Proposals with a Purpose: How to Write a Successful White Paper

What is a White Paper?

A white paper is a document in which you propose a solution to a problem and target it toward the government, a specific person, company, organization, etc. White papers are extremely important for communicators so that you can effectively persuade someone to get on your side and illicit action to be taken or change to be made. These documents are particularly important in the realms of the environment and healthcare as it is important to let people know what kinds of problems are happening and what type of governmental changes need to be seen. You will need a white paper to successfully get policymakers on your side.  So, ask yourself, what do you want to see changed, or resolved? If it is something you are passionate about, your words will flow easily and you will more likely be able to illicit an emotional response. Keep reading for tips on how to compose a successful white paper.


Know your target audience. If it’s for the government, know which political party you will target; know what issues the people in that party stand behind; know the demographics in the area and what is important to the people in it; and understand that getting proposals passed does take a certain amount of emotion. On the other hand, if it’s a nonprofit that you are targeting, you should take a look at their mission statement and values, what it is they stand behind, and the kinds of projects they support already. It is necessary to promote facts and evidence with stories and emotion to get the most positive feedback possible.

What to Include?

You will need:

Title: Be clear, concise, and catchy. Fine tune it to your audience. Make sure they can easily tell from the title what they’re going to be diving into once they read your document.

Abstract: This is a quick summary about what the entire document is about. However, don’t be boring with this part. Make your abstract attention-grabbing so people will want to read on. On the other hand, provide enough valuable information that people that really don’t have the time to read the whole document can understand exactly what it’s about.

Introduction: Now you can start to talk about the issue and provide some background facts about it.

Problem: Define your problem, and keep you target audience in mind.

Solution: Be subtle with this section. Don’t be too in your readers face with ridiculous claims on how you can solve the problem. Talk about your solution, and provide some claims from specialists and other people. Be sure to avoid jargon and speak in simplistic terms.

Benefits: This is where you can prove why your solution will work for your target audience. Quotes from other people are okay for this section as well.

Summary: Include the best benefits of your solution to the problem, but also be sure to include the risks.  End this section with the most important takeaway you want them to have of the entire document. This section needs to be written as if it could be a document entirely of itself.

And, most importantly,

The Call to Action

I want to take the time to talk a little extra about writing your call to action. Don’t be afraid of this section. Ask people for what you want. Show a direct link between the cause at hand and how the person reading it can help. Make sure they know if you want them to sign a petition, donate money, try out a product, etc. Then, if it is worthwhile, give some incentive to them for taking the action. So, don’t only tell people to take action; tell them why it’s a great idea that they do so. What’s in it for them? Even the causes with the best intentions are not able to garner attention if there’s nothing in it for the people.

Graphics are Good

People’s eyes are drawn toward pictures, it’s another way of communicating and learning, so add them to your paper. It will break up the words a bit and add a visual component.

Now What?

Once you’ve composed a visually appealing white paper that includes a clear call to action, you can post it online, on your website, on to social media, wherever you think you can get more and more people to stand behind your idea and get action to be taken. Since, so many people are on social media now, you will be able to have supporters share the post and circulate it even further. Be bold and even hand deliver your document. This could potentially increase your chances of the document being seen. This document should not go to one set of eyes only, get it seen and don’t let it go extinct without actions being taken.

10,000 Hours, or One Golden Hour?

10,000 Hours

Outlier: A person, situation, or thing that is different from others (Gladwell, M). In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that with the perfect combination of time and opportunity people can be successful. The magic number is 10,000 hours. If someone can put in 10,000 hours worth of practice at a given task, then he can become a master. Bill Gates and the Beatles are both outliers; they put in 10,000 hours, and they are considered masters in their field. Better than the rest and known for their success. In a time of crisis PR professionals don’t have 10,000 hours to work with, they have mere minutes.

