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29: PR is Not Just For Big Nonprofits and Here’s Why with Domonique James

PR is Not Just For Big Nonprofits and Here’s Why with Domonique James

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“I do think we do need to re-imagine in society who the leaders and experts are that we need to be listening to.”

– Domonique James

Episode #29

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

I talk to Domonique James the CEO & Founder of  Politics with Purpose, a political communications agency helping leaders raise their influence to serve and empower others in media, politics, and philanthropy through PR and other outreach efforts.  

It might be Thursday, but we couldn’t wait another week to introduce you to this amazing guest. So, in honor of Black History Month, we released two episodes this week with two inspiring Black women. 

In this episode, Domonique explains why media is a fundamental part of any organization, and why we as a society need to shift our thinking around expertise to include everyday experts. We talk about how nonprofits can stop being the “best-kept secret” and instead demonstrate their expertise and influence in a variety of ways.

Join this conversation to hear Domonique break down how to identify the right press partners for you, and how to actually get on their radar. You don’t want to miss the PR and communications 101 lesson from this amazing expert.

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PR is Not Just For Big Nonprofits and Here’s Why with Domonique James
PR is Not Just For Big Nonprofits and Here’s Why with Domonique James
PR is Not Just For Big Nonprofits and Here’s Why with Domonique James

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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

MALLORY ERICKSON

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episode transcript

Mallory: Welcome everyone. I’m so thrilled to be here today with Dominique James, Dominique and I met almost a year ago now. It has been so exciting to follow your work and to connect in different ways. And I’m just so thrilled to have you here with me today. So thanks so much for joining.

Domonique: Thank you for inviting me! I’m looking forward to talk to you and your listeners. 

Mallory: So let’s just start with you introducing yourself. Tell us a little bit about your background and what brings you to your work. What does your work look like in everyday practice?

Domonique: Excellent. My name is Dominique James. I’m the founder and CEO of Politics with Purpose. We’re a political communications agency based in DC, but I work with phenomenal change-makers all around the country. And I do what I call ‘help leaders rise’. So that is to raise their influence to serve and empower others in media, in politics and in philanthropy.

And the reason why I do that is because the world is a hot mess right now. Let’s just be honest. I grew up in a low income background and I’m really an example of what happens when society gets impacted. So even though I grew up in a poor family and I had a Federal Pell Grant, I had scholarships, I was in mentorship programs, you name it.

It allowed me to go from a poor family to working for the US president. And I don’t think that what happens to me should be a unique story, that should really be the norm. If we have public private partnerships that are really meeting the needs of people, especially, I’m sure I was considered an at-risk student, but in order to do that, I would say something we’re missing and what I’m really excited to talk to you about today is we really need to elevate or help everyday experts as I call them.

So these are the people with not only that lived experience, but also that issue and local expertise. We really need them to be the voices that we listen to that are featured in the media, helping write and craft policy, because then we’re going to be able to fill all those blind spots that we have in society and really get social impact.

So that’s why my firm’s called Politics with Purpose. I really do believe politics is a vehicle through which we can address a lot of our challenges in society. And I’m excited to help folks who are doing the great work on the ground to get recognized as the leaders and the change-makers that they are.

Mallory: There’s so many directions I want to take in this conversation, but perhaps let’s just start with defining a few terms that come up in your communications work. PR public relations press, even maybe the way you talk about influencers. Can you  talk us through how you think about those different components? And maybe take us a step back and explain how we, as the everyday consumers of information, validate expertise. Where do we look for expertise? How are we learning? Because it sounds to me like a big part of your work is saying “Okay, this is where people are really being influenced”. And so who are the voices on that platform? Who belongs there?

Domonique: We absolutely need to be disruptors and disrupt politics as usual; philanthropy as usual, even media as usual. So one of the first places that I like to start with all the clients that I work with is understanding and really embracing the fact that you are an expert and not only are you the expert, but you are actually the secret to social change. And I know for the phenomenal people I work with, I imagine for everyone listening to this podcast, now we are addressing education equity, economic inequity.

I was just on a call with a coalition earlier today. They’re organizing around childcare. We’re solving a lot of these issues that keep holding people back and really society from reaching its full potential. So when you see yourself as an expert, when you see yourself as the gift or the person who has the secret or the answer to our problems, it then becomes a no brainer and why you need to raise your influence, not only in the media, but in all of these necessary sectors, because if we keep listening to the wrong people, we’re going to keep repeating the same mistakes.

