Rachel Gattuso, APR, fueled by righteous indignation, and Renee Plain, jazz hands or fiesty depending on the day, get real about the challenges – and the joys – of nonprofit public relations.
Read the transcript!
Kathie Taylor 00:03
Good morning and welcome to better PR. This morning we’re speaking with Rachel Gattuso APR of the Gattuso Coalition.
RACHEL GATTUSO 00:26
Good morning. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Kathie Taylor 00:30
I am so excited to have you ladies here today because we’re talking about something that’s near and dear to my heart, which is public relations for nonprofits. And, Rachel, I want to start with you. Because you have a line in your bio that I absolutely love that says you are fueled by righteous indignation. And I want to know how that helps you in your practice.
Rachel Gattuso 00:53
Yeah, I mean, what is the appetite for spicy language, ladies?
Kathie Taylor 01:01
We’re keeping it real here.
RACHEL GATTUSO 01:02
I usually find that I function better when I’m pissed off, which sounds awful, right? We are fueled by many different things, many different motivators. For some reason, getting pissed off about something on behalf of someone else, usually just channels this like wave of energy for me. So I’m trying to just lean into that rather than see it as a detractor or something bad in my bios is very intentional, that I include it in the bio as it gets a little bit of like, a chuckle when people see it, but also reminds me where I do my best work, which is fighting for other people, not necessarily myself.
Kathie Taylor 01:51
I think that’s true, Renee, how do you approach it when you’re fighting the good fight for someone who is so deserving?
RENEE PLAIN 01:59
Well, I think it’s, it’s kind of the same, the same format, right? Like, there has to be that level of passion. So when I read your bio, Rachel, I was like, yeah, get it, girl. Because you have to be really passionate, especially when you’re helping nonprofits. Because they’re, they’re so passionate, right. So you have to match their passion for what they’re doing with your passion, to help share their messaging and help share the word and help, like, bring more attention and awareness to whatever it is they’re trying to do. And so sometimes passion can take that like angry place, and sometimes that passion can take like the super excited all the exclamation points and jazz fingers and everything else, but it has to be passionate. And if you’re working with somebody who’s you know, serving under underserved communities or underserved demographics, then you do get a little feisty and a little angry with getting in there, because why don’t they have more support? You know you have to you have I love it. I think it’s amazing.
RACHEL GATTUSO 03:05
I have so many theories about that. My goodness, our nonprofits are just wonderful. And this is I always claim this, I’m a big proponent of giving credit where credit is due, this is not my description, but it is the most distinct one that I’ve come across in this space having worked here, I don’t know how many years, nonprofits are basically created to rise up and meet the gaps that are created at the intersection of for-profit and government operation. And, you know, sometimes they’re really little, sometimes they’re tiny, and doing important things for one person, or 10. Sometimes they’re huge, and working for global solutions and require very heavy infrastructure and systems and processes. But that’s, I mean, they have run the gamut. There are so many different types of nonprofits and genuine ice, I worked in-house at a nonprofit for the better part of five years. And so a lot of my righteous indignation comes from the fact that I have watched that organization and many others operate in this space. And if you’re familiar with Dan Culatta, he’s really the one that opened my eyes in this that nonprofits do not have the same set of rules for operating that other entities do. And yet, they are asked to basically fix the biggest problems in our society. And it’s such a huge disconnect that, you know, we’re looking to cancer organizations to fund research. We’re looking towards education institutes to fill in the gaps where, you know, public funding has shorted out in terms of well now art education or music and integration is not in our school systems. Where do we look to nonprofits, we have placed this inordinate amount of burden on our nonprofits and simultaneously said, You must operate within these particular confines, which are just if you were to take a step back and look objectively, they’re not conducive to ideal results, or sustainable long term change for the solution. So I get a little mad, I get a little spicy. But I have to remind myself of that, like, if I’m not mad if I’m not, you know, fired, then I don’t usually move the ball forward. So it’s very helpful for myriad reasons, right?
