2 min Read
April 25, 2013

Communicate like a science journalist

Madeleine Milan

Being a nonprofit communicator is a lot like being a science journalist—you have to deeply understand the issues you’re communicating about and (here’s the most important bit) translate them into interesting stories the general public can understand.

Little known fact: I’m kind of a science geek (thanks to Mr. Hill, the physics teacher of destiny). I’m also a public radio geek (thanks to the dear old BBC). Put those two together and you get a big fan of Radio Lab.

The other day I came across a great blog post from one of RadioLab’s presenters, Robert Krulwich. In the context of comparing an ad campaign for a nonprofit science and technology center in Canada to science journalism, he says:

“We who are doing this, we reporters, we animators, we science teachers, we bloggers, we artists, we museum managers, we research scientists, we copywriters — we don’t do what we do to speak to the Already Informed. We are doing this to tap ordinary, everyday people on their heads, people who might not have the time or the inclination, and say to them, “spend a few minutes over here, mulling this …”

Sound familiar? That’s because that’s our job as nonprofit communicators, too: to tap on the shoulder ordinary, everyday people who don’t know as much as we do about our organization or issue and say “spend a few minutes over here, mulling this…”

And just like a science journalist it’s also our job as nonprofit communicators to do more than just share all of the geeky detail and “science” involved in the work we do. We have to understand all the complexity of what our organizations do and how they help, filter it to find the most compelling information, and then translate it into laymans terms for your audiences to get excited about.

Not an easy job, but a necessary one. Because if we don’t we’re likely to confuse and intimidate people, just like even the coolest science can confuse and intimate people if it isn’t explained in the right way.

The ad campaign that Krulwich mentions does a great job of doing that. It finds a few small sciencey facts that are interesting to pretty much everyone, and uses them to invite people in to learn more about science.

Head over to NPR’s Krulwich Wonders blog to see Robert Krulwich’s original post and the ad campaign he’s talking about, and get thinking about how might approach something similar for your nonprofit’s communications.