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Q&A with Story Artist & Workshop Trainer Susan O’Halloran

Susan O’Halloran

Just three slots remain for this Thursday’s, Telling Your Organization’s Story To Move People To Action workshop.

We caught up with author, story artist and noted speaker Susan O’Halloran, as she preps for this week’s training.

Why is storytelling so important in nonprofit communications?

Simply put, our society wouldn’t function without nonprofits. From fulfilling basic needs of food, shelter and medical care to artistically expressing the triumph of the human spirit – and everything in between – the quality of our lives would be greatly diminished without the work of nonprofits.

And, yet, the public, the press, future leaders and even funders are just not hearing about all the lives nonprofits touch and all they accomplish.

Nonprofit communicators can learn to tell compelling stories that:

• clear up misconceptions

• enroll even more volunteers and attracts the best people to hire

• generate partnerships with other agencies

• create buzz in the media

• and enlist champions in the legislature and with individual funders

Whether speaking with the press, fundraising, enlisting volunteers or even getting co-workers motivated and enthused – learning to tell your story and helping other people in your program to tell theirs will give you the ability to communicate clearly, to confirm your legitimacy, to move and persuade people and to let others know the goals and accomplishments of your organization.

What do you find most people have trouble with when crafting their stories?

As we move from childhood to adulthood gaining more knowledge, we talk more and more abstractly. We talk in the language of statistics, theories, explanations and opinions.
Nothing wrong with that, but story language is a kind of language that opens up other worlds through sensory images.

A good description will make your mind – and your body – think it’s there. Which means you can take your audience to work with you. You can put them in your rehearsal studio or homeless shelter and cause them to experience your good work for themselves. You can put your audience in time and space machines and transport them to your cause in action. They will experience your organization. It takes practice, but nonprofit communicators can re-learn this sensory, descriptive language.

The second hurdle is to get nonprofit communicators to talk about problems. But you actually gain more credibility if you tell a story about how your organization overcame a challenge than if you try to promote, “Everything is just fine here.” What gets a story started is that there’s a problem, a challenge, a mess or a situation. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but there does have to be action. Something needs to be happening. As human beings we are endlessly interested in finding out how each of us solves our problems (and happy to find out others have challenges as well). A story is not a collection of ideas, themes or even images. It can take awhile for nonprofit communicators to unearth a situation that will show what they are trying to express. Helping people structure their stories to hold people’s interest is demanding but pure magic when it happens.

What do workshop participants talk about the most after your training?

Nonprofits must slice through the information clutter to be seen and heard. Their good works and good intentions are not enough to capture people’s attention and commitment. Participants leave the workshop understanding the power of story and excited to use this tool more effectively. They realize they have many stories to tell and, now, they know how to tell them.

Register today for Telling Your Organization’s Story To Move People To Action, as this workshop will sell out.

What You Say and How You Say It

Guest post by Adriana Diaz (opinions reflect that of the author)

It’s been a week, and I’m still riding high from the warm, fuzzy feelings I garnered from the love-fest we call the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards.

As a fairly new addition to the staff at Community Media Workshop, I was asked during a staff de-brief Tuesday,  to share my thoughts on last week’s ceremony.  I found myself choked up as I tried to report back what I felt after attending my very first Terkel event.

It had been such a great party, the culmination of our staff’s months-work of planning and prepping. Mostly though, the remnants from the presenters’ and winners’ speeches still resonated with me; a sure sign of  powerfully good messages. It’s like Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Hoy Chicago managing editor Fernando Diaz speaks after accepting his Terkel award. photo by Olga Lopez

These moving speeches, also made me reflect about some of the lessons we teach at the Workshop. When we coach others in their nonprofit communications; or provide custom spokesperson training, the Workshop promotes methods found in good storytelling: like use examples to help get a more general point across; use colorful words and contemporary references; create relationships.

It struck me that the messages that were delivered on Terkel night reverberated within me, not only because they contained the elements of a good speech (i.e. catchy intro; informing; inspiring), but because the speakers used stories, and found ways to engage the audience. Each of the speakers spoke with poise, deep humility, and warmth.

Megan, Fernando, and Dave are wonderful writers and engaging storytellers, but ultimately they’re connectors. They listen. They build relationships.

It’s like 2006 Terkel winner Mark Brown related in his introductory speech for Dave Hoekstra the night of March 14. Mark chuckled about the envy he often feels when he reads Dave’s work, wishing the subject had told him the story, “But they didn’t tell me. They told Dave.”

Please read excerpts from some of the night’s speeches and let us know how this text speaks to you. If you were present for the speeches, how did they make you feel?