RENEE PLAIN 05:37
Yeah, one, one of the things you said I mean, nonprofits, especially those community, nonprofits really are like, they’re the lifeblood of the community, I really, truly feel that like, if, if, you know, being here in Carson City, and we work with a lot of Carson City nonprofits, if Carson City had to fund or figure out how to offer all of those services, all of those resources, all of those programs, and everything else that all of our nonprofits do, like this city would be hurting because they wouldn’t know how to do it, they wouldn’t know how to fund it, they wouldn’t know how to serve it. So, you’re right. We’re asking these nonprofits to fix all of these really, really big things. And on top of that, we’re also telling them, you have to figure out how to pay yourself for doing this important work in the community and fund all of these programs because there isn’t another way to do it. And, you know, I sit on the partnership, Carson City nonprofit board, and when we have to go through and do grant applications and improve those, it’s like, why are these people part of the regular ongoing city funding because the services they offer are huge to this community. And there’s no way that Carson City could offer those services on their own. So why can’t they be part of a bigger funding solution? Why can’t we help them help the community? And that’s, you know, I love that righteous indignation because I feel that same, you know, the emotion of frustration and pettiness and feistiness in the same moment of like, why is this not being taken care of?
RACHEL GATTUSO 07:14
Yeah, I mean, and ladies, please, like funnel me into appropriate questions that audience members really want to hear, because otherwise, I will go off on all of my soapbox tangents. But I do think one of the biggest disconnects I have seen in the nonprofit world affects how nonprofits move forward, and the outcomes they’re allowed to arrive at. Is this. We kowtow to donors, donors dictate so much, and there’s so much good intent out there. And yet very little understanding of how these organizations operate or what they need in order to operate more efficiently. So typically, we look at a nonprofit and we’ll put them up on a pedestal for being scrappy for having to innovate different solutions because we fail to give them the resources that they need. And one of the reasons we do that is because donors are providing their money. And we have this pre-existing connotation that says, Well if it’s a donor’s money, the donor should dictate how the money is spent. But the donor
RENEE PLAIN 08:28
that restricted donations restricted,
RACHEL GATTUSO 08:32
the bane of the nonprofit’s existence, in my opinion, is manyfold. But the big one is that overhead myth, right donors typically do not like to fund anything that is categorically overhead, which is typically admin expenses, salary, expenses, rent, marketing, and advertising, right, and the lights literally on keeping the lights on, right. They don’t they don’t want to fund that even though those things are inherent to moving these missions forward and making a better world. So donors will donate and it’s a very personal gift and I don’t want to denigrate that at all. But we have given them so much power in dictating how our organizations operate. And we find repeatedly that that’s just not efficient. So, one of the reasons I started my company I got into this position where I’m you know, you when you’re in house, or when you’re operating or working with nonprofits like you probably are every day Renee and Kathie to some extent to right. You realize the reality that they operate in and you get kind of like wait a second, why is this happening? Why is this your standard but not standard over here? I started to become more of a vocal advocate. I became louder. I mean, our job is to get our organizations into the public discourse. I started doing that for myself as a name real building that byline in that particular narrative. And that was a little squishy territory for my organization. Like if I had disenfranchised a specific donor, I could have risked that funding. So, it became clear, I needed to sort of peel out of that. And then kind of chart the path for myself that was going to help the other nonprofits without hurting them. So that made it clear that I needed to do something that was not in-house anymore.
Kathie Taylor 10:37
I was going to say, we worked with a nonprofit, a local chapter of a national, large nonprofit. And fundraising for them was a Bloodsport, I mean, it was cutthroat, and it was, you know, your five grand isn’t enough, you got a number of board members and community partners, the partners in what I saw from that, and maybe you guys can add to this is how do the smaller ones that as you mentioned, Rachel, maybe only help a few people or have a very small but critical mission in our communities? How can we help those people, those groups stand out against some of these larger organizations that tend to take over the world?
RACHEL GATTUSO 11:31
That’s a great question. If I figure it out, I’ll patent it and then cut you in on the profits? Because it’s a big question that continues to circulate. Right? I would, I would say that one of the things I usually urge first and foremost is to reconfirm you know, in, in for-profit arenas, we urge folks to put a business plan together and to do market assessments is this product or service actually viable in this marketplace. Not all nonprofits do that, because sometimes they’re driven by emotion, right? Somebody who’s emotionally tied to a cause will operate within their own confirmation bias, they will lean into some availability heuristics, and they will just launch without determining whether they’re, in fact, duplication of effort.
RENEE PLAIN 12:21
strongly about all of it, how could people not support it? Right? It’s this amazing way, that’s where they get stuck. Absolutely that alone.
RACHEL GATTUSO 12:30
So I definitely advocate research simply because if you find there are three organizations in your area, servicing this, the better play is to channel your efforts to support those existing ones simply because they’ve built out their infrastructures, their processes, they have a specific Well, of donors, and you can contribute to that rather than divest from that, which benefits the cause as a whole.