And this is why we sit around and we’re saying nothing’s changed, right? Because fundamentally we’re overlooking the people who are making the decisions or the stories that we’re telling. So one of the ways we can do it is in the media and I’m going to use media very broadly. But when I do a lot of media training with organizations, you get to look at it like a landscape.

So when we say media, we broadly think TV, print, and digital, any communication platform I should say. And at least in how I look at the world, you typically have your DC insider policy media landscape, which you may need to address. Then you may have your general public landscape.

You may have an industry or niche kind of landscapes or other people in your world who you may need to influence or communicate your message. And then there’s also the social media landscape. So traditional news landscape and then a social media landscape. So I’ll use media broadly, but if you want to think of it like any way in which you are disseminating or communicating your message, you should absolutely be there, which is why I think communication is so fundamental to the success of political and advocacy organizations, but also the nonprofit organizations that I know. 

Mallory: And do you see a lot of resistance sometimes in the nonprofit sector from valuing PR work or communications work in that way? 

Domonique: Yes. I think it’s twofold. One, I don’t think that people see themselves as the experts. I was joking with a client the other day and I was like “I just want to kill the phrase ‘community service’, like death to ‘community service’, because I think it has all these connotations of we’re doing this like a charity, if you will.

And I think sometimes when you think of your work as like a charity, you lose the intentionality right behind it. And the real power and purpose of why this work needs to be done. And in the media, a big secret, especially when I’m pitching journalists or stories or activation events, they are always looking for experts.

I’m sure we’ll dive into how to tell your story and whatnot, but I can tell you, the world is actually looking for you and your expertise and the work that you do and why it’s important. And so for nonprofit leaders, I think yes, there is a stigma in one phrase I always hear people say “I just feel like the best kept secret”.

Or “We’re doing the work, but this other organization got the credit” or “This organization is so much bigger than us, but we’re really doing that one thing that’s making a difference”. And it’s not that you want credit from a pride perspective, but I think that people want credit to be seen and to be heard.

Because fundamentally they can contribute to that conversation, which is why I like to call that ‘influence’ and not necessarily charity or service, as we’re doing some really important work to hold society together.

Mallory: Yeah, I love that. If I got to get rid of any word, it would probably be ‘charity’ because this is why we’re on the podcast. 

Domonique: This is not charity. We are very intentional. We are doing this with a purpose.

Mallory: I think the thing that’s really important about that language is ‘community service charity’ doesn’t really acknowledge the reason why we have to do this work. Things have been taken away. People have been disenfranchised. People have been marginalized by these systems.

And I think that can be really problematic too. Especially when we talk about volunteerism. It’s interesting, like in Reform Judaism -my family is Jewish- there’s this term Tikkun Olam, which is one of the pillars of the cultural practices and it means ‘repairing the world’.

It’s the basis of community action and social change in that culture. And I go back there a lot because there are things to be repaired that we’ve broken, that we’ve messed up as humans. Maybe not us personally, but sometimes us personally. And so I really liked the way you challenge folks to think about the terminology they’re using and the implications of that.

Domonique: Ah, again, this is why we’re here and maybe this is breaking news. Maybe this’ll be a TED Talk of mine one day, but if you really think about it, if society were doing things right, we wouldn’t necessarily need philanthropy. If we funded education equitably, and kids could go to school and get an education and it wasn’t dependent on your zip code or all of these other loopholes, we wouldn’t need nonprofit organizations that specialize in bridging the gap. If we actually did things right, we wouldn’t have to go back and really do all this patchwork.

Maybe it’s low expectations or intentional  negligence with some issues because we’re really setting our sights too low, but when you attack the issue head on. I have worked with a phenomenal nonprofit called College to Congress, it provides all expenses internships for Pell Grant students and other students from underserved communities to intern with a member of Congress. So they’re covering transportation, housing, clothing stipend and food stipend so the students don’t come here and work a second job. So that they can focus fully on this internship experience. And for those of us who believe in hard work -I’ve had to work two and three jobs at one point in my life- You really have this trade-off. But if we do things right, if we create a way for students to have true access and have true equity, there are phenomenal things that they can go on to do.

