Common Cause Education Fund NC Building Communications Capacity to Enhance an Organization's Mission

Bryan Warner is director of communications for Common Cause Education Fund of North Carolina, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy.

One of the key challenges that nonprofits face is to "tell our story" effectively. And in an age when a cacophony of voices fills social media and the news cycle seems ever shorter, that can be a significant climb for an organization of any size, let alone one with a small staff.

At Common Cause Education Fund of North Carolina, we tackle policy issues such as voting rights, citizen engagement, transparency in government and clean elections. At times those topics – while crucially important to the health of our state – can seem dry or overly complicated to the public. It is our task to take these issues and connect them with the lives of North Carolinians in a way that builds grassroots support for protecting and strengthening our democracy.

Last November, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation provided our staff with the opportunity to attend a strategic communications training in Charlotte. During those two days, a team of communication professionals taught us valuable principles to serve as a solid foundation for public outreach, which we can readily apply to any communications project ourselves. It was an illuminating process that helped us think of creative ways to better tell the human stories behind the issues we work on.

During the workshop, we focused on elevating our outreach to students at historically black colleges and universities, as well as our efforts to educate North Carolinians about independent redistricting reform. We left the training in Charlotte reenergized and with new insight into how better to map out smart, strategic communications campaigns.

This kind of support is vital and empowering for nonprofit organizations like ours. Instead of encouraging grantees to lean on outside vendors, this training enhanced our staff's capacity to connect directly with North Carolinians, and to do so in more meaningful ways. In turn, we can maximize our finite resources and work more effectively toward our goals.

We truly appreciate how the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation cares about not only what we do, but also our ability to do it, and takes the initiative to look for opportunities to strengthen organizations like ours beyond the typical grantmaking process. This approach demonstrates a thoughtful, long-term investment in the achievement of our nonprofit mission by giving us the necessary tools to serve the public for years to come.