Alden Loury, Better Government Association. photo by Olga Lopez

2009 Terkel winner Alden Loury, introducing Megan Cottrell:

As many of you are aware, as a nation, we’ve grown from a time when we wore our racism on our sleeves to a time when we hide and protect those feelings like our life’s savings–with the exception of the time when we log on and make anonymous comments on blogs spewing the n-word, racial epithets and other divisive language. Just about any news story with a hint of a racial undertone usually descends into a litany of comments that make you question just how far we’ve progressed.

We think about race, poverty, inequality and privilege all the time–all day, everyday. We just don’t talk about it. We don’t openly share those feelings. We’re too scared or too ashamed. But we still have those feelings.

But Megan Cottrell has helped bring down that wall, not all the way but enough for people to dialogue about our differences and gain some level of understanding about people of other racial or ethnic groups. As I was recently telling a colleague, in her blogging and reporting particularly about public housing, Megan has done well in reaching folks who are typically invisible and weaving her own perspective and experiences with those of her sources to pose compelling and sometimes uncomfortable questions about race and class.

She ran a successful blog of her own for awhile before joining The Chicago Reporter where I worked at the time. I was truly excited about her coming on board having followed her work. I thought she’d do wonders for our blogging and her impact was clearly apparent in her first six months. She has shown herself to be a 21st Century Terkelian journalist by telling stories and engaging readers online.

Please join me in congratulating the compassionate and courageous Megan Cottrell.


Megan Cottrell, reporter and blogger for the Chicago Reporter receives a 2013 Terkel Community Media Award. photo by Olga Lopez

Excerpt from Megan Cottrell’s acceptance speech:

A couple of months ago, I was asked by a nonprofit in Chicago to give a lecture to a group of people who would be tutoring kids in Cabrini Green. They told me I had about 45 minutes to give the new tutors a complete overview of public housing. There was obviously a lot of history and detail I could have gone into, but I tried to focus on telling the stories that had been told to me.

I talked about Audrey Johnson, the resident of Ickes Homes, who remembered the wholesome after school classes she took – sewing, folk dancing, cooking. It cost her family a dollar for her to go every day after school for the entire school year. She talked about her step dad dressing up as Santa Claus for the building Christmas party. I looked at a building and saw a place I wasn’t sure I was welcome or safe. She saw her history, her family, her entire life.

I told these new tutors about Doreen Ambrose, who had grown up in Cabrini Green. She remembered her third grade teacher reading her Langston Hughes, which inspired her to become a poet. She remembered living on the third floor of 325 W. Oak Street, the smell of her mother’s cooking wafting through the apartment while her dad watched TV after work and she scribbled poems in her notebook.

These women had sad stories too. Audrey’s stepfather was murdered when she was a young teenager just a few floors up from their apartment. Doreen remembered when the stable families started moving out and more and more troubled families started moving in. She could distinctly recall a young man, a classmate of hers, being murdered blocks away and the terror that she felt when it happened.

After I spoke about this for awhile and played clips of these women telling their stories, a young woman raised her hand at the back of the class. She said, “I think I get it now. I always looked at those buildings and thought, ‘Why would anyone want to live there? And why would anyone be sad if they tore that place down?’ but now I see – these were people’s homes.”

That moment was a little victory for me. That’s all I really want out of my career. I hope that something I write helps bring people’s experiences to life in a way that makes them real to my readers, real enough to understand their point of view.

In short, I want to create empathy in the world. That’s a word that makes most journalists nervous, because it borders on advocacy or editorializing. But in my view, empathy is what creates change — change for the better. We cannot take care of our neighbors until we understand them, and a well-told story can help us understand them in ways that lists of statistics or news briefs will never do.  We don’t have to agree with someone or say that they’re right, but we can listen to them and understand where they’re coming from.

We live in a world where empathy is not widely regarded. Studs talked about how we have national amnesia. I think we also have a national empathy deficit. Our news, our politics, our discourse is so polarized that we are quick to talk about “those people” and how we could never understand them or be like them. In a world of sound bites and constantly scrolling headlines, we have no room and no time for empathy.

But we desperately need it. I stand in a room full of people, who despite claiming to be unbiased and objective, all deeply care about their city. That’s why we do what we do.

Studs Terkel once said “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.”

These days, people don’t talk to each other. They don’t want to. Maybe they’ve forgotten how. But we can tell their stories. We can bring people together, even when they don’t think they want to be brought together. That’s our job. That’s our legacy. That’s our gift.

