Published on March 12, 2021, at 2:51 p.m.
by Maggie Palmer.
Approximately 1.56 million nonprofit organizations exist in the United States today. In an online world constantly inundated with new information, it’s important that their messages are crafted effectively, both to serve their communities and keep their organizations alive.
Tuscaloosa International Friends (TIF) is all too familiar with this struggle. Based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, TIF was incorporated as a community organization in 1972. Ever since, it has provided resources and opportunities for international visitors to learn more about American culture and vice versa. From picnics to parties, TIF brings everyone together.
Minda Paxton is TIF’s president. She served as a host family for the organization for almost two decades before joining TIF’s board of directors just three years ago. Paxton explained that she has always emphasized a “global understanding,” which stems from her passion for traveling and experiencing different cultures.
“People are wary sometimes because of accents and language barriers, but so much can be communicated beyond the language, and it trains your ears to listen better,” said Paxton. “It’s just been a blessing to be a part of.”
TIF works closely with The University of Alabama, Stillman College and Shelton State Community College to broaden cultural understanding among students and Tuscaloosa residents. It also offers a scholarship to international students to allow them to continue their education in the U.S.
This year, TIF was one of seven clients that participated in Capstone Agency’s CreateAthon. This pro bono marketing event allows nonprofits in need of communication services to partner with teams of the agency’s members for 24 hours. Depending on their needs, the nonprofits are presented materials such as redesigned brand identities, updated websites and content calendars upon the event’s conclusion.
Teri Henley is Capstone Agency’s faculty adviser and has helped organize the annual event since its inception in 2017. Capstone Agency became involved with CreateAthon after PRSSA-affiliated firms were given the opportunity to work with CreateAthon’s national program for one year. However, the agency has continued the partnership because Henley believes “it’s one of the best things we do all year.”
Henley explained that she has seen firsthand just how appreciative nonprofits are for the high-quality pro bono work they receive from CreateAthon each year.
“I’ve watched it now over a 40-year career, and without fail, the nonprofit clients are just so appreciative of what they get, especially when they come to the university and get really good work,” Henley explained. “I think they’re just so appreciative, whereas I’ve worked with corporate clients and they’re a little more critical. Nonprofits are just like, “‘Oh, that’s wonderful,’ because they have so little.”
From this year’s CreateAthon, TIF received an updated website, letters to send to potential donors and graphics to promote its annual events. Paxton is extremely thankful for the materials and believes they will have a “huge impact” on TIF’s ability to recruit new donors and students going forward.
While pro bono work of this caliber is a huge help to nonprofits, they still face a variety of challenges in other areas. Henley noted that one of the biggest hurdles can be balancing the needs of a nonprofit’s staff, volunteers, donors and clients.
“You need to have good communication and authentic conversations between all the various groups. You’ve got to do research, and more than anything, you’ve got to make your stakeholders feel appreciated,” said Henley.
However, challenges don’t always have to be negative. Paxton touched on COVID-19-related obstacles that TIF has faced in the past year, noting how they have pushed the organization to adapt and ultimately progress its online presence.
TIF recently created an Instagram account and has restructured its in-person events to comply with mask mandates and social-distancing practices. Paxton also described how the pandemic has changed the organization’s financial practices for the better.
“We have been slow as a nonprofit to transition to online forms of payment,” explained Paxton. “Because of COVID, we knew we weren’t going to have any events and would have to go online. It worked out very well, and I’m very thankful we were in that position.”
Nonprofit culture is one of the reasons that overcoming these challenges has been not only feasible, but achievable. Both Henley and Paxton noted that many who work in the nonprofit industry are there because of their passion for an organization’s mission and dedication to serving their communities.
The nonprofit industry may not be the place for those looking for wealth or recognition, but its drive to make our world a kinder place runs deep. A helping hand or an hour of time can linger far beyond when the job is complete.