The Golden Hour

PR Professionals have a mere sixty minutes to handle a crisis. This one hour can make or break a company if handled incorrectly. In this time PR should notify news media, social media, internal publics, external publics, and lawyers. With technology at our fingertips, we demand information immediately following a crisis.

Court of Law vs. Court of Public Opinion

A PR professional must make an important decision when crisis arises, will the organization be scrutinized under the court of law or under the court of public opinion? We all know that under the court of law we are ‘innocent until proven guilty;’ however, in the court of public opinion, we are ‘guilty until proven innocent.’

PR Outliers

Johnson and Johnson

Most of you are probably familiar with the Johnson and Johnson crisis of 1982. Someone (still unknown) laced tylenol with cyanide and killed seven people in the Chicago area. Johnson and Johnson is still studied in books now because of the way they masterfully handled the situation.


In 2007, Jetblue left passengers stranded on a runway due to snow. Even though the crisis was due to weather, Jetblue took full responsibility for the incident and promised to take future steps to prevent future problems.


After the owner of the Clippers, Donald Sterling, was recorded making racist comments the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, took quick action against him.

After the incident the NBA went on to create a “We Are One” ad.

Future Recommendations

  • Assess your risks before they happen.
  • Create a crisis plan (framework, teams and responsibilities, key messaging, procedures, internal and external contact lists, checklists).
  • Designate a spokesperson.
  • Create a sense of “we-ness” among internal publics (employees, management, interns, retirees, stakeholders).
  • Get information out fast, but always be accurate.
  • Never reveal assumptions to the media.
  • A crisis is interesting. Make it uninteresting by continuously providing information to the public.
  • Know your key message, and keep reiterating it to your audience.
  • Never turn a problem into a crisis. Fix the problem, but don’t make it bigger than it needs to be.

Be Prepared: Communicating During a Crisis

Crisis Mode

Crisis. This is something of a taboo in businesses. Something no one wants to believe will happen, and therefore, when it does, there’s a good chance that there is no concrete communication plan. If you don’t have a plan, it won’t only be the crisis that puts your company under, but the fact that your employees and publics will be left in the dust and deem your company untrustworthy. So, it’s important to know how to communicate correctly to your publics during a crisis so that you can get yourself out of the media’s eye. To get yourself out of the media, you must cooperate with them first. Good communication will help you maintain people’s trust and confidence in you.

The Information Gap

When in a crisis it’s important to close what is called, “the information gap.” An information gap is when the audience doesn’t have all the necessary information on your crisis, so they are seeking out answers. If you don’t close the gap in a timely manner, false information and damaging rumors can get out about your company, making it harder and harder to close the gap. In order to close this gap effectively and efficiently, you must communicate with the media to give correct information on crisis details that your company is willing to share. Once the gap is closed and the public is pleased with the amount of information you have given, then you will be out of the media and out of the public’s minds, thus ending your crisis…with the public at least.

Some Tips on How to Communicate During a Crisis

Pick a spokesperson. This does not have to be the CEO. It should be someone who can speak expertly and confidently on camera. You could also bring in other spokespeople like specialists on the topic (doctors, lawyers, etc.). Bringing in a specialist provides more credibility on the issue and makes your claims more believable. However, make sure you limit the number of spokespeople you have to maybe one or two so that your key message and facts can remain the same across all statements. Having too many spokespeople can cause fact mix-ups and too many opinions circulating through the news.

Make a message triangle. A message triangle is a tool that you can create in order to structure three important key messages in a concise manner to your intended audience. It helps you keep in line exactly what you have to say before you have to say it so that you’re not caught off guard by any questions or statements. It helps you create key statements with supporting facts. What is it that you want your audience to know? What do you want to ring through every message you give to the media? Figure that out and come up with supporting statements, this way both the media and your publics won’t have to question what it is your trying to get across. The messages will remain the same throughout everything you do.

Don’t forget about your internal publics.