“Red socks. Studs Terkel wore red socks,” 2013 Terkel Award winner Dave Hoekstra, begins his acceptance speech. photo by Olga Lopez


Read Dave Hoekstra’s full acceptance speech, reprinted here.


Celebrating Studs’ Legacy

“I have after a fashion, been celebrated for having celebrated the lives of the uncelebrated among us; for lending voice to the face in the crowd.” – Studs Terkel

Last night we hosted the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards, honoring journalists Megan Cottrell, Fernando Diaz, and Dave Hoekstra, whose body of work exemplifies the celebrated work of Louis “Studs” Terkel.

Earlier this week two of the three 2013 Terkel Award Winners, Cottrell and Diaz,  were on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift with Rick Kogan. The panel unpacked recent Chicago news surrounding the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, ( and their controversial move to include photos of the remains of unidentified persons on their site), SROs and the Chateau Hotel, and CHA’s plan for transformation. They covered a lot of ground.

You can listen to clips of Cottrell and Diaz on the the show below:



Studs, FOIA Fest, PCC, oh my!

A busy week is coming up for nonprofit communicators who want to learn more about accessing public data; the present and future of hyperlocal news; or honoring journalists who are especially good at bringing unofficial sources and community voices into their reporting.

On Wednesday I’ll be moderating a discussion about the growth of hyperlocal news sites at the Publicity Club of Chicago’s monthly luncheon. Featured panelists include: John Lampinen of the Daily Herald, Ronald Roenigk of Inside Publications, Brian Slupski of Patch, Shamus Toomey of DNAinfo, and Peter Kendall of the Chicago Tribune. All at a wonderful family-style luncheon at Maggiano’s on North Clark Street. RSVP here.


The Chicago Headline Club kicks off FOIA Fest, a three-part series exploring the ins and outs of gaining access to government records and public data you can use to bolster your organization’s impact.  Of special note is the Tuesday, March 12 forum featuring Citizen Advocacy Center’s Terry Pastika, the Northwestern University Knight Lab’s Joe Germuska and Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Dan O’Neil. They will discuss efforts to influence policy and legislation and how technology can improve access to public records. Food and refreshments will be served at the event, from 6:45 to 8 p.m. at the auditorium of Columbia College Chicago’s journalism school, 33 E. Congress Pkwy., 2nd floor.

Finally, please join the Workshop at our annual Studs Terkel Community Media Awards benefit Thursday, March 14, from 5p to 8p at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash. Purchase your tickets here.

Navigating through Morocco

The following post and its opinions are that of the author and not of the Community Media Workshop.


New Media Associate Marissa Wasseluk on the streets of Casablanca, Morocco. Picture by Hassan Aaddak.

Casablanca explodes with activity. One after another, motorbikes and bicycles weave through traffic and pass our car with the grace and agility of snakes moving through tall grass. We maneuver our way around several cars straddling the imaginary line that separates the lanes on the highway. “How are you finding Casablanca, Marissa?” asks Noureddine, our interpreter, as he puts his car into another gear. He drives forward and doesn’t flinch as another person pulls in front of us, leaving only a whisper of air between the two cars. “So far so good!” I over-exclaim while reassuringly pushing my seat belt into its lock.

Like any big city, Casablanca is on the move. When I first arrived I felt like I had to hit the ground running, and faster than usual to keep up with its pace. The geographic bridge between Europe and Subsaharan Africa, globalism and multiculturalism define Moroccan society. Walking the streets, I overhear conversations between residents that flow from French to Arabic and sometimes English with ease. I see women in traditional hajibs and kaftans check their cell phones for messages and a stylish young man light a cigarette as he leans against a centuries-old wall. It’s easy to see how the country earned its nickname, the global crossroads.

Some traffic began building on these roads about two years ago.  Civil unrest triggered a social movement that called for reformations in the constitution. Some people call the movement The Arab Spring. Here it’s more often referred to as The Democratic Spring. I, myself, am traveling these roads as a part of a legislative fellows program wherein nonprofit professionals from Chicago meet professionals from NGOs in its sister city, Casablanca. Personally, I’m looking to find out more about the correlation between new media and social movements like The Democratic Spring. I’m also curious about the different ways people here are using technology to fulfill their missions (and perhaps, give them a little advice on how they could).

The changes brought on by this movement are now beginning to take really take root.  Because of passionate people working hard to create a better society, nonprofits across the country are finding it easier to fulfill their missions without breaking laws. After visiting several NGOs in Morocco with missions ranging from empowering women, rights for the disabled, and urban agriculture, I’ve found that these organizations have grown by leaps and bounds in a short amount of time, but there’s still much to be done.