RENEE PLAIN 12:57
The hard part with that, though, Rachel, and you know, I don’t know if you’ve seen this too. A lot of people want to, it’s an ego thing, right? They want to be that solution to the community, they want to be the person to have the solution to bring the funding to help the people. And whether there are competitors in the marketplace, and they’re going to dilute the donation pool or not like, I think one of the biggest things that we, as an organization as we help our nonprofit clients is in partnering and finding those partnerships, and just exactly like you were saying, but it’s hard to get them to step back from that ego of I want to be the hero of the story. And how do you still be the hero but in a bigger way that’s outside of yourself? Right?
RACHEL GATTUSO 13:52
Absolutely. I mean, there are so many sorts of award cycles and award contentions that we’ve put ourselves up for or clients up for consistently, that sort of drive that egotistical culture, I have mixed feelings about it, right? Because I can be very egotistically driven, I will go for the shiny gold star. But also that means that I’m like very cognizant of my work product and I want it to be top tier, right. And that benefits my clients in the nonprofit space. It can, can motivate, and it can also detract from missions. So, Renee, it’s a really good call out because there’s a lot of literature and, and write-ups around founder syndrome, right? So somebody that will start an organization and love it and bring it to a specific level, but it’s very clear, it needs a new level of leadership or vision to take it to that next evolution. And yet you’re real reticent to let go because it’s therapy, right.
Kathie Taylor 14:46
Yeah, I mean, it’s it Yeah, you create something. It’s, it’s a view, you know, thought passionately for it to bring it to life and do all the things and fight for the money and fight for the people. And I mean, it’s hard to let that go because it becomes a part of your identity.
RACHEL GATTUSO 15:03
Yeah, Kathie, I don’t want to let your original question go without an actual answer, though. Because I can be very circular in conversations, I would say that for the small guys. It’s a mixture of trying to find fast wins with the understanding that the long game is also highly valuable. And the reason I want to bring up the long game is that for those that don’t have the budget, you have to work with volunteer efforts or resources. And building an ad hoc committee building your board, building more of those resources, where it becomes a game of, to Renee’s point building your relationships. The more you build your relationships, the more you introduce funding opportunities into your universe. And from there, it will be on the little guy nonprofits to champion the marketing and the advertising costs. Dan colada talks a lot about and I’m happy to send you these materials if you want to, like send them back out to audiences as show notes or something. But he talks about, you know, this overhead myth donors don’t want to see more than 18 to 20% spent on advertising costs. Well, let’s hypothesize that you’re going to have a bake sale, and you want to raise money for I don’t know, plugin whichever nonprofit is nearest and dearest to your heart. If you’re only spending 18% of your costs, advertising this bake sale, which basically ladies, as we all know, as audience members, no, that means we have very little to work with. And we’re probably going to get if we get earned media greatly. If we’ve got to buy media, we’re going to show up in the 2 am slot in the morning, who’s going to see that. So we’re probably getting something like $300. But let’s say we take that ratio, and instead of 18 to 20, we say we’re going to spend 50%, on marketing, because that will open up our market, our target market, and our opportunity to bring more money in if we go that 50% route, but it nets us $20,000 Does it matter? Does it matter that it was more than 20% I would venture to know which constituent would be upset that you spent 50% on advertising when now they have far more resources than they did yesterday? So one of the things that I’m very cognizant of with my company is to embolden the nonprofits that I work with, to ask for what they need. That might be, you know, more board members in this scrappy environment who will go out and help you find some unrestricted dollars. So you can start to funnel that into your internal staff. It might be, you know, just sitting down with your really small board and saying, I know that this is our budget, but I want to point it here because I believe that is the best expenditure of these dollars in order for us to grow. So being bold, number one, because nonprofits, you know, we don’t like to ruffle feathers, we don’t like to get on the bad side of donors. We don’t like to get on the bad side of board members. We need to remind ourselves that we have missions that are worth driving forward and require boldness, and they need to have the permission to ask for what they need. Really, truly,
Kathie Taylor 18:43
that brings up a new question for me to Rachel and Renee, I happen to know I have the inside track on what you do. But I happen to know that you’re big onboard relations and board development. How do you approach a board that is maybe they’re a nonworking board or they’re a nonfiduciary board? How do you work with them? And how do you bring them along?