Internal publics should be told what’s happening first and foremost. Leaving them out of the loop will cause them to become untrustworthy and disloyal toward your company… hurting you more during a crisis. You can easily let them know what’s happening via the company intranet and easily keep them updated via the intranet as well. Make sure they know they are valued; if employees are angry they will go to the media (with false/damaging information) and could even quit their jobs.

Set Up Interviews and Beware of Trick Questions.

Disrespecting a journalist will do the same kind of damage as disrespecting your staff. A journalist can twist the story in your favor or not. You want journalists on your side so they can be utilized to help you get out of your crisis faster, not sink you further. Some journalists however, will be unrelenting no matter how pleasant you are. Don’t get trapped by their tricks. A reporter’s job is to dig a little so they can tell a good story. Listen to their questions, answer truthfully (use your key message triangle), be pleasant, and respect their deadlines. Practice before the interviews. Don’t speculate on what could have been or what could be; don’t get trapped into using jargon (this cuts you off from your audience); don’t force blame on to anyone; and remember…nothing is off the record.  Here’s what the media wants to know from you:

  • What happened
  • If there was death or injury
  • How much damage there is
  • If future damage is expected
  • Why it happened
  • Where responsibility lies
  • What you’re doing about it
  • When it will end
  • If anything like this has happened in the past
  • If there were warning signs

Social Media During a Crisis

With the technological age we’re in now, people demand updates, and fast, so it’s important to keep up on social media. It is a good idea to have someone running social media during a crisis as this is a great way to provide updates effectively and efficiently. However, you should be sure to line up your social media posts with the key message your trying to get across in other forms of media so all of the information lines up. On your social media, it is never a good idea to delete negative comments from your pages. People will see this and think you are trying to keep something from them. It will cause a lack of trust and create an even bigger crisis. Respond to negative comments, if necessary, with truthful responses. Do not place blame on the commenter, just leave a neutral response that satisfies the commenter and everyone else reading it. Make sure your employees know your social media policies, and make sure your employees are not posting any opinions or false information about the crisis at hand. Just be sure to monitor your social media, stay in the conversation, give the correct facts, and keep in touch with your audience. The publics will appreciate the fact that you are being transparent with them.

Your Crisis is Over, Now What?

Always be prepared for the next crisis. Every crisis you have is a good learning experience to see what you did wrong and what you did right. From that you can come up with a crisis communication plan and assess the potential risks that haunt your company. Lastly, don’t forget that even though your crisis might have ended, you might be troubled by the media on anniversaries of it. So, be aware and know how to handle the future conversation about the crisis. Don’t be thrown off guard if every one, five, or ten years your company comes back into the public’s eye for a crisis that happened years ago.

Addressing the Digital Divide in Healthcare

All humans face a degree of vulnerability, but some experience the burden of more numerous or severe vulnerabilities than others. We can explain the extra burden that some face as special vulnerability. Special vulnerability can be temporary or permanent and can occur at any point in a person’s lifetime. It can arise from one or a combination of physical, psychological or social factors. It can happen to anyone at any time due to the mortal human condition.

There are a countless number of reasons why people can experience special vulnerability, but those related to healthcare access can be some of the most grievous. Access to healthcare has an inextricable impact on health including quality and quantity of life. Quality and quantity of life are basic needs that must be met before any other opportunities can be achieved or vulnerabilities overcome. This means that promoting healthcare access is essential for a well-functioning society and satisfies our moral obligations to protect those who, like us, are or may become especially vulnerable.

Promoting health care access involves studying and removing barriers to access. Barriers to healthcare access include, but are not limited to, transportation issues, access to specialty providers, access to ancillary services, language barriers, cultural barriers, and access to technology. While there are many factors that contribute to access, barriers to accessing technology are becoming increasingly prevalent and pressing for modern healthcare delivery in the United States. US health policy and innovation are moving toward a more technologically advanced healthcare delivery system, and many vulnerable patients have not been able to keep up. This means that technology-dependent communication messages can miss vulnerable populations that need them the most.

