How can nonprofits build diversity awareness into their communication? There are no easy answers. But I find it helps to think of diversity-friendly communication as a tapestry. If you weave diversity awareness into each aspect of your outreach, you’ll see better results than you would if you tacked it on at the end.

That’s the approach my former coworker Dr. Sherrill Sellers recommended when we wrote the CIRTL Diversity Resources. Although the Diversity Resources were written for university instructors, nonprofits can use similar approaches. I recommend checking out our case study collection if you are thinking of organizing facilitated conversations about diversity.

When we were producing the Diversity Resources, we sifted through many university workbooks on creating welcoming climates. We found that a band-aid approach to diversity-friendly communication may be a step in the right direction, but it is just a step. More needs to be done.

After the Be the Media! conference in Boston on Dec. 6, I wrote the following list of questions to help organizations communicate inclusively. Items 1, 2 and 6 are partly based on comments by our facilitators, Elena Letona and Kathleen Pequeño.

  1. Whom do you ask for their opinion? If you look at whose voices are absent from your decisions, you may find some gaps. Consider having conversations, surveys and focus groups to include unheard stakeholders. For example, if you are working on an environmental issue in a low-income community, remember to ask for community feedback. This is especially important if there is a language barrier.
  2. Are your communication channels working? Make sure not to rely exclusively on the Internet if you want to reach a diverse base of potential supporters. Consider mobile-friendly websites and phone apps. Low-income young people often browse using their phones. Test drive new approaches to see what works.
  3. Is your communication jargon-free, easy to understand, and interesting? Remember, your audiences are not required to listen to you, even if you’re communicating vital health information about disease prevention or disaster awareness. Think about the style of language you’re using. If you use research language with non-specialists, your message may be ignored or misinterpreted. Ask your audiences for feedback.
  4. Is your message relevant? Why should your audiences care about the issues that matter to your organization? If you get to know them and learn what matters to them, your communication will be much more on target than it would be otherwise.
  5. Have you stepped outside your office to visit your audiences lately? How well do you know them? The more you develop  relationships, the better your communication will be.
  6. Have you considered partnering with or hiring messengers from underrepresented groups? Try crowdsourcing media, inviting people to tell their own stories via videos or blogs, and asking questions to draw out answers. You can use the results to develop stories for funders, decision makers, and media.
  7. Do you ask for constructive criticism? If you only focus on positive stories, you won’t see the roots of problems.
  8. Are your events, jobs and internships accessible to people who earn less than a middle-class income? Holding fundraisers with lower ticket prices, reducing reliance on alumni networks for hiring, and paying interns who can’t afford to take unpaid internships are three steps you can take to make your organization more welcoming.

Weaving ideas like these into your communication and outreach can help you develop real relationships with communities rather than being seen as an outside agency. The more you make your communication two-way – listening, respecting community comments, and taking an interest in others – the better your results are likely to be. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.


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There are many intersections between dance, health and the environment.

Dance can raise awareness of environmental disasters. This article from the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media links to a video of dancers from the Pacific islands of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau performing “Water Is Rising.” This performance toured the United States and made a stop in Boston at the Museum of Science.

These three islands are at the epicenter of climate change since they are only a few feet above sea level. Situated on coral formations, they will be the first inhabited islands to be submerged by climate change’s rising seas. The tour shows the rich cultural legacy of these islands.

Global Water Dances took place worldwide last June to raise awareness of threats to freshwater supplies – including mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracking. The second set of dance performances is scheduled for 2013. Boston’s Global Water Dance was held near the Charles River in Cambridge.

No post on the Global Water Dances would be complete without video. These dances are from the Netherlands, Germany and Israel.

Although I began editing audio files in 2007, I’m just starting my first foray into video editing and production.

Like professional ice skating, video production looks easier than it is. Since I’m comfortable with electronics and have done sound engineering for a few radio shows, I can adapt to the technology. But I’m still learning the planning and storytelling skills that are essential for producing quality multimedia.

Making multimedia is like assembling a collage. The storytelling aspect of multimedia preparation is similar to the process of writing an in-depth news story, but requires extensive planning.

If you’re interested in gaining experience with video and audio storytelling, I recommend these courses from News University:

Five Steps to Multimedia Storytelling

Video Storytelling for the Web

Writing for the Ear

Telling Stories with Sound

Reporting across Platforms

Since taking these online courses, I’ve completed a video production training at a local community access TV station. This weekend, I recorded a short video at the Waterfire festival in Providence. I plan to edit it using the 30-day free trial of Camtasia.

The total cost of all of this training has been under $50.