RENEE PLAIN 19:10
Well, so it’s interesting, as Rachel was talking, I was actually writing some notes of things that I was like, oh, I don’t want to forget about that. And what I actually had just written down was like relationships for development, activating your volunteers and your ambassadors for those small nonprofits in your community. Right. So I’m, I’m, I’m working with a potential nonprofit. Well, they’re a nonprofit. Hopefully, we’re going to work with them. But one of the questions that I had for their leadership is, Are you a 100% donating board? And they’re not there’s maybe three out of the 10 of them that are donating money on a regular basis and that’s like, okay, but it doesn’t have to be that much to show that investment. Like if you’re going to be part of this board. Are you participating? So it’s, it’s asking some of those harder questions like volunteer nonprofits, they get started because they want to help people, they don’t get started because they want to manage a board or manage volunteers or manage donors, they want to do the really good work that they’re really passionate about, right? They want to help the people, they want to share the message in the community, but like in a nonscary way, because sometimes that can make people nervous to go out and share the message and ask for what they need, like, to your point, Rachel. But they have to like those stakeholder relationships, the big ones, which is their board is their number one stakeholder relationship that they should be nurturing building, and making sure that their board is just as passionate as them otherwise, why are you on this board? The next one is their volunteers. And their donors like how do you you have to develop those and nurture those and, and it starts with your board, it has to because if the board is just kind of like hanging out rubber-stamp board, or they give you all sorts of ideas, but they don’t want to like implement any of them, then they’re not the right people for you. Your board should be working for your nonprofit. And it’s always a hard conversation to have when we have a new client and that space is, well, what’s your board doing? What are their requirements? Are they required to donate? Are they required to volunteer their time? Are they required to do anything more than show up for a quarterly board meeting, like putting the stipulations on them, and then maybe cleaning house if they have to, or giving them the opportunity to start over? Right? Like, okay, it’s a brand new day, you’re either here to work, or I need you to help me recruit some new people to take over.
Kathie Taylor 21:50
Rachel, I see a big strong reaction
RACHEL GATTUSO 21:54
like that Renee is tapping into my love language at this moment. What I say is we need to give permission to nonprofits to do what they need to do. calling their board members should be at the top of the list as well. Also calling volunteers or free work, right. So when you are in this position of Well, somebody’s kindly donating X to my service in-kind materials time route, you know, whatever that looks like. We feel it’s an unequally yoked relationship wherein the nonprofit feels beholden to that relationship. But that is not true. For board members in particular, I call them vanity board members, they’re literally occupying two to three boards simply because it looks good on a resume or they feel a certain amount of gratitude or stroking egos again, to be able to say I sit on this board and that board, when in the reality is that they are not spending any amount of the requisite time on any of the orcs right, you know, what we do those causes such a disservice when we split our time. And we do not honor the commitments and you’re right, there should be given and gets in place. I certainly agree that boards if the board members because they have a fiduciary responsibility to nonprofits if they are not donating that one of their primary roles is to go out and solicit dollars on behalf of the organization. Why would you compel me to donate to some cause if you also were not donating to the same cause? And I don’t know why this sort of behavior has persisted for a long time. But I do. I do believe that nonprofits will live or die by their boards if their board is stagnant and if their board is reticent to ask for money, which I know it’s very uncomfortable, but promise that if you try it enough, it gets better. Just like anything makes perfect. Right? Exactly. It’s just not hard. And I’m really sorry. But I will counter anyone who comes up to me and says I don’t like to do it. It’s uncomfortable. I’m sorry. But like you’re on a board, get a cup. Yeah. It’s just really frustrating. The nonprofit does not need to coach you to be a better board member that’s on you. And you’d have there are these inherent responsibilities as a board member that you need to walk in with that expectation. I’m showing up to play I’m showing up to build relationships and I’m showing up to fish for money on behalf of this organization. In a vacuum, I don’t know.
RENEE PLAIN 24:41
You know, it’s so funny we a few years ago, we worked with a client and we had this amazing campaign planned out like we were so excited about it and it was you know, offering the opportunity for Community Heroes and things like that and you know, we had like we were going to make Playing cards, we had all these great ways to thank our donors. But our board members would not get on the train to write the letters, or even just give a list of potential people that they knew in their network, that we could send the letters on their behalf. And I mean, it always hurts my heart when I say a campaign didn’t take off the way it should. But the campaign didn’t take off the way it should, because there was no board by it. They didn’t want to do it. They lost so much opportunity. And then a year later, they finally started sending out letters. And lo and behold, the money kept coming in. And it’s like, okay, cool. I’m glad you’re here. Now, I wish you were here last year when we have this bigger thing. But I mean, even just the tiniest involvement helps like just make yourself a little uncomfortable every day, and move through it and then move forward, like asking for money is hard. Asking for money for myself is way hard, but asking for money for everybody else is so much easier, right? Yeah, if I really, truly passionately believe in it, it shouldn’t be a problem to ask for that money to help the organization.