Health communication leaders can and should make sure that vulnerable populations get the health messages that they need. When vulnerable individuals face barriers to technology access, health communication leaders should develop integrated, multi-level approaches to communicate key health messages. This can include engaging the community by talking to community members, tapping into community resources, and using multiple media platforms. It can also include developing better tools for communicating with patients including shared decision-making and cultural competency.

Engaging the Community

1. Ask the vulnerable community. Talk to community leaders about effective ways to reach your vulnerable audience. Focus groups and one-on-one interviews with members of the vulnerable community can also elucidate community-specific needs.

2. Tap into community resources. There may be existing community resources that can be used to deliver your message. Find out if there are ways that you can synergize with community organizations to deliver your message.

3. Use multiple media platforms. If you are using technology to deliver your message, consider adding additional media platforms to your campaign. This could include the use of communication platforms like radio, television or community forums.

Tools for Communicating with Patients

1. Implement shared decision-making techniques. Train providers and staff on shared decision-making techniques. Through shared decision-making, staff and providers can learn about specific challenges that their vulnerable patients face and determine ways to address these challenges individually.

2. Engage in cultural competency. Incorporate cultural competency into your organization’s culture. Make sure that the organization’s executive and upper-level leadership are committed to cultural competency. In addition, providers and staff should be trained on cultural competency and incentivized to engage in culturally competent interactions.

Ultimately a collaborate, integrated and multi-level approach will get key messages to those who need them the most. Communication leaders should make a concerted effort to use these approaches and reach all who need essential health messages. The lives of the vulnerable depend on it.

Natalie Dick, MHA

Treat with Care: A Culturally Competent Checklist for Healthcare Providers

Cultural Competence

What it means to be healthy differs among cultures. It’s not just about the absence of disease; it’s the feeling of overall well-being. Cultural competence means an organization is able to function within the context of cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs. It is imperative that healthcare workers always consider this when treating patients. Everyone is different. That means their bodies are, too. It does not work to have one universal treatment plan. By being aware of a person’s values, individuals can receive care personalized to them: which means the patient is more likely to go through with treatment and will have a better physician-patient relationship.

For Example…

A Jehovah’s witness cannot accept a blood transfusion due to how that person interprets the bible. As a result, it is up to a doctor to think outside the box, communicate with the patient, and come up with a treatment plan that will help the health the patient while staying within the person’s own beliefs. Since this is a poignant issue, UPMC even decided to start a bloodless campaign to consider these patient’s needs. After taking the time to communicate with people of this belief, UPMC actually felt more empathetic toward them and wanted to help. This proves that communication is key.

Health Communication

When interacting with patients it is important to remember key heath communication concepts. A patient cannot be treated correctly if a physician does not communicate with him or her and understand what his or her needs are. In the beginning of an appointment, it could be helpful if physicians went through a quick checklist of questions to begin to understand the patient in front of them. By utilizing a checklist and showing care, the patient in return will begin to trust the physician and open up to him or her.

Recommendations in becoming a more culturally competent health system

  • Provide translators
  • Research beliefs
  • Initiate cultural health campaigns
  • Provide cross-cultural training
  • Shared decision making among family members
  • Reach out to community health workers
  • Patient surveys to measure health literacy
  • Programs for patients on learning about the health system
  • Hire and promote minority workers

Remember: your set of beliefs are not the same as everyone’s set of beliefs. Take a step back, clear your mind, and be empathetic toward the patient. Take the time to research what the patient believes and understand what that patient’s personalized treatment options should look like. This will build the patient’s trust and will provide more personalized care which means more successful survival rates.

How to Tell Your Tale: Writing your Story for a Grant Proposal

Before You Start

In order to capture the attention of grant makers you need to tell a story that tugs at their emotional side. There are three tips to tell a successful story: 1) tell a story within a story, 2) every story needs a protagonist, 3) show you audience what the future could look like.

