Q & A with Nonprofit Communicator Cassandra West

Workshop trainer Cassandra West

We’ve designed our workshops this year to help you get a leg up on your 2013 communications strategy.

It can be a challenge to get your organization’s message in front of the media and tell engaging, effective stories. If you’re not using the 5 Ws and “The Hook” effectively, your organization may be missing out on media coverage. We asked Cassandra West – communications expert and Workshop facilitator for our Fall training, Writing to Make the News – to shed a little light on the advantages and challenges of nonprofit storytelling.


Q. Why do nonprofit communicators struggle to tell their stories in press releases?
A. They struggle mainly because they’re not sure of how to frame the story and make it relevant to the audience they’re trying to reach. They should strive to find the human, emotional tug—what is going to make someone care about their story, and in effect, what they’re hoping to accomplish.

Q. How will nonprofit communicators be impacted by your workshop?
A. I want them to leave the workshop seeing their stories from the other side, to look for ways to make their stories relate and connect with others. All stories are, I believe, about making a connection—to get someone to think, to laugh, to cry, to act. I want the communicators who take the workshop to ask: what can make a real impression on someone?

Q. What’s the advantage of digital tools to communicate your story?
A. Digital tools allow you to expand your reach so much more than print alone can do. Digital tools are also mobile, so you can make use of them just about anywhere. Most important, they allow for two-way communication. You can have a conversation, not just put your ideas out there but hear the ideas of others.


Cassandra West is a social media consultant, freelance writer and editor. She has worked in corporate and nonprofit communications and for daily newspapers across the country, including the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, where she saw it all when it came to story pitches and press releases. Today she teaches reporting, writing and multimedia storytelling at Medill School of Journalism and helps grassroots and green organizations tell their stories.

Connect with Cassandra in person and learn more about nonprofit storytelling at our Writing to Make the News workshop!


NPCommunicator: MMC Notepad – Threadless Tells Nonprofits about Its Wild World of Video

Charles Festa, Community Manager at Threadless, speaks to the importance of branding and community engagement during his keynote speech at Making Media Connections 2011

This notepad courtesy of MMC Scribe Tanya Stanfield.

Thursday afternoon’s keynote speech at Making Media Connections 2011 introduced nonprofit communicators to the crazy online world of t-shirts.  In typical lively fashion, Threadless Community Manager Charles Festa shared his online video and community engagement tips that helped pave the way to online success.

An early Threadless video screened by Festa proved that videos with low-quality production values can still be successful tools of engagement.  In fact, Threadless’s grainy and sometimes pointless videos created quite an online following, appealing to designers and young, hip customers.

Eventually, Festa and his colleagues realized that proper branding and promotion could help grow their community even more.  They incorporated simple touches like the company’s name and URL into the beginning frames of each video and even asked its own community to complete scripts for videos to be featured on the Threadless website. While Festa wouldn’t describe Threadless videos as “viral,” he acknowledged that these activities along with cross promotion across marketing channels like Twitter and its newsletters helped spread the Threadless brand and grow its devoted community.

Since its early days of posting silly and random videos online, Threadless has developed a successful online video and engagement strategy that can be applied to nonprofit goals.  Festa encouraged the audience to begin with simple online videos and involve their entire organizations in production process.


For more notes from this summer’s Making Media Connections conference and the latest insights on communications strategies for nonprofits, visit the Nonprofit Communicator blog.

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