes in the media landscape. This model is a really good way to break down to the non-media relations professional how to get a handle on building an effective communications plan.


Q5 – You often mention that, in developing a communications plan, working with the media, and doing media relations is not about getting publicity for the boss, what do you mean by that and why is that important?

It comes out of my sense that for many years we had trouble getting foundations to support our work because they say it as so much PR for the boss and didn’t feel the need to fund that type of communications. It was perceived that, “if a group is making news the media will find them”. Not only is that a naïve understanding about how the media works, but also more than likely if a group is making news and the media finds them, it is because of a crisis. So, it is not the type of coverage they want to have.

In addition, the perception that most nonprofit organizations are run by self-described visionaries who had a great idea, was able to get some funding and went on with the work, but are primarily ego-driven ‘cause why would anyone want to do this work for next to no pay. And, in some times that stereotype is true, but more often than not it undermines the real motivations of people who are in this field.

The nonprofit sector represents over 7% of the employment base in Chicago. So there is something we’re trying to do to help the world. We see gaps in what people need to have fulfilling lives and we try to help them with those gaps. So the story, to me, is not about who is running the organization, but what the organization is doing. My interest in helping organizations tell their story more effectively is to get other people to join the journey. To understand what problems they are trying to tackle, why they’re effective, and to come help us. Whether it is volunteers, donors writing larger checks or bringing in clients. That is far more effective than having the ego of a founder or executive director soothed with a profile in Crain’s Chicago Business or the Chicago Tribune.







Why nonprofits need video

Guest post by Marissa Wasseluk

They say a picture is worth a thousand words – if that’s the case, imagine the worth of a video (which has about 30 pictures per second)!

Statistics show that less than 10% of visitors to your website read everything you have to say. However, 65% of website visitors will watch a video to completion. That being said I’m going to shut up now and let you press play on the video below for further information:

Maybe I’m a little biased because I’ve been producing videos for over a decade now, but I feel like video is one of the best mediums for advocacy. In my experience, visually telling a story – showing your audience your mission, rather than just telling them  – helps create a connection that could be easily lost with a long, strongly worded paragraph.

Also, general audiences these days have short attention spans (kudos to you if you read this far, btw). The average time spent on a site with text is 60 seconds. A visitor to a site with a video will spend an average of six minutes on that site.

You may think creating a video is costly and time-consuming. I’m not going to lie to you – sometimes it is. As with most well-constructed, creative work, good videos take time – and time is money. But, there are simple and quick ways to use video effectively. If you have the right tools and the right strategy in place, you can create videos to let general audiences know who you are, show supporters how you’re doing and how their donations are used, and remain on the minds of audiences everywhere – for little money and time.

FYI – The video above took me about three hours to make, and that was because I didn’t write down what I wanted to say and kept messing up.

Video creation and video strategy are two topics covered at the Making Media Connections conference. Here you can discuss your options for successful, simple, inexpensive video creation!

Be a nonprofit blogger!

A blog post on blogging by guest blogger Marissa Wasseluk

Creating a blog is a relatively easy way to help get your nonprofit’s message out to the world.  I feel like blogging is something all nonprofits should do – it’s one of the best ways to keep your supporters, volunteers, and potential donors aware of your organization’s issues and abreast of your latest work. Not to mention that search engines enjoy all that fresh content, and the more you create, the further forward you’re pushed in search results. That way, someone who doesn’t even know they’re looking for your organization can easily find it!

Seriously, why don’t you blog?
It may seem difficult to just start blogging (after all, to begin is the most difficult part of any task). But, once you’ve done it, you’ll be so glad you did, and you will wonder why you didn’t sooner.

Perhaps It’s your first time in this strange, new world also known as “the blogosphere”.
How do you start blogging? Well, first you figure out where you’re going to put your content. You can host your organization’s blog on your own site or link from your site to an external blog hosting site.

Some examples of free blog hosting sites:





If you decide to use an external website to host your blog, I suggest that before creating an account, visit the “about” section of the  blogging sites and see what interface you think you will be most comfortable using.

Perhaps your organization has already started a blog, but you’re not sure what to do with it.
Well the short solution to this dilemma is: post content. I often get asked about how to adequately “tag” a blog post, what proper “re-blogging etiquette” is, or how to word your post so that it’s read easier by search engines. Unfortunately there is no ultimate answer to these questions. There are many different perspectives on what works best.  I suggest looking up the questions on search engines or take them to the experts, so you can choose what kind of method – or combination of methods – works best for you from the solutions presented to you.

Perhaps you feel you don’t have enough time to dedicate to blogging.
If this is what holds you back from blogging, I suggest exploring the many different ways to blog – including photoblogging (a picture is worth a thousand words, after all), vlogging, microblogging, and mobile blogging. One Thousand Kites, a nonprofit focusing on social justice campaigns, uses their blog platform to tell the stories of prisoners and their families by posting audio and video clips. You may also want to consider multi-user blogs (several staff members and/or volunteers regularly contribute to your blog, as seen on the Open Books blog), or enlisting the help of guest bloggers – just ask a volunteer or intern talk about their experience working with your organization (as seen on the Falling Whistles blog or the Peace Corps journals).

Want more examples of great nonprofit blogging?

Do you have a favorite nonprofit blog? Let us know in the comments below!

To learn more tips and tricks of successful nonprofit blogging, join us at the Making Media Connections Conference and check out the Starting Your Nonprofit Blog Panel!

DIY Video for Nonprofits (Guest post by Marissa Wasseluk)

These days, professional-quality video equipment is readily available to the average consumer. Theoretically, anyone can create a video. The challenge lies in creating a good video that tells your story well, without too many headaches in the process.

