Strategic Ideas boost awareness of local nonprofit

By Sabrina Workman, Senior, Media & Communications Major

When asked to describe The Next Programs in one word, many participants said “fun”, “inclusive,” and “working.”

Hidden right off one of the main streets of Doylestown, The Next Step Programs (TNS) helps young adults transition from high school to the working community. The Next Step Programs was founded in 2015 to create opportunities for people with disabilities as they transition out of high school. TNS works with students, families, employers, school systems, and adults with disabilities to innovate new solutions to overcome everyday barriers. One of the organization’s current barriers is getting its message out to the general public. Created by co-founders Josh Fields and Ricky Price, the organization has grown in the eight years, but they need help getting their message to folks in and out of the disability community nationwide.

“Our message is a good message. But it needs the right tools and branding strategies to support our growth,” said Fields.

Josh Fields poses at the door of his new office. Photo by Sabrina Workman, for The Next Step.

That’s where social media comes in. It’s an excellent tool to help spread the message to new cities, states, and even countries. TNS continues to use a multitude of social media strategies to boost engagement and bring awareness to their mission.

What is the model?

Many nonprofits cannot hire the personnel they need to run their marketing and communications departments because of funding. A lack of funds is such an issue with many nonprofits, as they work to improve their community members’ lives. With a person in this department, you can get the message out, and by getting the message out, your platform will grow faster, and you will impact more people.

“As an advocacy organization, it is important for us to get our communities’ message out there. A dedicated PR person could help strengthen our media relations, fine-tune our current messaging, and help promote TNS to new communities in creative ways,” Fields said.

Hiring someone with the skills to run certain areas may be just what the organization needs. This person would be tech-savvy, able to run the website and social media and communicate with clients. A dedicated person who would focus on all things relating to communications and marketing would help a nonprofit. This marketing and communications-based staff member helps the community feel united and connected to the organization’s core mission.

Fields has mastered this, “By constantly working on perfecting our online presence (website, social media) through branding strategies (logo design, website accessibility, etc.), we were able to build credibility and respect from the community.”

TNS offers programs in Bucks County, Cumberland County and Lancaster County. In the new year, they plan to launch two new program sites in West Chester, PA and Pittsburgh, PA. Building credibility and respect enabled TNS to grow and expand in ways that Fields did not think were possible just a few years ago

A group of TNS volunteers, staff and participants at the Doylestown Office Grand Opening. Photo by Sabrina Workman, for The Next Step.

TNS works hard to create a robust and effective communication strategy. Their media team has a rigorous posting schedule, and they focus on increasing engagement on each post. Their posts always include photos depicting the organization’s activities and the happy faces of those in the community they serve. For some posts, such as promotion for an event, the team has a graphic and a photo; these get much lower engagement than other posts. What is a fix to this?

According to Morand, “You can only start creating content that will resonate with your audience once you know exactly who you’re hoping to engage. This is crucial because if your audience doesn’t find your content relevant, they won’t take action. For example, a lower-income audience might not be as likely to donate to your charity or nonprofit, so to combat this, you could create content to tell them that even the smallest contribution counts—or that sharing their time is equally as important.”

Room for Improvement  

What can TNS do to improve its social media? The answer might just be waiting. They often post about their programs and what they did during each of them, and they get good traction; it is different from what they hope for with a following of their size. Could it be an issue with gratitude?

“While social networks greatly amplify the reach of your fundraiser and expose your organization to a wider audience, this doesn’t mean you can get lazy with gratitude. A casual social media donor now could become a lifelong supporter down the line, and the difference-maker is your gratitude and stewardship post-share,” according to Berry.

That is not the case here; TNS thanks its donors and makes sure to include their logo on anything relating to what they donated. They have a wall of sponsors in the office and do other acts of gratitude. What is the solution to engaging their audience? It might be more personalized stories. Before dissecting how personalized stories might be the key to success for TNS, the elephant in the room is hashtags.

“As marketing guru Neil Patel points out, using hashtags in your caption often clutters your description and call to action and can actually put people off. The better option is to put your hashtags in a comment, like Water for People does, a nonprofit aiming to bring clean water all over the globe,” Morand says.

Making sure that your public image is clean, crisp, and non-cluttered is essential. This is an easy strategy for a nonprofit like TNS to start to implement this strategy on their Instagram posts.

Members of the TNS community pose at the Doylestown Office Grand Opening. Photo by Sabrina Workman, for The Next Step.

Taking the Next Step

One area where TNS shines is how often they post. They host programs 3-4 times per week and post at the end of each day.

Heuer explains this strategy: “Don’t just post a few times per month and then go “dark” for weeks on end. Create and post on a regular basis with a schedule that works for you and stick to it. That will make it easier for new followers to learn more about you and long-time followers to stay engaged in what you’re doing.”

As long as TNS continues to post and show their online community what is going on, they’ll continue to engage with their audience. Personalized stories might be the key to engagement here. In 2018, Fields started a video-blog series showcasing the young adults with whom TNS works. The series was revived in October of 2022. Videos show young adults with disabilities answering questions about their daily lives. While the videos are excellent, TNS could expand; they could post them to YouTube or take the audio track and make a podcast.

A podcast might appeal to many as Marsh, Guth & Short note that “Podcast writing favors the use of broad concepts, tangible examples, and big ideas.”

With the rebirth of the video stories and taking them to the next level, TNS will be able to continue raising their engagement.

By sharing the stories of the young adults they serve, TNS is engaging with its community. “Getting together with friends, having fun with them, it’s just really fun,” says Julia Shirey, a participant of TNS, “I love the community in Doylestown; it’s amazing.” 

Julia Shirey poses with other participants and Sabrina Workman (staff) as they explore Doylestown. Photo by The Next Step.

Making a difference in the lives of those in their community is vital to TNS, and this writer, as she serves as one of their student employees as the Communications Associate. Please help TNS grow and enrich the lives of the community they serve by donating to our Giving Tuesday Campaign at the following link:

Follow TNS on Instagram and Facebook, and check out TNS on 6abc’s Hometown Heroes!

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