And that non-profit in particular, in the span of just three or four years, I’ve seen people go from congressional intern to running for office and becoming elected as a commissioner. Another student just got into Harvard. So from college to Congress to Cambridge, from college to congress to a commissioner and the sky is really the limit, but it all came from solving that true problem and really opening the door, not cracking it, but really opening the door so that people can flourish. That’s been my experience and why I’m so passionate about working with those everyday experts and change-makers who are doing things right. 

Mallory: Okay. So I wanted to talk about this everyday expert piece and how it relates to nonprofit leadership. Something we often see in nonprofits, particularly when founders are transitioning, one of the big fears around their transition is that everybody knows them and they’re giving because of them. Almost to the point where perhaps they have some fear around the way they’ve leveraged themselves as the everyday expert instead of the organization as the everyday expert.

And I think in your work, you really do both, right? Like you help elevate thought leadership from individuals, but you also do it in a way that’s sustainable for an organization. So even if a person moves on that thought leadership stays with the organization. So can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Domonique: Yes, absolutely. So you as an individual are a brand. My everyday experts are leaders or brands, and then they’re also branding a movement and that movement can vary.

I think someone who’s done this beautifully is a woman named Reshma Saujani. I used to work with her, but for those listeners who may not know her, she’s the founder of Girls Who Code. At the time when I was introduced to her, she was a political candidate and then ended up starting Girls Who Code after the race.

But I think she beautifully illustrates that, because she started Girls Who Code to close the gender equity gap in tech, and she did this with herself not being a coder person, but really took on this organization on, and it’s a household name in that industry. And she’s recently transitioned out of the role.

Now she’s taken on, she’s written several books around other issues that are still in that wheelhouse, but fundamental to who she is. So one of her books is called Brave, not Perfect. So it’s embracing failure as a key to success. Now I know that she’s championing paid leave and other childcare issues, and it’s still within her brand and wheelhouse. No longer associated necessarily with Girls who Code. It’s been several years, maybe 10 years since the organization has been around, but she’s transitioned out and founded a new leadership just yesterday. 

We saw that Jack Dorsey stepped down as the CEO of Twitter, but Twitter is not going anywhere. He has several other vendors. And so when you brand yourself and that issue or issues that are important to you, that change you want to make in the world, that’s what you want to carry with you. And then your organizations, your job titles, your books, whatever it may be, those are just vehicles by which your core purpose is manifesting itself.

If you’re a good leader. If you built a good organization and have a thriving movement, it should live beyond you. Cause that’s what legacy is about. So that’s ultimately what people like the Reshmas and the Jack Dorsey’s of the world are constantly manifesting their purpose in different ways, and it’s not restricted to one organization or one entity.

Mallory:  I love that. And I think it’s helpful as you think about the storytelling of your personal brand, that your work with a certain organization is a piece of the story. And so I’m sure there are content pillars that are aligned or mission pillars that are aligned, but they ultimately can both exist without the others in direct connection.

I want to go back to something you said earlier that I’m really curious about, which is thinking inside organizations. One of the things that you started off talking about is how often nonprofit leaders undervalue their expertise. I also have seen inside nonprofit leaders sometimes who perhaps think of themselves too much as the expert over the expertise of their staff who perhaps have other lived experiences more closely related to the work that the organization is doing or in the community where the organization is working. How do you navigate that? When you’re brought into an organization to create stories or narratives or press around multiple people in an organization where they each hold an expertise that is critically important to the overall narrative. 

Domonique: Things are coming out for me and I don’t know if it’s navigating through your question, but this is probably going to sound like a shameless plug. But when nonprofit organizations go through hard times, I always hear that the first people to get cut are normally the salespeople, the communications people. I think that’s completely reductive, ’cause in my philosophy, money and media are like the two things that you need. I always tell my clients “That’s the gas in the car”. 

And so when it comes to first valuing expertise, I think a lot of nonprofit organizations get stuck doing the work or the program, which is so important, but then you get stuck in being the best kept secret, because you’re not telling the story about why you’re working there and the lives that you’re changing, et cetera. So in my opinion, I would say let’s prioritize money and media, because it will give you that fuel to continue to sustain your programs. So with that being said, I think about how I’ve seen organizations navigate their staff expertise or what I think your question is asking, are you CEOs taking on too much when they should lean on other people, other staff and their expertise to do the work? Is that kind of what your question is getting to? 