Successful video producers have methods and strategies to create their high-quality videos; each is different, due to personal preferences, but the core techniques remain the same. In order to help nonprofit communicators develop their own video production methods, Community Media Workshop recently hosted a workshop to cover these techniques.

In the workshop – taught by Stacy Laiderman, producer at See3 Communications – attendees were given an overview of proper video techniques, split into groups and given Flip Cams, and then challenged to put what they just learned to use. The resulting three hours of footage were used to produce this video:

DIY Video Workshop Video from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

As you can see (or perhaps, as you’ve already experienced), producing a quality video is not as easy as it seems, but it is not impossible.

Before you dive head-first into the sea of video production, take a few things into consideration:

1) Good videos take time and people power. I saved some time creating the video above by not having to shoot the footage myself, but there was much work to be done when the cameras were off. I fished through the footage for good takes, uploaded those takes into my post-production program (which, by the way, is Final Cut Pro), made a quick storyboard to follow as I edit, hunted for music, edited and exported the final sequence. The process from start to finish took nearly a week.

Here's a peek into the method of my madness for this video - my notes and makeshift storyboard

Here's a peek into the method of my madness for this video - my notes and makeshift storyboard

2) Before you even pick up a camera, think about your story and your audience. When you think about your organization, what images come to mind? Can you capture those images for your audience?

3) Think about your time and resources. Can you spare the time and people power to create this video? Would it be cheaper in the long run to hire someone else to make it?

4) Think about your equipment. Do you know what equipment you need to create an effective message? Do you know how to use the equipment you do have? A lot of people actually do not consider how to use their video cameras before they decide to make a video, and it creates a lot of frustration during and after production, as you can see from the video below.

Flip Cam Do’s & Don’ts from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

Take these things into consideration, and you, too, can reach your audience with beautiful, effective videos.


If you’re still unsure about your video production prowess, there are still a few open seats left in our encore workshop of Do-It-Yourself Video for Nonprofits, for a further in-depth look at video techniques and hands-on training from an industry professional.

Print has a future

Reporter Tara Malone and Publishers Mary Gavin and Susan Noyes spoke at a Meet the Press forum we co-sponsored with Evanston Public Library yesterday (more pictures at the Community Media Workshop Facebook page)

Used to be, questions at a meet the press panel sponsored by the Workshop focused on how to reach the journalists and how to pitch them.

Yesterday we held a communications strategy and Meet the Press forum at the Evanston Public Library and we had some of that, but more questions were about the future of the news and how the panelists were experiencing changes in the business. One takeaway: print’s not dead yet.

Our panel featured:

New stuff

Three great resources for nonprofit communications, each totally different from the last (and each deserves its own blog post–but better to be quick than thorough, in this case–I think):

ImpactMax on strategy

I recently co-presented on how to create a communications strategy plan and am doing a workshop called The Communications Audit in September for Nonprofit Alliance in Battle Creek, Mich. so I was particularly interested to read the “Impactmax” blog of Gayle Thorsen, Minneapolis-based communications consultant, on the subject of nonprofit/foundation communications plans, beginning last week with audits. Read the rest of this entry »

End-of-the-year survey time

Kara Carrell responds to a question at Making Media Connections (photo by Bob Black)

Last year, about half the folks who took our first-ever impact survey (an end-of-the-fiscal-year survey on what they did with what they learned from us) told us they did something different online as a result of what they learned.

Since this is the second year we’re doing it, we will be able to make some comparisons between now and this time last year–of course one of the things we hope to learn more about is how economic challenges of these days are affecting how we communicate for the better/for the worse.

Looking forward to hearing more about how you and others used lessons learned from The Workshop in the past 12 months! Take the survey yourself, it’s right here.

Oh, and when you’re done, give us your name and contact info so we can add you to a raffle to win an iPod Nano as a small thank-you for your feedback.


P.S. have you seen the gallery of photos from our most recent conference? Taken by Bob Black, Olga Lopez, and 1 or 2 other volunteers, they came out great!

Statistically shorter lifespan, rotten apples… or both?

the other side of that window is a parking garage... wish you could see it from the inside! (image,

the other side of that window is a parking garage... wish you could see it from the inside! (image,

The scattered papers, posters and pix on the walls in the office of Detroit’s MOSES make it feel like community organizing group HQs anywhere. But check out the adjacent parking garage: it’s built on top of an old ballroom–which also happens to be the Michigan Building, where Henry Ford first experimented with cars by adding an engine to a set of bicycle wheels.  Detroit is a little post-apocalyptic, but very cool.

We headed out of the parking garage to a church where MOSES’ supermarket task force was meeting. Their goal: a new supermarket for ‘food desert‘ Southeast Detroit by the end of 2009. My role: to talk about using stories, strategically, to help advance the mission. And in the course of doing it, I heard a great story. Read the rest of this entry »

Using the rule of three

the Chinese vase balancing act of GuiMing Meng

the Chinese vase balancing act of GuiMing Meng (via Dance Project Sequence inc. online reviews)

Well, time to go back to work! Thank goodness. Didn’t think too much about the office or communications over the break (whoops, busy Monday ahead tomorrow!) but in between fending off requests for popcorn at the Big Apple Circus just before Christmas I was reminded of what CMW trainer and professional storyteller Susan O’Halloran taught me is the “rule of three.” As Wikipedia puts it most succinctly, the rule of three is

…a principle in English writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. From slogans (“Go, fight, win!”) to films, many things are structured in threes. There were three musketeers, three little pigs, three billy goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the three bears, and Three Stooges. (Link to full entry here)

Here’s what I saw and here’s how I think it applies to our work, especially in tough economic times.

Read the rest of this entry »


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