What to Do when Your Nonprofit’s Approach Differs Radically From the One that’s Grabbing the Headlines

Who could have missed front page headlines about Harvard making the decision to drop its early admissions program? And then the ones Princeton grabbed when it decided to follow course. Of course, these are prestige institutions, and it’s no surprise that their actions command attention. But, in doing so, they establish a precedent that’s hard to fight.

So what do you do if your organization (or, in this case, a smaller, less media-focused, college or university) takes another direction? In a way, such a strong and widely publicized precedent puts your organization in a position of defending its divergent choice. But, as always, positioning this choice in a positive way is the best defense.

For a great model of positive positioning, take a look at this statement by Muhlenberg College on the reasons it’s upholding its early admissions policy. Muhlenberg’s communicators have done a fantastic job in presenting their approach as a positive (and it truly is, they felt this way before Harvard and Princeton changed their minds, but had no need to defend it).

A couple of pointers your nonprofit can take away from Muhlenberg’s communications coup:

  • No need to mention the organization you differ from in perspective and decision. Your readers will know the context. But this statement is all about you, not them. Use the opportunity to showcase your organization’s savvy thinking.
  • Its ideal to root your position in context, e.g. one that your organization has held prior to the headlines featuring another perspective. Rather than saying "we’ve been doing so since 1967…," root your position in real-life date-stamped stores.

All too often we (consciously or sub-consciously) avoid such communications confrontations, and miss these great opportunities for self-organization. Think of it as a conversation. Harvard got the first word, but not necessarily the last. Follow Muhlenberg’s example and grab the opportunities. And remember, nothing is better than being early and loud when you do so.

(Via Bob Johnson)

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Nancy Schwartz on September 28, 2006 in Branding and Messages, Case Studies, Crisis Communications, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments
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