What can messaging do for your organization?
A nonprofit’s approach to messaging should strategically advance its mission and engage its staff as brand ambassadors. Farra Trompeter, co-director, chats with Wayne Ho, president, and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council, about the lasting impact of their branding and messaging work.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and member-owner at Big Duck. Today we are going to explore the question, “What can messaging do for your staff and for your organization?” And I am very delighted to be joined by a former client, my neighbor, and friend, Wayne Ho. Wayne has actually been on the podcast several times before. You may have heard him when he joined Sarah in a conversation back in 2018, discussing how we can communicate without communication staff. And then back in 2019, he discussed how you can facilitate better internal communications. Wayne, I’m delighted to have you back with us today, and before we get started, I’m going to tell you a little bit more about him.
Farra Trompeter: Wayne Ho, he/him, is the president and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council, the nation’s largest Asian American social services agency based here in New York City. Last year, CPC served over 280,000 community members of all backgrounds and ages through 50 programs throughout New York City, and successfully advocated for $20 million from the state and $5 million from the city to promote Asian American recovery and safety. Wayne previously held leadership positions at policy and advocacy nonprofits and serves on several nonprofit boards. Wayne, welcome back.
Wayne Ho: Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to this conversation.
Farra Trompeter: Great. Well, let’s start by talking a little bit more about the Chinese-American Planning Council, or as I mentioned, CPC. CPC was founded in 1965 as a grassroots community-based organization in response to the end of the Chinese Exclusion years that coincided with the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Poverty, and the vast influx of Chinese immigrants after the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. Today, CPC is the largest Asian American social services agency in the US, not just in New York, and now, here we are nearly 60 years since its founding, and I’m curious Wayne, how do you describe CPC’s current purpose these days?
Wayne Ho: CPC’s goals remain the same. Our mission is to promote the social and economic empowerment of Asian American immigrant and low-income New Yorkers. We want to make sure that kids are educated, that young people succeed in college and career, that seniors can age in place and thrive, and we want to make sure that New Yorkers of all backgrounds can achieve their goals with their family in their education, in their career, and in the community. Last year, our core services served over 80,000 community members, and this goes from children to seniors coming to our afterschool programs, our senior centers, our Meals on Wheels programs, but due to the pandemic as well as the rise in Anti-Asian hate, our rapid response programs saw 200,000 New Yorkers. These are community members coming to us for the first time needing financial assistance because they lost their jobs, needing to sign up for public benefits because they need to keep food on the tables or stay in their homes, or because of Hurricane Ida, they needed some financial assistance, especially the undocumented population. Just recently, about 300 asylum seekers moved into Chinatown, and CPC once again stepped up to the plate and we held a welcome dinner with Chinatown nonprofit partners and Lower East Side nonprofit partners to give the asylum seekers not just their one hot meal of the week, but also making sure that we could connect them with legal services and job training programs and ESOL programs and more.
Farra Trompeter: Thanks for sharing that. You know, I’m very proud of the work we do with all of our clients, but I’m feeling especially proud right now as you share both the history of what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been doing recently.
Farra Trompeter: And so, just going back in time for our listeners, in 2018, Big Duck worked very closely with your team to develop a new brand strategy, new messaging, and a plan to roll out that messaging, particularly with staff as the primary audience. You have over 700 staff spread over 50 programs throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and our goal was really to make sure they understood how to describe the agency overall. And that was a huge challenge, I think, when you have so many staff in so many places, getting them to have one universal message is difficult. And as you shared with us then staff from one site to another would speak very differently about CPC just because of what they knew, and that was because maybe they had some gaps in onboarding or orientation as well as internal professional development. Five years later, here we are. How is this showing up for your team? How is this issue of being on the same page with describing CPC – is it still as big of a challenge as it once was? Talk a little bit about how you feel like the work impacted the organization, looking back then to now.