Your Story Template

A quick and easy tip to make sure you haven’t left out any important part is to follow this template: Tell how you connect personally with the cause (your story)-> tell about the current conditions of the issue your trying to get funding for->tell what has to happen to fix the current conditions->state how you can fix the problem->end with telling people how they can help… “the ask.” Now, I’ll show you how to use this in a real example. Say you are asking for funding to get after-school programs in your area for troubled youth. Here’s how to fit that in the template above: Tell how you personally connect with this issue->tell about the problems children are going through->state what kinds of things help people in this situation->explain the solution of after-school programs->tell your audience that funding is needed in order to help children lead safer, fuller, happier lives.

What is and What Could be

It is necessary that while writing your grant proposal story you create an outline of “what is” and “what could be.” This helps your audience realize what the status quo is, and why it needs to change. It evokes an emotional response, which is what you want because response means action.

How to do it

Take the example from above; a grant proposal to get funding for after-school programs for troubled youth. Here’s how you could outline your ideas with the ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ theory: What is…Children with behavioral problems inside and outside of school, such as; poor schoolwork, school absences, irritability, and aggressiveness. What could be…Emotionally supportive environment for these children to help lessen these problems. What is…families that do not know how to deal with the child and their behavioral issues. What could be…Meetings at the end of every month with the parents to educate them on what they could do at home for their child’s emotional needs when not at the program. The blissful ending…Give children fuller, happier lives. These are only a few of the examples of ‘what is’ and what could be.’ You can make your list longer and then incorporate them into your story.

The Protagonist vs. Antagonist   

Any good story has a good guy and a bad guy. People crave to see good overcome evil, because the antagonist gives the audience one shared goal to work to overcome together. So, let’s take the example above and find the protagonist and the antagonist to incorporate into the story. The protagonist, or good, is the after-school program and happy children from it. The antagonist, or bad, is the issues these children are facing. So, by showing this the audience can decide to take action against the bad in the story.

The Ask

Be straightforward with your audience. You need to give them concrete numbers for how much money you are looking for and what it will break down to cover. Do not go around the issue if you feel uncomfortable asking for money. By putting a dollar amount to ask it allows your audience and grant makers to outline what it will be used for and is evidence for how you will address the issue at hand. Here’s an example for the ask for a grant maker:

“I estimate my need to get this project up and running for one year to be about 51,000 dollars. This would cover the cost of four one-hour after school programs at two elementary schools and two middle schools. Included in this is the cost to provide one mental health counselor at each program. Also, included in this is one-week’s worth of summer training for the other volunteers of this program. Additionally, it would cover books, crafts, toys, and snacks for each program. Lastly, it would provide one start of the year education program for teachers, staff, and faculty to get acquainted with the new program and know how to manage these children in their own classrooms. It is my hope to raise 20,000 dollars through other funders, so I am asking you to consider covering the remaining 31,000 dollars. I greatly look forward to hearing from you and in the meantime would love if you could send application guidelines or any other information that could be of use.”

After the Story

If you feel comfortable enough you can take your story and turn it into a video to use on other funding websites. You can take all of this information and pair it with visuals and statistics so that you are able to target both an audience’s emotional appeal and logical appeal. Since a video can be easily shared among social networking sites, although it may not reach the right audience first, it can make it to them at some point.

Building Community to Build Money: How to Crowdfund Effectively

What is Crowdfunding?

Simply put, crowdfunding is raising small amounts of money by a large amount of  people for a project, and it is all done online.  This may be a simple concept, but doing this successfully is not so simple. I want to provide you with the necessary steps for a crowdfunding campaign and provide effective examples so you can reach your crowdfunding goals.

