The Institute - Session #6 - Communication: It’s All in the Relationships

By Hilary Morefield

A consultant, a fundraiser, and a rabbi. Not usually the first figures you have in mind as experts on the field of communication.However, for the Communications session of the Institute, SDLA took the path of the less obvious and opted to pull from a diverse spectrum of experience and expertise, making it an interesting and informative jump from speaker to speaker throughout the day.

The day opened with a round table discussion about political messaging and framing, lead by ConsultantTravis Knowles. Knowles discussed a wide variety of political schools of thought around voting and delved into the nitty gritty details of why people vote the way they do. According to the Funnel of Causality model (potential image/hyperlink), a number of factors seem to be pre-determined. Knowles drove home the vital importance of visibility in this case, pointing out that “90% of campaigning is making your candidate famous enough”. The fellows all also took a hand at framing, developing a message around the candidates of the recent special election.

Robert Gleason, the Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel of Evans Hotels, spoke on his past experiences as a fundraiser-- he claimed the key to successful fundraising is “all in the relationships”. Fundraising is a two-way endeavor, in which you must make sure to engage and appreciate your donors in meaningful ways to them. When asking for donations, he said the best means is to keep it direct-- start by giving a reason they should donate, a direct means in which they can do so, and a rough deadline for your donor to hold accountable to. He encouraged the group to keep a purposeful engagement with the cause, a sense of stewardship with the donors, and a personal practice of patience and persistence.

Rabbi Laurie Coskey, from the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (ICWJ), encouraged a strong need for relationship formation in her heartfelt and compassionate discussion of coalition building. She shared her own story and the complicated nature of coalitions, stressing how essential it is to build relationships and understanding with each other as individuals before establishing ourselves as a coalition. This understanding of personal relationships helps to cross what otherwise appears to be an unfathomable gap between diverse interest groups. She challenged the fellows to realize this within their own class of fellows and in themselves, and told them to “be inquisitive, be present, and understand how they serve others”.

Each of the speakers brought a unique perspective on the vital importance and diversity of communications skills. In a way, each reminded us that at it’s base, civic engagement is comprised of people, and it is essential to understand the means in which we are reaching out to them.

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