Mallory: The thing that you said at the very beginning was about how critical it is that specific voices are heard when we’re learning about different issues and that those voices are the folks who have either been most impacted by the issue we’re learning about or are in closest proximity. I think that can look a number of different ways.

I really hear in your work this desire for narratives to be centered around people who are the closest to the issue we’re trying to solve. And sometimes when you look at nonprofit leadership, there is a gap between the lived experience of the problem you’re solving and the expertise of the people running the organization.

And so I’m trying to flush out how we see that. With white leaders, particularly. Working in communities of People of Color, Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous. How do we hold organizations accountable and give them some next steps around? How do you elevate the voices of your different staff members who have lived experiences that actually make them the everyday expert on this issue, perhaps even more than your executive director. 

Domonique: Yeah, I think first and foremost, and this goes for everybody. I think you need to look in the mirror and we all just need to have some honesty and challenge our way of thinking. And think “Am I really the best person to carry this message?”.

And if not, who is that person? And I think a real example is something I hear a lot in progressive politics. It’s a stereotype where people will say “Democrats are awful messengers. They just are not good at messaging”. And I’m like “It’s a no brainer guys”, because while we have phenomenally talented and goodwill people who are great at what they do, if you haven’t lived this experience, you can’t talk about it with the kind of color and clarity and authenticity necessary for somebody to know, hear and understand. That you know exactly what they’re going through.

I’m not picking political sides or anything, but if we keep doing this playbook, we keep having the same people in staff, but we’re not moving the needle, that’s where that internal work needs to happen. And so that’s where you first have to be honest. And that’s whether you are white executive or a purple executive, it does not matter.

Are you really the person who has that clarity and authenticity with the work? Now, it doesn’t mean you have to have that 100% lived experience again, in the case of a Reshma. She wasn’t a coder, right? But she was exceptionally well-versed in gender issues, equity issues, and the economic significance of having a generation of girls enter the sector.

With jobs that start at, in many cases, a hundred thousand dollars, you are fundamentally changing the financial trajectory of the family. And so I know that was the core driver in a lot of this work. And she obviously had a background that could connect in different ways to that experience.

When you’re an honest leader and a humble leader, this is where I believe it becomes easy to empower those people who can carry the message so much further than you can. And I see this trend in social media a lot. In addition to my role, I’m also a political advisor to Buzzfeed’s digital team and something we talk about regularly when we’re sitting down is  the importance of these micro-influencers and in this crowded communication space, especially on the internet when this information is at an all time high. People are filtering out information and they’re looking for someone to trust.

And so brands, I think, look to Buzzfeed because they know that you have a pulse on culture and society and digital. You’re a way more effective messenger than I could ever be. And you would be surprised at some of the clients that they work with for some of their digital campaigns and Buzzfeed is the one carrying their message, but it lands with the people it needs to land with.

And there’s no ego in that, in the corporate space, but somehow in this kind of social justice space, I wonder where egos come into play, where you actually want the credit, or you want to be the face. When we’re actually looking and saying “How can we be more effective in moving this message forward and getting it out to the masses?”, because that’s going to make all of us look a little better. 

So it starts again with, I think, just brutal honesty. Hopefully on this podcast, you can hear that I’m a pretty straight shooter. And I think when you’re honest, that’s when it allows you to have clarity and see where your gaps are and the next step then is going and actually empowering the people to be the decision makers or to tell their stories instead of you being the sole messenger.

Mallory: That is so good. I love so many things about what you just said. And I think that you’re bringing up this really interesting point around ego. And it’s so interesting because so many of the things that you’re talking about, I see both sides. We’re talking about the leaders who are afraid to call themselves the expert, right?

I talk a lot about visibility, challenges that many leaders face of discomfort, being visible, and the way that perfectionism can play into that. And so my guess is that a lot of what holds certain folks back from calling themselves an expert is that they’re like “There’s gotta be someone out there who knows more about this than me”. And so that quest for perfection then gets in the way of them ever showing up as fully as they can. 

Domonique: Yeah. And fundamentally, I guess that’s what my work is about. Redefining who we consider experts and looking at an advocacy space. I remember this report I saw. Some like Ivy League university had published this report and it basically boiled down to the fact that housing is too expensive. Life is too expensive. And people can’t afford to live. 