“Crowdfunding isn’t about collecting money. It’s about making something happen with a crowd of people who believe in something. Normal people, not rich people with a lot of power, just people like you and me.” -Jozefien Daelemans (Editor-in-Chief, Charlie Magazine)

Crowdfunding is all about your ability to create a community of peers that believe in your idea. It is about putting yourself out there and believing in your own ability and getting others to believe in it as well. Confidence is key.

You Need to Crowdfund, Now What?

Choose a Platform

There are many different crowdfunding platforms. Do research and choose the site that best fits within your project’s category. Different platforms will fit better with different types of projects.

Some Common Platforms

GoFundMe: Personal or professional projects

Kickstarter: Creative projects

Indiegogo: For artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and humanitarians

CircleUp: Companies looking for backers

YouCaring: Personal expenses

CrowdRise: Emphasis on global citizenship and the influence of social media

Use Multiple Channels 

Once you’ve chosen a platform you will need to market yourself. Utilize social media and connect your campaign to different social networking sites. Encourage friends and family to share your campaign.

Set a Realistic Goal

Just remember S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-frame) when coming up with your goals and objectives. Your project should have specific objectives that relate back to a broader goal in mind. You should relay this information to your audience.

For example: A goal could be to provide after-school reading programs in elementary schools. To obtain that goal one objective would be to improve the reading level of 100% of the children in the program which will be judged on a weekly basis. The goal is very broad, while the objective provides a narrow framework of what this goal will achieve.

Money Explanation

Your audience will need to know what there money will be used for. It is a good idea to break down the project for them with different costs for each part. Let them know the ‘what’, the ‘how much’, and the ‘why.’

For example…

What: After-school reading program

How much?: $5,000

Why: One-hour of free after-school programs provided each day of the 180-day calendar year

Put Together a Video

This should be the more emotional aspect to your campaign. It should have a visual aspect and can include music as well. You should mix emotion with facts. The video should end with your pitch to the audience. Tell them what your project is and ask for their financial help. To be able to crowdfund it is imperative that you feel comfortable asking people for money, sometimes that is easier said than done. Tell your audience how their donation will help you reach your goal. A video can be easily made for free by using apps on your phone or laptop!

Make it Personal

Usually when taking on a project there is a personal reason that pushes you to do so. Be real with your funders. Tell them about yourself, by doing so you give your campaign a voice and add a human element. By telling about your dream, other people might have a connection with you or share the same dream or passion, this will help you get their support.

Provide Perks

You might hope that your funders will just give from the heart, but they may be expecting something in return from you. Give them a small gift or promise them something if your project happens.

For example….Small donations will receive a T-shirt and large donations will receive a tote filled with small gifts. Or promise large donors that their name will be put on a bench as a sign of acknowledgement once the project is fulfilled. Be creative, and provide follow up thank you letters once your project is able to get started.

Don’t Forget About the Ask

I mentioned this above if you decide to make a video, but you cannot forget to provide a written ask to your audience as well. Remind them you need their financial help.

For example…’With one donation you are allowing us to move one step forward to provide children the help they need to improve their reading skills and have better confidence in the classroom. Our goal is set at $20,000 to cover program cost, volunteers, and resources. Every little bit helps!’

Remember…Raising Money is Just the Beginning

A crowdfunding campaign is like a part-time job. You need to be in constant communication with your publics, even if you have raised enough money for your project. The individuals that helped to fund it will want to know how it’s going and what is happening along the way. Don’t forget who got you to where you are. A successful first project can lead you to further success in your endeavors.

Sharing is Caring: The Power of Storytelling in Non Profit Campaigns

A Future of Sharing

How would you feel if I told you that sharing something as personal as your health and sicknesses on social media could someday help track the spread of disease? You might say that’s a little crazy, but would you do it if it meant keeping others healthy? Would you want others to do it if it meant keeping you healthy? Patrick Tucker thinks that soon the CDC will use our ever-posting social media habit to determine where illnesses are and where they’ll spread next, making Minority Report a thing of the present.

