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A Colorado perspective: How this mountain state is meeting the moment

As we settle into 2022, it’s hard not to reflect on the pivotal events our country has been through, both devastating and triumphant, and think about what may lie ahead for us this year. To support our clients navigating this ever-changing era, the Spitfire team based in Denver, Colorado, has reflected on some of the stand-out communications work coming from organizations in the Centennial State.

Communities in our state and across the nation are experiencing first-hand the destructive impacts of climate change and racial injustice. Organizations in Colorado are navigating these ever-present issues while nimbly responding to a host of new challenges. Maintaining a clear outreach strategy with communities to build trust and rapport while balancing both long-standing structural and emergent challenges is no small task, but organizations in our state are stepping up to meet the moment. 

To recognize the pivotal work organizations in Colorado are doing, we are breaking down lessons and examples of strong communications work from the past year that you and your organization can adopt this year.

Connecting with audiences through shared values and commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Organizations must make clear the values they hold and how they incorporate them into their work. An organization's commitment to DEI begins with living their values in the office and with the communities they serve. Their communications practice must be the tool that enacts those values publicly. 

Keep it Colorado, an environmental conservation nonprofit, does this through their Vision, Mission & Values statement. Keep it Colorado takes it a step further and clearly outlines how their core values are reflected and shape their work on the ground. Creating a Colorado that protects and preserves its land, wildlife and people is the center of their work. Proving how an organization is helping the Colorado ecosystem is hard to show, but through their program highlights pages they offer bite-sized updates on their work across wildlife, plant, waters and lands preservation. These succinct examples make it easy for supporters to see a slice of Keep it Colorado’s impact and help build trust in their work. 

While Keep it Colorado is creating confidence through their website, other Colorado organizations take that task to social media. Protect Our Winters (POW) is one of the leading voices in Colorado fighting climate change by partnering with those who see its effects first-hand: outdoor sport recreationists. One way POW has demonstrated their commitment to DEI is through their Instagram Live interview with the National Brotherhood of Skiers President Henri Rivers. Since 1972, the National Brotherhood of Skiers has been on a mission to bring racial equity to winter sports and the snow-sport industry. What POW did in the Instagram Live interview was draw out the parallels between combating climate change and increasing diversity in the winter-sport industry – both of which require a structural and cultural shift for those already in the winter sports world and those trying to join. While a DEI statement on a company website is meaningful, POW demonstrated through this interview how their organization’s values are connected to and guide their mission, a tactic that is more compelling to audiences than a simple statement on a homepage.

For organizations that want to highlight their values and commitments to DEI in 2022, looking at these two organizations' approaches can be valuable lessons in how to approach value-based and DEI communications. Along with these, it is important to note that values not only impact the work you do but also your workplace culture. Linda Lidov, director of membership and communications at Keep it Colorado, shared how they communicate their values even outside of work:

We value Colorado, bold ideas, problem-solving, an inclusive and collective approach, a strong service ethic and balance. We aim to “live” our values not only in the workplace but in our personal lives as well, which creates a culture where we take care of each other and enjoy working together. 

Highlighting how your organization upholds values and DEI in your internal framework can be just as important as how it is demonstrated outside. 

Unlocking the potential of storytelling.

Organizations can demonstrate the real-world difference their work is making by highlighting perspectives directly from impacted and marginalized communities. The voices of Black, Latinx and Indigenous people talking about how the issue at hand affects them, and how a service or solution has improved their lives, is powerful.

The Denver Foundation (TDF), the largest community foundation in the Rocky Mountain West, used the power of stories to show the full cycle of one of their grantees and the impact their support made. In their blog post, Community Wealth Building Story: Community Language Cooperative, they tell the story of Indira Guzman, co-founder of the Community Language Cooperative (CLC), and her experience receiving a grant from The Denver Foundation. At a time when TDF was exploring the topic of co-ops, Guzman was laying the groundwork for CLC, a worker-owned company with six full-time employees and many part-time employees, all earning a livable wage. With grants from the foundation, CLC was able to pay for technical assistance to develop a website with electronic billing capacity. This led to CLC’s exponential growth, ultimately surpassing $1 million in revenue. 

The Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) compels their audiences through the stories of students whose successful high school and college years were set in motion thanks to DSF. In a blog post, Coming Full Circle, DSF alum Ismael Ramos shares his story of success through high school thanks to DSF’s Future Center, a college guidance service for Denver public school students. By providing the building blocks to prepare Ramos for new academic challenges, DSF helped him excel through college and after. Ramos’ story comes full circle in his work at Generational Teach STEAM Academy helping today's students succeed in their education.

Stories are vehicles that create an emotional connection with the reader. Whether it’s read by a donor, organization staff or the community they serve, the story of an organization’s work helps them maintain and build support for their cause. Instead of just listing examples of their work, TDF and DSF dug deeper into the stories behind their work to bring them to life, helping their audiences see the organization’s success first-hand. It’s also important to note that when using stories or personal narratives, you must always be mindful to uplift the voices of people with diverse racial, gender, age, geographic and other backgrounds.

Navigating communications in a new hybrid world.

With the uncertainty that COVID-19 and its new variants present, organizations are finding new ways to engage audiences so they can accommodate in-person and virtual participants, while ensuring safety. How organizations plan and execute hybrid events to connect with audiences through new hybrid models will be vital to an event's success. 

Denver-based Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and Outdoor Foundation work with outdoor industry companies to move the needle on outdoor recreation and trade policy, sustainable business innovation and outdoor advocacy. Their largest event, Outdoor Retailer, is a bi-annual trade show for the outdoor industry that includes recognizing nonprofits and advocacy groups working in the conservation and outdoor space. For the 2021 Annual Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards, OIA took a creative hybrid approach by hosting the awards virtually with a video showcasing the winners and included an in-person watch party for those at the show. This hybrid approach ensured attendees could attend in a setting that made them feel safe and engaged. Plus, because the event was recorded, it can serve as a resource to those in the field for years to come.

Space Foundation, based in Colorado Springs, is a nonprofit that advocates for all sectors of the space industry. For 37 years, the foundation has brought together the space community for their annual Space Symposium. In 2021, the symposium also took a hybrid approach, adjusting their traditional program to accommodate a new virtual event space. The foundation used their existing Symposium 365 platform to provide year-round access to recordings of symposium events, allowing those who could not join in person an opportunity to take part.

As some of the unpredictable factors we faced in 2021 follow us into this year, learning from the hybrid approaches OIA and Space Foundation took for their events can help organizations of any size plan and execute events in 2022. Organizations must communicate how the health and safety of attendees is being taken into consideration for every event. OIA does this seamlessly with a health and safety information page on their event website. This approach reassures participants and clearly defines the health and safety expectations well before attendants arrive. Successful hybrid events should also allow for flexibility. Because of ever-changing news and individuals’ varying comfort levels with large in-person gatherings, make sure people have options for how they engage with your event. As the Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards and the panel discussion at the Space Symposium did, offering virtual access to events also happening in person allowed attendees to pick an option that best suited their needs. 

Throughout the past year and once again in 2022, organizations are being thrust into a maze of communication obstacles, requiring diligent strategies that help them maintain engagement with partners, communities, funders and other supporters. From adjusting to hybrid spaces to creative storytelling and value-based communications, Colorado organizations are at the forefront of a new age of communication strategies. 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 at 08:02 am and is filed under Coalition, connection and network building, Digital strategy, Ethical and visual storytelling and Frame, narrative and message development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.