In a year filled with challenges and opportunities for nonprofit organizations, and with 2023 nearly in the rearview mirror, Catalyst sat down with four IABC members immersed in the field — Maureen Alley (Wisconsin Youth Company), Anne Greenwood (World Education Services), Alyssa Long (The New Brunswick Medical Education Foundation) and Olufunke Okochi (Global Institute for Food Security).
Here, we explore the pivotal challenges they've faced and the impactful resources that have influenced their work and communication strategies this past year.
What’s one challenge you’ve faced and learned from in a positive way at your organization this year?
Maureen Alley: It was announced halfway through this year that state and federal funding for child care programs was ending and our state lawmakers weren't going to replace it. This was going to make a huge impact on our organization. The Wisconsin Youth Company provides after school, before school and summer camp programs in two counties. The funding was essential in raising our wages to be competitive, keep staff, offer bonuses and provide livable wages.
With the news about this funding, we created an advocacy team to learn how to advocate for funding. We attended webinars, collaborated with other organizations that are succeeding in funding and pitched legislators to attend our programs so they can see why out-of-school time programs are essential.
I also pitched our angle to the local business magazine for its feature story on child care. The magazine created a large sidebar specifically dedicated to the issue of funding for out-of-school time programs and our organization. In the last year, we've had four state legislators visit our programs.
Anne Greenwood: Our communications team at World Education Services has gone through a lot of change this year, within the department as well as enterprise wide. That has meant that we've navigated a lot of ambiguity along the way.
One of the things that has kept us all together and operating effectively was making the implicit explicit. We learned the hard way that we can’t presume we’re all using platforms and tools in the same way. We weren’t and that breakdown was creating tears in our effective operations.
We started to talk through our processes and document them for those within the team and those working with us across the organization. That was a game changer for us. We were able to get out of the how and focus on creating high impact communications.
Alyssa Long: For me, this year has been about implementing data-driven storytelling as a key component of messaging to stakeholders. It’s a tough economy for charitable giving and there are so many organizations doing great and inspiring work. I think many donors want and deserve assurances that their gifts will make a difference.
Over the last year, we made an effort to identify the key performance indicators that would resonate most with our audiences — how and where were our programs making an impact? We started collecting demographic information from our beneficiaries to understand whether the people we were helping were representative of our region’s larger population. This meant that we commissioned an economic impact report to quantify the role our programs play in supporting the growth and development of our province. Once we had this information, we packaged it in a way that was beautiful, resonant and inspired action.
Focusing on the data requires communicators to be accountable to stakeholders — it allows us to identify patterns and be agile. Data is the currency of trust and credibility. This change has yielded incredible results — with results-driven pitches, visuals and storytelling, we’ve seen enormous interest from all sectors. Ultimately leading to a $2.5 million gift in 2023, the largest donation we have ever received!
Olufunke Okochi: What’s been reinforced with me this past year is the importance of being agile in a fast-paced and growing organization. This may mean needing to balance the urgent versus the important or may result in seeking out alternative ways of doing things.
What are some resources that have influenced your nonprofit work or approach to communication within the sector?
Maureen Alley: Our main office is located in Madison, Wisconsin, which has many nonprofits. Networking with these nonprofits and the professionals who work there has been essential for bouncing off ideas and learning about practices they've found work or don't work.
Anne Greenwood: These are some of the books that have had an impact on my work this year:
- “Lean Impact,” by Ann Mei Chang
- “The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work,” by Simone Stolzoff
- “Do Better: Spiritual Activism for Fighting and Healing from White Supremacy,” by Rachel Ricketts
- “Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts and Change the World,” by Sally Susman
Alyssa Long: I am a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and rely on their workshops, articles and webinars to learn more about the charitable giving landscape. I also do a lot of public speaking and presentations. “Talk Like Ted,” by Carmine Gallo has been my North Star for speechwriting. I’ve also read “Trust and Inspire,” by Stephen M.R. Covey. I thought it was fantastic and completely applicable to leadership in the nonprofit sector.
Integrity and ownership are so important when you’re entrusted with a donation. I found “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win,” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, inspiring as well. It’s shaped the way I communicate with donors.
If you’re working with a limited budget for professional development (as is often the case with small nonprofits), I recommend The Nonprofit Marketing Summit — a free virtual conference series with good content and a variety of topics.
Olufunke Okochi: "Good to Great," by Jim Collins, alongside articles from Harvard Business Review (HBR), The Globe and Mail, and The Western Producer have collectively offered a comprehensive exploration of various perspectives and insights. Collins' "Good to Great" provides a foundational framework for organizational excellence, while HBR articles contribute additional business intelligence and strategic viewpoints.
More About the Contributors
Maureen Alley is the communications director for Wisconsin Youth Company, a nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin, that provides after and before school programs and summer camps in Dane and Waukesha counties. Alley has 19 years experience in content development, ranging from journalism to public relations, marketing and business communications. She holds a holds a Master of Science in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois, and Bachelor of Arts in English and writing from the University of Wisconsin.
Alley and her husband Mike have two boys and a springer spaniel who keeps them on their toes. Fun fact: she earned her first-degree black belt in taekwondo along with her husband and older son.
Anne Greenwood is director of enterprise communications at World Education Services (WES), a nonprofit social enterprise. She has spent the majority of her career in the social sector, leveraging strategic communications to advocate for the economic inclusion of immigrants, refugees and international students. She sees communications as an enabler of social progress. Greenwood holds a master's degree in professional communications from Edith Cowan University in Australia.
Alyssa joined The New Brunswick Medical Education Foundation in 2022 as executive director. There, she champions the foundation’s unique mission to enhance access to primary care by recruiting and retaining the province’s future physicians. She brings seven years of corporate communications, stakeholder engagement and leadership experience to the role.
Alyssa is an organizational storyteller and empathy advocate. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology, Master of Arts in communication studies and her Communication Management Professional (CMP) certification from the Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC).
Olufunke (‘Funke) Okochi
Olufunke (‘Funke) Okochi works at the Global Institute for Food Security as the director of stakeholder engagement and communications. Her experience includes corporate communications and public relations, strategic and relationship management and operations management. ‘Funke obtained a Bachelor of Science (Hons.) in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, as well as a Master of Arts in Justice Studies (focused on International Relations) and a Certificate in Public Relations — both from the University of Regina, Canada. She’s currently completing a certificate program in Business Sustainability Management from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. ‘Funke has served and continues to serve on several community boards and committees
Dawn De La Torre, Featuring Maureen Alley, Anne Greenwood, Alyssa Long and Olufunke Okochi
Dawn De La Torre is the IABC content senior associate, based in Chicago.