Although we’re not yet there, some health non-profit organizations have utilized this same idea of sharing personalized stories during campaigns, so people can talk about personal experiences and connect with others to spread information about certain diseases.

March of Dimes: Share Your Story

The campaign, ShareYourStory, by March of Dimes brings to life a safe online community in which the “neighbors” are families who all share in one particular struggle: a sick newborn. Members of this virtual “neighborhood” are able to share the struggle  they are having, offer and receive support, and spread information.

“ShareYourStory is home to all of us who have not had that picture-perfect pregnancy, who struggle with little ones in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or forever hold their child in their heart. It is where I found hope for the future,” said community member Lauren Wilson, from Hawaii.

The shareyourstory campaign easily connects to social media platforms so that they can be circulated to an even wider array of people. By using avatars and enabling videos and stories, the campaign to improve the health of babies becomes human, personalized, local, and gives the families a way to see the faces of the people that they connect with on a daily basis. The dedicated website,, brings families to a blog forum where they can post and react to others’ posts. Yesterday, for example, twenty members posted and commented on each others’ stories, questions, and messages.

The Power of Storytelling

Stories are so powerful because they withstand the tests of time. They spread from person to person, community to community, through families and friends; they change, but what is at the heart of a good story remains the same. By using storytelling as the main mode of communication in a campaign, organizations are able to tap in to human emotions and create common bonds.

Each campaign uses the very powerful tool of empathy. This is something that needs to be employed more in our health systems in order for patients and physicians to have a strong trusting relationship. Now, don’t confuse sympathy with empathy. Where sympathy leads to disconnect, empathy drives connection by staying out of judgement and communicating to a person that he or she is not alone. The problem with sympathy is that it always tries to show people the “good” in something bad. Health care providers need to be able to deter sympathy and understand this difference.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” ” -Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.

If physicians can step in to their patients’ shoes, then they can start treating patients as individuals instead of just another number. Interacting with patients not only helps create bonds, but allows physicians and healthcare providers to learn about individuals on a personal level. When a patient sees that their physician cares for them as a fellow human, it allows space for open dialogue between patients and physicians which leads to better, personalized care.

American Diabetes Association’s campaign, This is Diabetes, uses the hashtag #thisisdiabetes, to encourage individuals or friends and family to post their own video of a personal story and struggle they deal with from the disease. What this campaign encourages is spreading awareness about parts of the disease that many people would not be aware of otherwise and what kinds of crippling effects diabetes has on other aspects of a person’s health and the other lives that disease touches.

The National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society‘s, Together We Are Stronger Campaign uses similar tactics to inspire individuals living with MS to share their story through video and offer insights. It connects people together with different ways of dealing with the disease, educating people on the disease, and coming up with new ideas for a cure.

‘Empathetic Storytelling’

I call these campaigns  ‘empathetic storytelling,’ since they connect humans on a common health issue and provide support. They reverse the negative connotation that comes with the idea of spreading disease. Instead they spread information about a disease through words and symbols. By spreading words, instead of sicknesses, the information that is shared and reshared can help the listeners prevent their own risk of developing a disease, or even find a treatment.

Recommendations for Empathetic Storytelling For Health & Nonprofit Campaigns:

  • Utilize multiple channels and social media networks
  • Appeal to emotion, but don’t go too far (Think about the dog shelter commercials, how many times do you change the channel as soon as you see a sad dog come on your screen?)
  • Stories don’t always have to be sad, share some hope for the future
  • Mix words, pictures, and videos
  • Share your own story, this connects you to your audience
  • Create a powerful hashtag
  • Provide useful information (an audience needs to know about the cause in order to participate in the campaign)
  • Be cohesive and consistent, all the channels or networks you utilize should include the same information, hashtags, and look (branding, colors, etc.)
  • Try to stay away from medical jargon, in a health campaign it may be easy to use scientific words, stop and think about your intended audience (what is their knowledge, or lack thereof, on the topic)