When the Coronavirus crisis closed classrooms, it seemed my work for Citizen Schools would end abruptly. But the organization asked all of us volunteer Citizen Teachers to create a three-minute video about our career paths and another, shorter video wishing students well and sharing some brief guidance.
To my surprise, Citizen Schools featured my videos in their national e-newsletter!
As the above video mentions, this week also marked the introduction of my new novella, Az Der Papa. Here is the second video from the Citizen Schools newsletter.
This week, I also led a three-hour online Writing Salon course for a group of design professionals, plus my new online writing program for Citizen Schools. It’s a thrill to re-connect with students and colleagues, but “distance learning” feels so distant from what we experienced when I introduced this class in February with words that seem even truer today:
Speaking of Donald Trump
Have you heard the new word From absurd orange bird?
The cock of the walk Who can squawk But can’t talk
Who frowns On the brown Holds them down What a clown
Whose wall-building bombast Blasts outcasts He thinks he outclasses But can’t outlast
Vile defiler, The liar, denier Of climate fire Heats our air Doesn’t care It’s not fair
We can’t bear But we swear We will tear Your orange hair If you dare to declare You are heir to the rare
You are square So prepare And beware our despair When it’s time to compare We’re the real billionaires
Inkflow client Fit Kids released its new series of Home Workouts via the e-blast below. School closures during the Coronavirus crisis limit even further the scant fitness resources in the disadvantaged communities where Fit Kids operates.
Each workout uses bodyweight only, providing a fitness solution for underserved youth who live in crowded housing conditions. The pursuit of fitness — with its physical, mental, and social-emotional benefits — is critical to people living in the most vulnerable communities, where COVID-19 has disproportionate impact.
Following is a replicated MailChimp e-blast prepared for Inkflow Communications client Wolf Pack Ninjas.
As we join together to fight the Coronavirus, here is perspective from Wolf Pack Ninjas Co-Founder Dr. Noah Kaufman, an ER doctor on the front lines, speaking with Nicholas “Modern Tarzan” Coolridge (@ModernTarzan) and @AcroSprout.
Now more than ever, the Wolf Pack Ninjas are committed to making the world healthier one kid at a time. Please, stay home, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face.
If you have any questions or concerns about your health, contact your physician.
Finally, take this opportunity to improve your fitness and develop your Ninja skills. It won’t be too long before we’re back on course!
A gentle touch to correct my warrior pose let me know Claire Ngoon knew what she was doing. She did not push me into position. She guided me to feel what was right for myself.
The best coaches and teachers, like Claire, help their students reach their own conclusions, so the lessons are more likely to stick. Discussing that topic after our first group class, I was sold on private lessons.
Plus, the price was right. Claire would teach me an hour per week in exchange for my marketing advice and writing coaching.
The first private lesson was laughable, due to my basketball-ravaged ankles and arthritic knees. Although I had taken a few dozen Bikram and hot vinyasa flow classes at other studios over the years, I could not enter some of the poses Claire led, even one as simple as kneeling and then sitting on my heels with my feet extended behind me.
She deemed that pose important given my intention that yoga help me run hills more efficiently, which would decrease pain and increase the physical, mental and emotional benefits of both the running and the yoga. We spent much of the first class slowly flexing my ankles to point my toes into resistance bands.
Claire remarked on how little love and attention people give their feet, considering how much support their feet give them. That’s when I discovered she occasionally spoke in metaphor, which bode well for her marketing and writing.
Beyond that footwork, our first few lessons included more typical poses such as lizard, pigeon, and downward facing dog. At the start of each lesson, Claire instructed me to “let go of anything that will not be of use in your practice,” which is great advice for any endeavor. When necessary, she reminded me more specifically to engage only the muscles needed to maintain the pose.
She suggested using blankets and blocks to ease pressure on my joints and aid in certain stretches. I resisted at first, pridefully preferring to fight through pain. Then I reached my own metaphorical conclusion that, like medicine, I could use a block as a “crutch” that would let me stretch to the point where the block was no longer necessary for me to stretch even farther.
The more I stretched, the more I could stretch. Then, the training wheels could come off. Meanwhile, there was no shame in using the available technology.
Listening closely for metaphors of value far beyond the yoga mat kept me attuned to Claire’s voice. That way, after release from the final agonizing-but-so-worth-it lizard pose, when she led me into relaxation for the last quarter of each class, it seemed hypnotic. I lay on bolsters to open my chest, breathed as Claire suggested, and followed her advice to thank my body for its work and “simply be.”
And, “when it is time,” she would say, “I will bring you back.” She had to, because during those end-of-class moments, I was gone.
Every week, she asked me if anything had changed. I mentioned a pins-and-needles type of tingling in my left heel and the fear that my achilles would soon snap. Claire prescribed a daily dose of Himalaya salt dissolved in water. In a week the condition cleared completely.