RACHEL GATTUSO 26:11
I will drop something here in you know, in more junior board members, I see this a lot. But this discomfort should absolutely drop from a board member’s shoulders as they move forward in their career. We, we all not everyone ascends. But we all better understand the professional landscape and know well that organizations have budgets to allocate to nonprofits. It’s just a matter of do you have this budget for this organization at this point in time, that which makes them no less personal, right? So I feel that as these individuals who are serving on boards move forward in their careers, that scariness really is is lesser than, you know, five, just straight out of college and hopped onto aboard.
RENEE PLAIN 27:06
So no, and that’s where that board development piece is so critical, right? Because we’ve all like we all start somewhere, we all start somewhere on the bottom. And we have to work our way up. And so being able to have that robust board development piece in your nonprofit, no matter how big or small you are, is so beneficial. Because if you can have senior board members take a new board member under their wing and have like a mentorship, right on here’s what it means to be a board member. Here’s the ways that I got over those same fears, like asking for money, the first time was really nerve-racking. I’ve sat on several boards over the last 15 years. And my first one, I didn’t say a whole lot for the first two years. Because I didn’t, I was nervous, I was nervous to say something, do something. But I think if there had been that mentorship or that development piece, to help me be a better ambassador because really, that’s what your board members are as ambassadors for your organization. There has been that piece, man, I could have been a fundraising machine. And so I wish if there’s anybody listening to this that’s in nonprofit space and board development, like, I really think that’s the biggest piece of helping your nonprofit be successful in the future. I love that.
Kathie Taylor 28:34
That brings me back to, you know, the basic tenets, right of, of PRSA. And our APR studies is, and you touched on it, Rachel, in the beginning, is that research piece, because what we find is when we do board development activity, you know, we here’s what we think we know, here’s what we know. And then where’s the gap? And how do we fill it in? And that research piece is key in figuring out how to bring the board together with the leadership of the organization, because when you can put them together with shared common goals. We have this really amazing board development day with a client where the board was made up of organizations, nonprofit organizations that were supported by this, this larger organization who was our client. And of course, as we’ve talked, everyone came to the table with their own agendas that they felt that this statewide organization should do to support their particular organization. Right. So we had these very disparate things that people thought that this organization should be doing. And these were the board members. So when we started uncovering and really drilling down into but what is it like what is the colonel here for what you’re saying? They were all the same and these were all things that we could easily do and so we were able to prioritize one to five Things that were the kernel of everybody’s desire, and it changed the atmosphere in the room. It went from being adversarial to being very collaborative.
RACHEL GATTUSO 30:09
And what was really great about that experience, too is then the board members started saying, well, I could help with this. I could take this piece on, and I could do this over here to make this happen. Like we gave them ownership and parts of the pieces of like bringing the goals to fruition. And I think that was helpful, too.
Sounds amazing. I definitely think it’s important, you know, Renee’s got a good point on the board here from a couple of tracks ago, but it’s not the nonprofit’s job to manage all of these elements, right? Or at least that’s not what they want to be doing. Right? I have a lot of times I find executive directors in this really weird pinch point where they’re like, managing their board while also managing their teams, and just tasked with the execution of the board’s vision, which is just a weird caddywhompus sort of construct. But it’s only one of the issues that these nonprofits, small or big have to deal with. And Kathie, I’m just cognizant of like making sure that listeners and viewers walk away with some tactical thoughts here. Donors, man, donors are so lovely and misguided at the same time. I have this central thesis, I have many, but the central thesis in the nonprofit world when it relates to donors is that I believe donors give the way they want to give not in the ways that are actually going to move the causes are the organizations that they care about forward, it will give you an example. And every year except for like the last two, because we’ve weathered a pandemic. And so I’m dialing down the public snark on occasion. I have this pet peeve of mine. So ladies, please forgive me if you are in fact involved with some of these organizations when it comes to toys and toy drives around the holidays. Because in the donor’s mind, a lot of times they will envision this like Christmas morning or holiday morning wherein there is a four to six-year-old opening this toy that they have purchased. So babies get left out, like teenagers closer to 18 get left out, because the donor is envisioning this real feel-good moment in their gut. But I’m also going to tell you to win. Nevada has a growing transient population wherein Couchsurfing is a thing, right? We are providing these toys to kids who will probably have to leave it behind in two days. And then face to take it exactly. It’s like hugely, it can be traumatizing for a youngin. But also, I know that we don’t want parents to feel like they’re failing their children. But at that moment, that is probably not the most helpful thing when perhaps those dollars could have been allocated to you know, Job Co Rachel Gattusos training so that mom and dad can have a job for next Christmas, right. So I am of the opinion that nonprofits really have to be clear and articulate in particular what it is that will help their constituents. Toy Drive sometimes feel good, but is that really what you know, socks would probably be better I know that’s not fun to buy.