If you spoke with regular people, we didn’t need to commission this hundred thousand dollars study to find out that life is too expensive for people right now. This is again why I think it’s so important for people to do this shift and say, actually, you are the expert, because you’re speaking about something that people are only reading. And you can actually, again, bring these issues to life.

And so it really does start with you acknowledging and embracing the fact that you are an expert. And I would hope you would consider yourself an expert. If you are working again, you have a full-time job and whatever these issues are, you see these issues day in, day out, you’re changing and transforming lives.

You absolutely can sit down and speak with authority about what’s missing and what needs to change. I can tell you when I’m pitching leaders to the media, one of the first things that I have to be able to do is explain like who you are. Why you’re the person they need to be talking to and why your work matters.

So if you are not an expert or if you can not talk about your issue with some clarity or authority, then yes, this is why you’ll continually be overlooked in the media and with all of these other opportunities, because you’re fundamentally telling the world society that you don’t know what you’re talking about and that clearly is not the case. So it starts with that shift. And I do think we do need to re-imagine in society who the leaders and experts are that we need to be listening to. 

Mallory: I’m so glad we went back there because I think what you’re talking about is so important. And one of the challenges inside the nonprofit sector here in particular is the fact that so much hasn’t really been professionalized in a way that it has in other sectors. There’s stigma sometimes around nonprofit employment. I heard so much throughout my career. “Oh, Mallory, why don’t you go work at Google? You’re so capable”, all of this stuff. I was like “What do you think I’m doing over here?”. Some of this is rooted in the history of the nonprofit sector, that it was a way in many ways to get women out of the workforce post-WWII so that the men could go and reclaim their jobs.

And so it was this third sector emergence that fell in a less professionalized lens, less institutionalized. And I think what you’re saying is really important because you don’t need to go get a postdoc to be an expert in something, it’s not the only way to be an expert. And I have such respect for your work because I see the way you’re elevating leaders to own their expertise. You’re disrupting the overall system to think about experts differently. 

So talk to me a little bit about how you pitch media that you feel like is really different from perhaps how PR folks are pitching the media in terms of the credentials or experiences that you’re really elevating when you go after those spots. 

Domonique: Yes. I want to add one quick thing to what you said. I’ve heard this before and you can obviously speak with more clarity, but in nonprofit, you actually are the owner of a business. And after I shared that with one of my nonprofit leaders, she actually changed her status from President or Executive Director to like president and CEO because she mentally wanted to embrace the fact that she was actually building a business. We’re killing the word charity on your show. We have sales goals. We have a communication plan. When you really professionalize it, it fundamentally changes how you operate. And I believe, especially as an entrepreneur, even though my vehicle is communications, I’m not wasting time.

I am always about my business all day, every day. So I just want to touch on that. Because I actually think it’s so important, we need to value our work and shift how the industry looks and operates. If you’re looking at it like “I’m doing community impact and changing the world through this business vehicle”, I think you can have that shift in the workspace accordingly.

So that’s maybe another session and we’ll talk about professionalizing the industry, but when it comes to PR and how I pitch organizations and nonprofit, again, there’s a few key things I start with. 

You need clarity on who you are and what you do and why it’s unique. Every organization is asking for money right now. What makes you different and what makes you unique? And that’s something that I have to be able to answer as a comms person, but also something that you, as the expert and the leader have to know. Why should I give again? It’s all about sales, right?

It’s you think you’re doing comms and PR and charity life is actually all about sales. I need to be able to know and sell what makes you bigger, better, faster, more unique than the competition. After that the second way in which I just distinguish organizations that I work with -and this is really my sweet spot because it’s anchored in my lived experience- is I’m always trying to find “Okay what makes you that everyday expert?”.

So where can I match your professional expertise with either your lived experience or that issue expertise? I have a nonprofit client that works with at-risk Black and Brown teen girls in Middle School and High School. And in particular, this nonprofit leader is the daughter of teen parents.

And so it’s this nice full circle moment whenever I pitch her to the media, because I’m able to say “Not only is she the leader of this organization that is impact-helping at-risk black and brown girls reach their full potential, but she’s lifted, because she’s the daughter of teen parents”. And so she knows the exact issues and she was a first-generation college graduate and did all of these phenomenal things.