And so, the city and country continue to move – towards cultural and political change.

I’m happy to be along for the ride.

To be continued…

The Professional Fellows Program for Egypt and Morocco is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, and implemented by Citizen Bridges International, a nonprofit in Chicago, and its partner organizations, El Sadat Association in Cairo, Egypt and IDMAJ in Casablanca, Morocco.


Learning from the state of hyperlocal news

When it comes to hyperlocal news, it’s a lot easier to build an audience than it is to build a revenue stream. So says hyperlocal site publisher and blogger Mike Foucher. Foucher and the Workshop’s President Thom Clark recently weighed in on the past and future of neighborhood reporting with Rick Kogan on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift. Clark also discussed the Workshop’s strategic efforts to define the shifting media landscape.

Listen to the entire segment below:

Fourteen New Local Reporting Awards Approved for Community News Projects on South and West Sides

Fourteen New Local Reporting Awards Approved

for Community News Projects on South and West Sides

CHICAGO – The Chicago Community Trust’s Community News Matters program approved $70,000 in Local Reporting Awards for 14 community news projects focusing on issues affecting the south and west sides of Chicago. The community news projects will highlight various issues, from realities facing the LGBTQ community within the criminal system to the effects of domestic violence and mental health on residents in the Back of the Yards community.


“The Trust is pleased to support innovative approaches to share stories written by and about the south and west side of Chicago,” said Ngoan Le, Vice President of Program at The Chicago Community Trust.  “We can all benefit learning more about issues important to these communities.”

Each project will receive $5,000 to support original reporting or data analysis. This is the second round of Local Reporting Awards, which are funded by The Chicago Community Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.  Winners this year were chosen from among proposals requested from the 31 winners of 2011 awards.

The Community Media Workshop, is administering the Local Reporting Awards program for The Chicago Community Trust and is providing social media trainings for the awardees.

“This highly evaluated project which draws on the expertise of community leaders and organizations brought to public attention a variety of new voices and impactful journalism from often under-reported neighborhoods,” said Workshop president Thom Clark.

Among the recipients of 2012 Local Reporting Awards are Health and Disability Advocates, which will document health care difficulties facing local military veterans; Latinos Progresando, which will document monologues by youth regarding Latino and American cultural perspectives; and the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, which will examine the impact of incarceration among West and South side Chicago residents. View the full list of awardees on the next page or at



Here are the recipients of the 2012 Local Reporting Awards:

  1. Chicago Reporter, to investigate Chicago’s Section 8 housing program;
  2. Windy City Times, to investigate the realties facing the LGBTQ community in the criminal legal system;
  3. In These Times, to explore participatory budgeting on Chicago’s 5th ward;
  4. Health and Disability Advocates, to document health care difficulties facing local military veterans;
  5. Bill Healy, to enhance the content and distribution of projects by fellow award winners;
  6. Kari Lydersen, to explore community impact of Southside steel site redevelopment;
  7. The Gate, to explore domestic violence and mental health in the Back of the Yards community;
  8. Latinos Progresando, to document monologues by youth regarding Latino and American cultural perspectives;
  9. Austin Talks, to produce a video documentary about homicides of Chicago youth;
  10. Carlos Javier Ortiz, to produce a video documentary of youth violence at Stroger Hospital;
  11. Neighborhood Writing Alliance, to document the impact of incarceration among West and South side Chicago residents;
  12. Kalyn Belsha, to investigate leadership support for Latina women in Chicago;
  13. Amandillo Cuzan, to produce a video documentary on Bronzeville area schools;
  14. Westside Writing Alliance, to document the impact of school reform in the Humboldt/Garfield Park area.

The Local Reporting Initiative seeks to address the shifting media landscape including the continued growth of online news sites.  It also focuses on the continued development of new channels to ensure that high-quality, civic-minded information reaches and engages theses communities.

The Local Reporting Awards are a direct response to the findings of a 2010 Community News Matters research report that discovered Chicago area residents do not feel they fully understand the region’s challenges. Residents of low-income south and west side neighborhoods were especially concerned that traditional news outlets do not cover relevant issues in their communities. The Trust’s Community News Matters program seeks to increase the flow of truthful, accurate and insightful local news and information and help the region’s cutting edge innovators develop new models for providing news and information.


Should Your Nonprofit Have a Pinterest Presence?

guest post by Marissa Wasseluk, originally posted here.

While covering the “Top 5 Social Media Platforms” during a recent social media training, one participant asked me, “Do our organizations really need to be on Pinterest?”