RENEE PLAIN 33:43
He’s not it’s not the sexy thing to do. Right? Yeah, it’s not that fun. Exactly. The fun or the captivating piece of giving? Yeah.
RACHEL GATTUSO 33:53
And so you know, the scrappy little nonprofits, they’re probably going to have to articulate we need money. Money is not sexy, right, Renee. It’s, however, the most transferable thing that these organizations can have on, they can probably do more with your monetary donation than they can with the toys that you’re bringing in.
RENEE PLAIN 34:17
Exactly. It just does so many different it opens so many doors, profits,
RACHEL GATTUSO 34:23
one, you know, as you as you’re talking about donors wanting to donate in a way that makes them feel good, right? Because it’s this is probably going to be a little controversial. But when we donate our time, when we donate our money, when we donate our talents, where we’re saying we’re doing it because we want to give back and we want to but we’re there’s always that underlying of like, we’re getting something out of what we’re giving, right, whether it’s a warm and fuzzy feeling, whether it’s recognition for being a community partner, whatever it is, we’re a tax write off, right? Whatever it is, we’re still doing it in a way that makes us feel good about the donation versus just giving the donation. And so as you’re talking to your donors like I was writing notes again because you know, my brain, I need to write things down. I’m talking about like, I’m thinking about stories and the stories we tell. And the stories that are small nonprofits, big nonprofits, all the nonprofits in the world can tell to show their donors a way to see themselves in the story and in the work to get them to almost like guide them into the way that we need them to donate, right? So a story could be keeping the light as the lights go off in the nonprofit organization because they don’t have the funding necessary to keep the operations of their building going. And little Johnny is, you know, right in the middle of shooting his basket, his basketball into the basket, and the lights go off. And it doesn’t talk about the programming, it doesn’t talk about the extra benefit or anything like that. It’s just a simple the lights go off. And here’s how you can help us. So I think storytelling showing, telling, like, that’s one of the ways that our nonprofits can help kind of guide those donors is allowing them to see it and feel it. Like, you know, we joke about Sarah McLaughlin, having lost one moment of like, the dogs and the cats are so sad, and here take all my money because I’m crying. But that’s really like, we need to show them the story of what’s going to happen if we don’t have that funding in this particular field, in this particular way. And I think it’s powerful.
RENEE PLAIN 36:44
Absolutely don’t disagree. Yeah, you know, nonprofits are beholden to sharing their financials in a very public way. But reading the financial sheets is so different. You don’t get those little snippets of storytelling, you don’t get the holy cow, there was an executive director up at 2 am, sweating, whether they were going to make payroll this month, you don’t, that doesn’t come across, and the black and white bank statements, right. Storytelling is absolutely critical and being brave enough to be that vulnerable, a little bit, right. One of the counters and I’m curious if you ladies experienced this as well, is that many nonprofits worry about being exploitative of their constituencies as they should, you don’t want just trot out someone’s worst day in a ploy to get more money, right. However, it is not always just about today, it is in fact that, you know, if I don’t use this story to illustrate the very real pain points that happen with our constituencies, I may risk tomorrow’s ability to service future constituents. So you know, it’s not so it’s a difficult line to not be exploitative of our constituencies and put them in. I equate it to sort of like a zoo. Right. So also sharing like this has happened. And if we want to minimize XYZ situation in the future, we do have to, you know, bear the bones of what happens?