Because that prescription worked, it was easy to follow her others, such as “intentional” stretching before and after runs and using resistance bands and foot massage at other idle times. Practicing at home like that, I also returned to the mindful state I experienced in the studio.
Even when travel canceled our sessions for weeks at a time, upon return Claire still could point out improvements. In our most recent session, I knelt and sat on my heels with my feet extended behind me. It hurt a little, but I maintained the pose for nearly a minute. Her excitement at such a small feat seemed inordinate, but great coaches and teachers know that celebrating incremental advances leads to exponential growth.
Interspersed with yoga classes, Claire received the promised writing coaching, advice on marketing tactics, and introductions to build clientele. I critiqued entries in her video series, which expounds and expands on yoga, including a recent video that is much more in keeping with advice I give most of my clients: to use some form of brand journalism to tell your story.
The story in that video covered Claire’s experience of letting a client discover she was fighting herself. Soon after watching it, I went for a run, and afterward, while stretching in a seated spinal twist, I suddenly noticed my straight leg was needlessly clenched.
Claire’s video echoed. I relaxed the leg, and my spinal stretch deepened. It became clear that Claire had used my brand journalism advice to produce a video that helped me follow her yoga advice. It proved a point from one of our sessions: that our barter agreement allowed for greater experimentation in our crafts than we would dare deliver to cash-paying clients.
Metaphorically, we both helped each other stretch.
Telling Your Story was the title of the panel discussion in the video below, shot at the inaugural Sports Philanthropy World event in Chicago. More than 100 delegates gained information and inspiration from the panel, including:
Marianna Whitehurst (Board Member for Georgia Playworks, Foundation Board of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl Advisory Board).
You can scroll below the video for highlights of the panel with a guide to timestamps.
In the first two minutes, Nicole explains the importance of story to non-profits as a means of achieving a mission and raising funds: thus the panel’s focus on providing concrete takeaways for our audience to enact.
Three minutes in, Katie addresses how critical it is to define a non-profit’s audience. “You can’t target ‘everyone in the world.’ You can’t make the most impact if you don’t know your target audience.”
At the 10-minute mark, David answers Nicole’s question about storytelling as art and science: “Every person in the organization and every person the organization impacts is potentially a story. If you impact 500 people, you have 500 stories. If you impact a million people, you have a million stories. The science is in having systems in place to get those stories. One thing I advise is to embed a marketing person as a journalist within your organization and charge them with seeking out stories. Create systems that make it as easy as possible for people to share their stories and incentivize them to do so. Use YouTube, email, social media, etc. as an intake for them to invest their hearts and souls into your organization, your brand your mission. That’s the science part. The art part is the journalist understanding what will trip the wires of whichever audience you’re targeting.”
At 12:15, Nicole asks what types of stories are most effective, and David answers: “Emotion. A natural story, focused on an individual person, who is on a journey that is immediately understandable. Anything that is simple, emotional and can be digested into a soundbite that is ready for social media.”
At 12:42, Katie adds “Emotion is incredibly important, but it’s so hard to define, it can be overwhelming. What you think may bring an audience to tears may fall flat. There’s this rule of thumb if you’re creating a story, and in the process you don’t feel anything, then don’t use it. You have to bring out one specific emotion in your audience.”
At 14:30, Marianna explains, “I want to make people identify. If I can’t make them want to feel included, and look at it, and say, ‘You know what, I see myself in that,’ then forget it, we did a bad job. Start over.”
Starting at 15:24, the panel discusses the storytelling tactics of using statistics to generate what Nicole calls the audience’s “Holy Shit moment” in realizing a story’s importance vs. focusing on an individual. Nicole on the “Holy shit” moment with stats.
About 20 minutes in, Nicole asks about a non-profit’s story “not getting lost in the noise” of constant messaging. Katie offers perspective on understanding the target audience rather than focusing just on the number of “likes” and advises to keep in mind that “we are wired to pay attention to bad news, wired to detect a threat.” At 22:04, David hails Solutions Journalism for going against that grain and serving as an outlet for positive storytelling
At 24:43, Katie tells a terrific story about storytelling, using an example of a gala video that raised thousands of dollars, but then fell flat in the organization’s newsletter. The next five minutes covers tactics in collecting and curating content to allow for re-purposing in multiple channels to a variety of audiences, including traditional news media outlets. At 31:52, Marianna suggests highlighting volunteers’ activities to share on LinkedIn to reach the volunteers’ professional networks and generate interest from new audiences.
Much of the remaining discussion is Q&A covering such topics as decisions on using internal vs. external resources for storytelling, how to tackle a story subject’s camera anxiety (even if that subject is you!), and whether/when/how to try to control your brand’s story in balance with the desire for it to go viral.
Summer – which I have defined not by solstice and equinox but by “school’s out” ever since attending kindergarten in 1969 – was cool this year. Inkflow’s workflow made it so.