To which I answered yes, and no.

We’ve seen some nonprofits use the platform effectively because they know how to speak to their audience and can pull from a plethora visual content. Some nonprofits create boards centered around a specific fundraising and/or awareness campaign.

Since most website referrals today come from Pinterest, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to be on the platform. But before you add another online to-do to your communications plan, ask yourself a few questions first.

Question #1 –  Is your audience on Pinterest?

The general pinning audience** is:

  • Females between the ages of 25 – 54
  • Have an income between $25,000 – $75,000
  • Are visually stimulated & like “collecting”

Stats collected from ComScore – except for that last one, that last stat was all me and my keen powers of observation.

**It should be noted that these stats reflect American trends. In the UK your average pinner is male.

Question #2 – Is your site or your content ‘pin-able’?

Do you post pictures worth a thousand words on your site? Can you get your point across with a picture? Do you make your content easy to share?

Question #3 – Will you change your current communications plan to accommodate the Pinterest platform? 

The rise of Pinterest definitely changes the digital communication game. Its rapid growth is proof of how visually-driven digital consumers are. Does this mean digital producers should create more visually stimulating content?

*cough*yes*cough* A smart digital marketer or blogger would change the format of their posts to accommodate this pin-nomenon (hehehe). They would make their content graphic-rich and add the Pinterest button to their posts.

So if you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, you may want to add Pinterest to your organization’s social media plan!

Need Pinspiration? Take a look at the Workshop’s Pinterest presence! Or, Take a Look at Nonprofit Pinterest Strategies!

Books are not dead media

While digital advancement has propelled the media guide into a new online format, Workshop President Thom Clark muses on how he still enjoys the print version of the guide when researching Chicago media…

Call me old-fashioned but when it comes to developing a new campaign for media outreach, I still love turning the pages of our annual media guide.

Oh, I love the convenience and speed of going online to look-up a contact phone number, or Googling a media personality to maybe find an email address or even some beat info.

But I still keep the “phone book” version of Getting On Air, Online and Into Print close at hand, right on my physical desktop near the phone. It’s one of best browsing tools around. If I’m looking up a specific media outlet or contact, I never know when I might stumble across another reporter I hadn’t thought of unless I’d been browsing through the guide’s almost 300 pages of listings.

Plus the front section of the book has all the Workshop’s favorite communication planning worksheets, essays on the ever-shifting media landscape, sample media alerts, twitter handles, and specialty reporter lists by issue––resources you might be able to find with dedicated research, but we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you and put it all in one place!

As someone who always loved the unexpected tome that popped up while researching term papers through the library’s card catalog, I still find browsing the pages of our media guide creatively rewarding if not as efficient as some digital tools certainly are today. I’m always finding some new reporter I didn’t know about or a new media outlet I hadn’t heard of while looking up the cell number of a veteran editor.

And once you send that email or place that call, I still love putting pen or pencil to paper right in the book to write-up the encounter, jot down a new email, or make note of a new beat assignment. The updated info might make it into a spread sheet or database as well, but I still write all over my book, avoiding curled up post-its or a stack of pink message slips.

I may be old fashioned by choosing to use the print version of Getting On Air, Online & Into Print rather than the digital version or other digital tools at our fingertips; but the paper media guide still serves as an affordable and appropriate technology for this nonprofit communicator.

Community Media Workshop Releases 2013 Media Guide

Chicago nonprofit Community Media Workshop stays true to its tradition of connecting the community with the media with the release of the twenty-second edition of its Chicago media guide.


With information on over 900 media outlets, including online news sites, the 2013 edition of “Getting On Air, Online & Into Print” Chicago media guide is the most comprehensive, up-to-date guide to Midwestern media.

“Our shifting media landscape–with avid news consumers now getting most of their news online–is also expanding as legacy print & broadcast outlets put more and more on the web, alongside bloggers and hyperlocal news sites who are beginning to fill in gaps in neighborhood reporting,” said Thom Clark, President, Community Media Workshop. “While the role of traditional media is shifting, the channels of story transmission for nonprofit communicators have proliferated.  Our guide will help you navigate the new, along side the traditional.”

The 2013 Getting on Air, Online & Into Print guide goes beyond listing direct phone numbers, emails, Twitter handles and beat information for reporters. Veteran users of this media guide often find the first 52 pages of advice, communications planning worksheets and the latest in media relations tools as important as the reportorial listings.

CLICK HERE to order the 2013 Getting on Air, Online & Into Print media guide or call the Workshop at 312-369-6400.



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