Wayne Ho: Big Duck’s work really helped us progress as an organization. It was key to making sure that we positioned ourselves as a leader in New York City’s nonprofit sector. Big Duck helped us define our mission, our vision, create our tagline, and helped us refine our organizational values. And those four things of vision, mission, tagline, and values drive how we onboard our staff, how we orient new board members, and how we continuously remind our staff and board members in the different touchpoints that we have. So, for example, once a month we have orientations for our new staff. And as part of that orientation, we always lead with our vision, mission tagline, and values. And we want to make sure that our staff understand not only what the words mean, but also how that plays out in our programming choices as well as our policy and advocacy work. That has helped us remind our staff through our monthly supervisors meetings, which are program leads, as well as in our all-staff meetings, which happened quarterly.
Wayne Ho: Because of the pandemic, we’ve been able to move our all-staff meetings to be virtual, and on every slide, we make sure our logos are being used. The first couple slides always include our vision, mission, tagline, and organizational values. The bottom of every slide includes our tagline, and we always remind our staff about our communication and branding guidelines.
Wayne Ho: We have also been fortunate to raise enough funding to hire our first director of communications. Our director of communications has been enforcing and carrying out our communication guidelines. We’ve been able to use common language on our social media accounts as well as in our brochures, our annual report, and any other collateral that we develop. All of this is tied together from educating our staff internally to making sure, then, that they are the best messengers for us externally.
Farra Trompeter: That’s great. I know one of the other core deliverables we provided for your team was an elevator pitch, which is just the common way to answer “What is CPC?” And I think that was really vital so that everyone was kind of speaking from the same place in answering that question. And when we were preparing for this call, one of the things that you shared that I was happy to hear was that beyond the elevator pitch and the tagline and some of those other elements, you’ve seen your team use this common language, like you said, not, you know, in social media and annual reports, but also across grants and other external communications materials and channels. And I’m just curious if there’s any other benefits you’ve seen in terms of how having that stronger internal communications has led to better external communications.
Wayne Ho: When Big Duck started doing work with us five years ago, CPC was predominantly a government-funded nonprofit organization. Over 90% of our budget was government-funded. Part of my vision for CPC was making sure that we would have more private funding that would allow us to be more flexible and nimble in our programming. So that meant connecting with foundations, corporations, and individual donors. The work that Big Duck provided to us was that platform to better reach private funders. We made sure that our grant proposals included our elevator pitch and explained how our vision and mission drove our goals and our programming. We found out that the way that we spoke about CPC’s programming and policy work resonated with new funders. They liked hearing about our history in the Chinese-American community, as well as how we’ve grown to reach a more diverse population. They liked hearing how that we are a nonprofit organization that provides social services, that can create social change.
Wayne Ho: Because it’s resonated with donors when the pandemic hit, we were actually very fortunate that our fundraising was there and our network was there. In fact, several new funders found us through our social media networks, and they came to us and said, “We see the positive work that CPC is doing in stopping anti-Asian hate, in feeding seniors, in making sure people who’ve lost their jobs can stay in their homes, can keep food on the table. So, we received funding from foundations like the singer Rihanna as well as receiving the largest grant we’ve ever received from MacKenzie Scott. So we are very thankful that we have found a way of talking about our work, why we do our work, how we’ve impacted the community, and that’s resonated with funders.
Farra Trompeter: For our listeners out there, just want to note that we can’t guarantee that doing branding and messaging work will get you on MacKenzie Scott’s radar, but I’m glad that happened for you, Wayne. And in addition to the connection that you’re making between having strong branding and messaging to fundraising, I also know that the organization has been doing a lot of advocacy work, and I’m curious how you’ve seen the updated messaging support or hinder your efforts to promote social change and do your advocacy work.
Wayne Ho: Another piece of my vision for CPC was making sure that we not only provided the best programs to our community members but making sure that the conditions in which our community members lived and worked could be improved. And that meant that CPC had a responsibility to educate elected officials and to advocate for better policies and funding and services for our diverse community members. The vision, mission, and values that Big Duck helped us create really determines the type of policy positions that we take, the tone of our policy statements, as well as the partnerships we developed to push forward our advocacy agenda.