Summer started with a Fit Kids event at Levi’s Stadium on the last day of school for the students we serve in East Palo Alto, continued with gaining new Inkflow clients, and ended with amazing back-to-school initiatives. As usual, returning to my roots in Chicago and Milwaukee nourished the blooms and fruits of these labors.
In early July, The 82 Project Foundation’s annual Swine Social pig roast and fundraiser reminded me why I love serving on the non-profit’s board. Named “82” for the year our board members graduated from Whitefish Bay High School, the organization funds a scholarship for a senior graduating from our alma mater and aids community members in need of financial and emotional support.
During that visit, Inkflow linked with the Milwaukee area’s Concord Chamber Orchestra and contracted to advise the non-profit classical musical group on marketing communications strategy. A slew of stakeholder interviews, an online survey, and observations in and around CCO’s community will inform Inkflow documents that provide the organization a map for its future outreach efforts.
Also while in Milwaukee, preliminary talks from earlier weeks with San Francisco-based real estate concern Andersen, Jung & Co. turned into a short-deadline assignment to write a 90-second speech that Principal Broker Monica Chung delivered to a group of business executives.
Back in the Bay, Inkflow sealed a deal to deliver writing coaching and marketing/business development consulting for Ferox Yoga, the brain-child of yoga instructor Claire Ngoon.
Soon after, the latest issue of Saint Thomas Academy’s Saber Magazine dropped, with several of my articles, including the cover story, “Profiles in Service.”
July closed out with the launch of a new promotional video for Fit Kids, including my first voice-over work…
…and August started with a return to Chicago as a panelist
on the topic of “Telling Your Story: How to Engage Your Donor Base” at the
inaugural Sports Philanthropy World Congress.
Back in the Bay, Inkflow forged an alliance between Fit Kids and Citizen Schools, which will have me leading Fit Kids classes for underserved middle-school students at Redwood City’s McKinley Institute of Technology. The chance to merge my passion for both non-profits into a single project that directly impacts youth and advances both organizations’ goals is a dream come true.
Then this other dream came true:
Minda, whom I informally and occasionally advised in the last several years, read from The Memo, sold and signed scores of copies, and led a rousing panel discussion with several other women of color that infused the packed room with equal parts anger and hope.
Twenty-four hours later, some of Minda’s “Memo” continued to hit home in another room of multi-culturalists, as “summer” ended with students back in school, including those who last night completed the class I teach at The Writing Salon, aptly titled — in light of Minda’s message — “On Point.”
Two great joys — collaboration and storytelling — recently came together on an Inkflow Communications project for Fit Kids, a non-profit client that provides structured fitness programs to underserved elementary school students. The challenge was to humanize Fit Kids’ impact, telling the story of one child to illustrate the organization’s broader value to the communities it serves.
Dramatizing a problem and its solution through the story of an archetypal individual is a go-to approach for many brands. This is especially true for non-profits that need compelling content to raise funds.
In theory, focus on a single face instead of mind-numbing numbers is the surer way to change hearts and minds. The story of one identifiable person is more moving than statistical statements about anonymous millions, which can overwhelm audiences to the point of turn-off and tune-out.
So, why doesn’t every brand take the individual storytelling approach? First, not everyone got the memo. Business leaders focused on the bottom line may fixate on figures. Also, telling an individual story in support of a brand is not an easy execution. That’s where the joy of collaboration comes in.
Telling the story of Briana in the video above took Fit Kids Founder Ashley Hunter’s commitment to this form of communications, Fit Kids Program Director Navita Wilson’s keen ear to the ground to identify Briana and her family as subjects, Inkflow’s work to bridge brand and journalism, and the extraordinary skill, emotional intelligence, storytelling instincts, and production chops of award-winning sports broadcaster Mindi Bach.
The video was a hit when it debuted at The Fit Kids Lunch fundraiser on April 30. Of course, collaboration also fueled that event’s success. But that’s a different story.
In addition to the joy of kickin’ it with Roy Kessel on his Sports Philanthropy Network podcast, we shared insights and examples that can help any non-profit or other social entrepreneurship do well by doing good. Just press play on the player embedded below, and see the timecodes for highlights by scrolling just below the player.
Start-1:55, the Inkflow Communications story
2:28, how Lesa Ukman and International Events Group set the stage for social impact in our industry
4:55, why non-profits should view sponsorships through sponsors’ eyes
7:35, how non-profits attract sponsors with story-telling and other content opportunities
10:31, the futility of playing the eyeball game
14:29, identifying sponsor prospects — Fit Kids example of protecting brand integrity
20:15, Wolf Pack Ninjas example of delivering value beyond cash
24:45, working with Saint Thomas Academy on content
26:03, how WeXL creates economic opportunity through content from diverse voices
28:39, helping entrepreneurial clients get out of their own way when it comes to marketing
31:40, clients viewing marketing communications as a long-term investment in the brand
33:37, story-telling lengthens attention span of target audiences…including executives.