Nonprofits, Writers, and Me: An Introduction to My Persona and Discourse Community

A picture of volunteers bagging meals.
Photo by Joel Muniz / Unsplash

This week, I have considered how to build my online presence, which skills I need to enhance my professional persona, and how I relate to and function in my discourse communities. I anticipate returning to these reflections often as I explore and pursue various writing opportunities.

Experience and Direction

I have spent more than twenty-five years working in nonprofit communications, which I define as resources, materials, and activities that increase financial and community support for a given nonprofit. Most recently, I served for nearly 15 years as the campaign director for a national appeal. Although I was technically a contractor, it was a full-time position. Last August, I resigned to explore other nonprofit possibilities.  

My plan had been to take a little time off and then pursue freelance work for nonprofits, which I have done previously. However, recent changes in my personal responsibilities made the timing right for me to seek a graduate degree. I am not sure if I will be able to finish the whole program before going back to work, but hopefully I will be able to complete several classes. While I imagine returning to the nonprofit arena, I am open to other opportunities that may arise from completing this degree.

Intersecting Discourse Communities

Nonprofit communicators engage with two discourse communities: nonprofit professionals and writing professionals. Beginning in the nonprofit world, communicators must understand and be able to articulate a nonprofit’s goals and the activities that staff members undertake in pursuit of these goals. Additionally, a nonprofit communicator must have a working knowledge of the field of development. Fundraising consultant Hank Lewis notes that while development includes raising money, the larger goal is to build relationships that lead donors to make a long-term commitment to supporting a particular nonprofit.

My experience working for and with nonprofit professionals is that they are highly committed to the causes they serve, and this commitment inspires them to work hard, long hours. They are continually striving to find creative ways “to do more with less,” an expectation that Robichau et.al point to in their article on interventions to address burnout among nonprofit workers.

Nonprofit communicators may also find a discourse community among the professionals they collaborate with to create content, such as graphic designers and copy editors. In small nonprofits, the communicator may need to fill multiple roles, serving as both writer and designer. In these instances, a discourse community is often found through virtual exchanges with others in the field. For example, I subscribe to the Chicago Manual of Style, which gives me access to its online discussion forum. This has been a go-to resource for me to find answers and insights on all kinds of content- and production-related questions.

Like other technical and professional writers, nonprofit communicators often serve as translators between creative staff and program staff. This is a skill I hope to share through my newly created website.

Building An Online Presence

Apparently, I have a common name because all the iterations of Beth Kennedy that I wanted for my website were taken. I have encountered this issue previously, and it was one of the (lame) excuses I used for not creating a personal website sooner. In the end, I chose bethkennedywriting.com. This is longer than I had hoped, but it follows other guidelines that Dr. Lucas outlined, such as being easy to remember and spell. It is also generic enough that if I decide to move away from nonprofit communications to pursue other types of writing, I can just update the text of my site.

Website Design Considerations

Through my website, I want to convey that I am a resource to help nonprofit professionals, who, as noted above, are often harried. My aim was for a simple, clean design with easy navigation. I chose a neutral background to provide ample contrast to the sans serif text. In the web design class I took last term, we read an article about color psychology, and I learned that blue can communicate a sense of reliability. So, I used blue accent colors for all my headings. I will continue to tweak the design, but so far it works for both desktop and mobile.

Right now, the website’s pages and text are limited. My “About” page contains a one-sentence bio, as suggested in Scott Berkun’s guidelines, followed by two sentences that express how I can help nonprofits. Two longer-range goals I have are to build a portfolio page of writing samples, perhaps including some of the pieces I create in this program, and to add client endorsements.

One-Stop Shopping

If I continue in the nonprofit area, I hope to work with smaller nonprofits. My experience is that these organizations need their communicators to be “one-stop shops” with the skills necessary to plan, write, edit, and design content. So, I aim to enhance my mastery of the skills discussed in Digital Literacy for Writing, including gaining proficiency in both search engine optimization (SEO) and social media management.

At the same time, learning and practicing the clear, concise writing that Dr. Lucas introduced last week, is an important and necessary skill. Whether it’s an e-newsletter, writing for the web, or even an executive summary for a grant application, it is critical to deliver text that quickly captures and informs the audience. Finally, in The Significance of Credibility in Digital Writing, Dr. Lucas discusses the need to reflect integrity in content by providing “accurate information” and “reliable sources.” I aim to strengthen my research and citation skills, and I promised myself that before submitting this post, I would make an appointment with Dana Casper, the graduate studies librarian. (Done!)

A Work In Progress

Like my personal persona, my professional persona is a work in progress. While it is easy to be overwhelmed by the things I need to learn, my focus right now is to gain skills step-by-step.

Beth Kennedy

Beth Kennedy

Beth Kennedy has spent more than 25 years in nonprofit communications, helping organizations connect with their supporters. Currently, she is graduate student in Technical and Professional Writing.
North Carolina