Wayne Ho: We also found out that our communications work internally got more staff involved in our policy and advocacy efforts. It was not only my policy team and myself that were now talking to legislators. We had everyone from frontline staff working in our afterschool programs to the directors of our senior centers, to the manager of our group home for the developmentally disabled who wanted to tell the stories of their community members and who wanted to push for better policies or services or funding for our community members. So we recently started an advocacy advisory council that is made up of over 20 staff across the different programs at different levels of the organization. And at the orientation of our advocacy advisory council, we reminded them of the vision, mission, values of CPC.
Wayne Ho: Because we have been successful in our policy and advocacy work, it has led to some challenging times for us at CPC. For example, last year there was a proposal to bring in three homeless shelters into Chinatown. We had some leaders in the Chinatown community who reached out to CPC and asked us to join them in protesting the shelters. As CPC, we lead with our values, which is: “We are our community, we embrace our community, and we empower our community.” And we recognize that while we have a legacy and history in the Asian American community, we also have been making more impacts with diverse staff and diverse community members.
Wayne Ho: We also know that as a social services organization that marginalized and underserved New Yorkers need a variety of programs to get them back on their feet. So we can have tough conversations about whether shelters are equitably cited. We can talk about whether shelters have proper services. We can talk about whether or not they are hiring appropriately to serve the unhoused. But CPC, as a social services organization, cannot stand against having shelters in New York City and in the different neighborhoods of New York City. So, that’s where at times we had to have tough conversations from board members to staff members to community leaders about why CPC’s values drive us to not protest the shelters.
Farra Trompeter: I appreciate so much of what you’re saying. It is important to have that clear vision, mission, and values, and it’s always an honor when we get to work with organizations to think about how those are articulated and build on what’s there. But you’re also talking about how those show up in your day-to-day decisions in your fundraising, in your communications, and in your advocacy. So thank you for sharing all of that.
Farra Trompeter: For organizations like yours, particularly those with staff across multiple locations or even states, those that are engaging with lots of different audiences, do you have any tips for how they can continuously engage and inform their team so that the experience of the organization and the brand is clear, compelling, and consistent?
Wayne Ho: One of the most important things to have consistent messaging with your staff is to have visuals. We devoted resources towards printing out our logos as well as having our vision, mission, and values translate into three languages – English, Chinese, and Spanish. And I went around to all of our 35 program sites to put up these logos and put up these statements and to introduce them to each of our staff, and this includes staff who’ve been with CPC for over 50 years and those staff who just joined us five days ago.
Wayne Ho: In addition to visuals, you need to have consistent trainings with your staff. So, that’s where we once again make sure from new staff orientation to our monthly supervisor’s meetings, we are continuously reminding our staff about our branding guidelines and how to use appropriately our vision, mission, and values.
Wayne Ho: The most important thing for us as a nonprofit organization is to be mission-driven. And as we are working with community members that are experiencing trauma, that are at risk of homelessness, who experience racism and discrimination, including the unfortunate rise in anti-Asian hate, we need to make sure that values drive our work. And I often remind my board members as well as my staff members that we always lead with our values, from our programming decisions to our policy decisions.
Farra Trompeter: I really appreciate that, and I appreciate so much of the ideas and tips and insights you shared today. If you’re out there listening and you’d like to learn more and connect with Wayne, you can find him on LinkedIn at Wayne Ho, W-A-Y-N-E-H-O. You can also connect with the Chinese-American Planning Council online at their website, cpc-nyc.org. They’re also on Twitter and Instagram, @cpc_nyc and on Facebook at CPC.NYC.
Farra Trompeter: Wayne, thanks again for another great conversation. Before we go, anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
Wayne Ho: Thank you again for having me join your podcast. It means a lot that I’m here for three times, so hopefully your listeners can listen to all three together and understand what we’ve gone through in the last five years.
Wayne Ho: In terms of making sure that messaging and communications stick, it’s important to consistently remind your internal messengers about it, and that means educating your board members as well as educating your staff members. The next goal right now for CPC, because we have been expanding not just our services but also our policy work, is using our values and vision and mission to educate our own community members.
Farra Trompeter: Well, thank you so much for all the great work that you do, and if you are out there and want to listen to the other episodes and conversations with Wayne, feel free to go to BigDuck.com/insights, and you can look at the transcript for this episode in which we will link to those previous episodes. Wayne, thanks again.
Wayne Ho: Thank you.