RACHEL GATTUSO 38:23
Well, it’s an educational piece, right? Because you don’t have that experience. We don’t know what happens in the next pieces of life. We don’t know. I mean, you brought up a great point that I didn’t even think about with the toy drives of the children that get these beautiful, wonderful toys for Christmas and then have to leave them behind because there’s nowhere to take them. I didn’t even think about that. Right? That’s like a next-step story.
The other anecdote I can describe as to why toys are like not as helpful as we, I think idealized in our heads. This is again, my pet peeve. I’m very sorry for everyone who loves to give twice. I know I’m the Grinch. Grinch is personified but is inactive fire situations. Right. So Reno and Carson in particular boy, how do you have we’ve been hammered the last five years with active fire situations. And there are many efforts that go about like getting, oh my gosh, you have this vision of Little Sarah and her dollies and her bikes that are now just in flames. I can’t envision a world in which Sara does not have her dollies and bike. Here’s what I have sent it over. And then you have this it just complicates and congests Because Sarah’s parents have one maybe two cars they grabbed what they could. Now they have to have Sarah and I don’t know baby Isaac, I have no idea where these names are coming from sorry. Coffee in the car and they need food. They need a like a roof over their head tonight.
Kathie Taylor 39:57
underwear and socks, underwear. The size.
RACHEL GATTUSO 40:02
Yeah, they are not concerned with whether they can fit a six-year-olds bike in the back of their car, which is frustration point number one frustration. Point number two is that it costs money and effort to freight those items into that scenario, which is a depletion of active money that could have done something else very transferable in the moment right then and there. And number three frustration point number three is that those volunteers who are on-site now have to figure out oh, crap, we have all of this stuff to sort through. I don’t, I don’t know where to put it.
RACHEL GATTUSO 40:38
A volunteer effort out of what’s really truly important, which is helping them get to that hotel room, do you have the basic essentials that you need? Exactly. You write one last anecdote, which was the Sandy Hook shooting, which is obviously the worst thing I think, I mean, I remember standing in my living room at that point in time, I had a basket of laundry in my hands, and I stood there for 20 minutes staring at the TV, just unable to process and let this basket down to the floor. The whole nation reacted very quickly, knee-jerk emotionally, I’m not saying it’s bad, but a lot of folks sent stuffed animals. So there was this kind of like giant mound, outside of buildings close to Sandy Hook, where it was just mountains and mountains of stuffed animals, which then went to a warehouse and sat there. In a very, like an unsettling shrine. It’s just like, I look at that as like, that is a lot of money that could have gone toward counseling support all the things.
Right. So people give the way they want to give and, and it is sort of on the nonprofits to take a very real look and say, Renee, like, what is the storytelling point that will help articulate that I don’t need stuffed animals, I actually, you know, a $20 gift will do this in this capacity and be wildly effective. And it’s not impersonal for you to send money. It’s wise, it’s the most optimal thing you could do. Right? Right.
Kathie Taylor 42:19
Right. I think that’s a really great opportunity for us to tie back to PR, right? When we work with these nonprofits or these organizations that know with fire season approaching knock wood, we’re okay this year. But last year, one of our local animal welfare groups was right out in front and said, We need pet food, we have 300 animals in crates in a high school gym. And we need food for these animals. And so the community rallied really quickly and took down dog food, cat food, you know, what was specifically requested. So having, working in nonprofit public relations, having those crisis plans in place, so we know, we’re going to go right out there. And we’re going to ask specifically for what we have because I think people are waiting to help, they really want to help.
RACHEL GATTUSO 43:12
And in life, they know how to help. So they help them with what they think you need,
Kathie Taylor 43:17
right? So a warehouse full of stuffies or, you know, you just cleaned out your closet and dropped off your goodwill bag at the gym instead of really thinking through what these people need. And so I think as, as communicators, for these nonprofits, it’s really incumbent on us to make sure they’re prepared for whatever emergency they are on standby to cover that they can get that asked out there really, really effectively.
RACHEL GATTUSO 43:45
Such a good point, and folding in the voices when and where it’s appropriate to feel like it’s one thing for us to issue a press release that says this is what we need. And that is a tactic that has to be accomplished. But it’s quite another to book a reporter to come out and cover it and put a constituent in front of them who will say and reiterate your you know, both your message points and also, I just lost everything. All I’m concerned with right now is how I’m going to afford, you know, XYZ for the next two weeks for my family. That is that is critical. It’s just critical. And yeah, you’re right. Kathie, it is incumbent on us as practitioners to ensure we’ve done a little bit of due diligence to understand what that would look like pre and post-a circumstance and then effectively get that message out.
