This is a story about knowing you need help, being open to receiving it, persevering, collaborating, and leading.

It’s a story about how a small group of dedicated professionals — in this case, rangelands professionals — are becoming communications leaders in their sector and bringing their colleagues along.

I want to share this story because I am so proud of my clients, Amber, Retta, and Sheila of the Rangelands Partnership. The organization includes not marketing and communications professionals, but range managers, natural resource professionals, researchers, Extension educators, decision-makers, and students who support the health and sustainability of our nation’s rangelands and the communities of people who depend on them.

Back in June 2020, Amber contacted me about whether I could help them develop a marketing strategy for their new website so people who would benefit from the resources on the site would know it now existed. She learned about me through word of mouth from a colleague who had taken a workshop with me previously. (Word of mouth is such a big deal in our sector.)

But she had to write a grant first, so she needed language from me to add to that application. A few months later, she got back in touch about a different grant that would fund a larger professional development program well beyond just marketing the website. We worked on grant language for that in fall 2020. And then I didn’t hear anything for six months. We all know how these things go, and I honestly didn’t expect to hear back.

Lo and behold, in April of 2021, with funding in hand, they did get back in touch and we got started on designing a program that became a peer-to-peer train-the-trainer cohort.

I ended up leading twelve webinars over Zoom every few weeks from August 2021 through January 2022 with their core group of about a dozen people. We covered the gamut of marketing and communications lessons over those sessions, through a learning path that covered key nonprofit marketing concepts, target audiences, relevant messaging, writing styles, social media strategies, email best practices, storytelling, campaign and editorial planning, practicing elevator pitches, measuring success, and more.

Many of the sessions took place via Mural so participants could collaborate on brainstorming, etc. For the last two sessions, each person developed a campaign plan for the Rangelands Partnership website (the original task Amber had contacted me about). We workshopped those ideas together through Zoom breakouts and they are putting the best ideas into action.

Cover of Rangelands Partnership GuideBut what was really special about this experience is that the participants took turns taking notes during each session. And at the end of those 12 sessions over nearly six months, without me, they discussed together what they thought was most important for their broader professional community to know.

They synthesized that into a 13-page communications guide for rangelands professionals. I love that they didn’t ask me to write it — they didn’t even ask me to edit it. They worked on it together, brought in rangeland-specific examples, and created a wonderful guide! Amber even designed it herself using recently acquired Canva skills.

As part of the contract, we knew we would be doing three “public” webinars for the larger rangelands community. After taking the spring and summer of 2022  to complete the guide, we are now reconvening.  The group of a dozen is now closer to 100 people as I present webinars in September, October, and November, using the guide they created as the basis for what I include in each session.

Nonprofit communications directors are my focus and always will be. But the reality is that so many nonprofit, government, and academic professionals do not and will not ever have the support of a dedicated and trained marketing and communications colleague. They are on their own to market their own research, publications, training sessions, and more, even though they often have little to no communications training or expertise.

That’s why I am so impressed with this team led by Amber, Retta, and Sheila. They knew they needed help. They knew their colleagues needed the same help. They set out to get it. But rather than just sitting back, they fully and actively engaged in the learning and in spreading what they have learned to their colleagues in a collaborative way that’s meaningful to them. It may have taken two and a half years, but they did it and they are going to keep moving forward together! That’s both communications and community leadership, and I am so happy that I got to be a part of their work.

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