I had the pleasure of attending the Gift of Communication event that was hosted by the Golden Horseshoe chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). The event was an opportunity for members of the IABC to speak to representatives from a handful of local charities, all of which are financially supported by the United Way in part, and help advise them on potential solutions to communications problems within their organization.
As a student in the Mohawk College Public Relations program, a group of our students were given the opportunity to take part in the event to learn from these communicators, and find out some of the issues facing area not-for-profit groups. I signed up to see what the event would be like, but that was before I knew the actual content of the event.
For the record, had I known the format of the event, I likely would have traded off my spot. No disrespect to the IABC or any of the organizations involved of course. The reason I say this is because I pictured myself 18 months ago, when I ran The Lung Association's Brant office, and I thought about whether or not I would have wanted to be that guy sitting and listening to other people try to understand how to fix my problems. It turned my stomach a little, it really did...
The format for the event turned out to make the experience. We were each allowed to sit at whichever table we wanted, and were sooned joined by the organization's representative(s), along with 1 or 2 communications professionals. We spent the next 90 minutes or so working through the operations 2 prime communications weaknesses, brainstorming all kinds of solutions.
My discussion involved The Eva Rothwell Centre at Robert Land. Ted Hodkinson represented the Centre, and the two of us were joined by Amy Wright from UPS and CritiCall Ontario's Christine Moon. The four of us discussed the communications difficulties the Centre was facing: how to communicate a message to an impoverished community of 8 500 people, and how to communicate the user expectations in a positive light.
A challenge was certainly in our midst. Social media would have direct effect on the users or potential users. Language barriers impede any written materials. Safety concerns create issues with a door-to-door campaign. And volunteers may have issues standing up to peers, especially ones who could potentially lash out.
Yet after an hour and a half of discussion, and very little out of my own mouth, we were able to come up with some ideas that I truly thought could help the cause.
And that was the story throughout the room. My group was just one of nine featuring similar issues, and yet, all of the discussions produced real solutions to real problems.
It was a rewarding feeling, all 'warm and fuzzy' like we were told before the session began. That truly was as billed.
The final component of the day was also an incredible thing for all of us students to witness as well. The final speech came from the head of the United Way for Hamilton Region. The man's name escapes me at this time. He gave a very strong and commanding speech that demonstrated simultaneously the passion for the organization and the heavy-handed leadership needed to help build a cohesive operation. He gave an overpowering message of demand and respect, a sort of higher eschlon of expectation for those who want the support during these difficult financial times.
There was a line that I took away from his speech that I think truly put a perspective on the value of the exercise for us students. He said: "A community is not truly great until it is great for everyone". For me, that tells us why we must take any opportunity we can to help those who need us, whether it is with our hands or with our minds.
I'm glad my mind could contribute that day...