RENEE PLAIN 44:43
You know, it’s so hard because when we’re bringing on a new client, any new client, right, we always put crisis comps as something that we want to address immediately at the very beginning of the relationship. And we’re like we haven’t had anything happen that we’ve needed that Some that’s like, yeah, and I’m so grateful that you haven’t. However, what about if this happens, or this happens? Or, you know, we worked with a national nonprofit that dealt with pets, what happens if a dog bites one of your volunteers? Like, what happens if any of these things happen? And they’re like, Oh, we didn’t even think about that. So what happens if there’s a community fire? And you know, you have to put out this press release? Who’s talking? What do you think your community is going to need? Or let’s say your local food closet runs out of food? Right? Like, how do you help them? What is their biggest need? Well, their biggest need is they’re gonna want financial help because they can purchase food a lot easier than what we can do. Like they can buy more than what we can donate. You know. So it’s, it’s thinking through all the potential things and then just putting together that plan, just in case with hopefully not needing to use it. Because, right when we plan, we don’t need to use those plans. Like that’s the way I like to think about it, I over plan, so I don’t have to.
RACHEL GATTUSO 46:08
I love it. And I will, I will take it a step further to I do you know, whether you’re in-house or your agency of record for a nonprofit, you championing a crisis comms plan is a very good reminder for the board to be planning for their own, not crisis situations. But the situations I’ve encountered that is usually where boards get tripped up is that they fail to succession plan for the organization itself, and the board members. And you get into a situation where people are just not quite taking it seriously. I think maybe they think it’ll be status quo. And definitely, and yet, we all know, changes are only constant here. So as a comms liaison, if you will, wherever you are in the organization. championing, like, Look, you can’t envision this situation, but I can’t because that’s my job. And I go to the worst-case scenario every day in order to make sure you stay away from them. Right. Yeah, saying, you know, that is an important thing to plan for raising that, you know, orange flag, there’s no plan in place here. Let’s put one in place while it’s time is of leisure for us. And oh, by the way, board, don’t forget you should be planning for XYZ as well as an extension of protection for the nonprofit organization.
RENEE PLAIN 47:34
Yeah. Yeah, totally agree.
Kathie Taylor 47:39
Well, ladies, this has been fabulous. And I know we could go on for days and days on this topic, that passion is real, and the beautiful work that you have done on behalf of our nonprofit organizations is something that we should all aspire to. So thank you so much for the work you do out there. And thank you for talking to our group today. Again, Rachel, good to so APR from the Gattuso coalition. Nailed it. Rachel, how can people get a hold of you?
RACHEL GATTUSO 48:11
Um, so I certainly suffer from the age-old a dash of the cobblers children have no shoes, you can look at my website, but it probably won’t be as accurately representative as it is my Facebook page, our company’s Facebook page. And you can find us on Instagram as well. But it’s good to show good to so coalition.com That’s GATT, U S o coalition.com. And then we’re going to sew Coalition on Instagram as well. So I’m very happy that I work with so many wonderful team members. They are so fantastic. So brilliant. And it’s funny, it’s good to have these conversations because I am flanked by a lot of nonprofits that I work for, and they are becoming bolder and bolder. So that is my own confirmation bias. I have to I’m sitting there going well, is the landscape actually changing? Or am I just talking with these nonprofits who are now used to asking pointedly for what they need? can’t quite tell. So hopefully, listeners are taking her like you have every permission in the world to refine what your asks are. And to be bold and say no, I do not need your old Lazy Boy chair that will not help. I will not come and pick it up. No, no, no, thank you very much.
Kathie Taylor 49:42
That’s brilliant, brilliant advice. Indeed. We’ve seen that happen a number of times. Renee plain of in plain sight marketing, where can people find you?
RENEE PLAIN 49:52
So you can find us at our websites WWW.IPSMLLC.COM so like In Plain Sight Marketing, and then we’re also on I would say LinkedIn is probably a good place we’re on Facebook and Instagram and all the things as well. But for you know, we have lately become gigantic fans of LinkedIn and think it’s a great place to really hone those business relationships and those partnerships within the community. So that’s the best place to find us.
Kathie Taylor 50:26
All right, again, thank you so much, ladies. This was wonderful. And we’ll have to do this again because I’m pretty sure we just scratched the surface today.
RACHEL GATTUSO 50:33
Didn’t even scratch it.
much, ladies. Yeah.
RENEE PLAIN 50:39