In the media or journalists eyes, it really says “Oh, okay, this person is unique”. Because then I get a two for one, right? I know somebody who can again talk about the issues and why it matters, but I know someone who’s going to have a really beautiful story that they can add to this or in the media, we call it like that ‘human interest element’ and really make it sound like a person.

I do that with not only the principles of the organizations, but I’m also always looking for program participants who bring your impact to life as well. Last month, I think it was the national bullying prevention month. And so I’m looking again through a curriculum and saying “Okay, do we have anyone who’s overcome bullying or taken on these issues and can really bring it to life as well”, or whatever that issue is, I’m always saying “Okay, how can we bring this story to life and really put everything in a really nice package”, a one-stop shop for media and journalists. So that’s a little crash course in how PR works behind the scenes, but ultimately it’s about sales. I’m just a professional salesperson for good and social justice.

Mallory: Okay. I want to ask you some specific questions about what you just shared. So one is when you’re thinking about the publication that you’re pitching to, what is your process of figuring out the right alignment in terms of the organization in that publication? Are you always going “Okay, we want Forbes and Harvard Business Review” and things like that or how should nonprofits think through to find the right place for them to be seen.

Domonique: Another great question. You thought you got a comms person, but you really have a sales person because this is where I encourage my organizations to be really strategic, or I should say I’m really strategic in how I build out their communications plan.

I personally don’t believe there’s a place for vanity in PR. And I’ve had organizations featured in Fortune and Time magazine and New York Times, major publications, top publications in the world. I love it. They deserve it, especially when they’re like local community non-profits who never even imagined that is possible. And it’s “Okay, you’re in Time magazine today. Great. Now let’s leverage it”. So there’s definitely a place for the big name, high visibility publications but I actually like to start with what your organizational goals are and who you actually need to talk to. And that’s where you’re able to filter out all of the clutter and the noise.

Another client I have on that works with parents. So if they have a goal where they’re doing, I don’t know, a membership drive or advocacy initiative, and they want to recruit parents, then that’s going to give me some direction on the publications, outlets,even the content that I need to create, because I’m ultimately thinking about my customer, who is parents.

When I’m thinking about how we want to do some thought leadership and get in touch with potential funders. I need to go find the publications that these executives and decision-makers are reading, and it may not be Teen Vogue, right? We may need to go get in the Washington Business Journal or whatever the local Business Journal is. A different industry- specific publication.

So this is why it’s important to professionalize the work that you do and really know what you need to accomplish as an organization. And have clarity on who your customers are because the media is really just a bridge to your income. And that’s really the secret of what I do when I’m building these strategic plans, because I’m like “Okay, who do we actually need to get in touch with?”. Whether it’s in the media, on social media and then go find those decision-makers and create content for.

Mallory. If you are going to be creating a PR strategy for an organization, what are some of the initial things that you start to think about to help them navigate, that folks who are listening to this can take and think about the year ahead.

Domonique: Excellent. So when it comes to communication strategy, there’s a couple of things that I always think about. One, I need clarity on the organization. I always say “Give me an organization calendar so I can see what’s going on”. I also look ahead to the world calendar and the media calendar. I try to look at 3, 6, 9 months at a time, so I can get a really good understanding of what’s happening in the broader universe and how I can tie the work that you’re doing to the work that the world will naturally be talking about. Moments or activities where you can insert your work, maybe Black History Month.

After I take all that information in and get clarity on that’s where again, I go to the fundamentals of the pitch and what I teach about and some of my group programs and training work. We need to understand and get clarity on who you are, why the work that you do is so unique, why your impact’s unique and match it with the perfect journalist. That power journalist partner.

Mallory: Okay. I love what you’re saying and I know we’re almost out of time, so I will move on.  There are a few things I just want to double-click on that you just said. One is that not all money is created equal, right? Like you want to find that money that’s in deep alignment with the work that you’re doing. And I feel like that’s what you’re talking about here too, in terms of press and media, that the more alignment that’s there, the more beneficial it’s going to be.

The other thing I really want people to hear, especially folks who are inside Power Partners is what to do when you have an asset gap. So inside power partners, I have an asset map, all of the different assets associated with their organization. And I walk them through this process of funder lenses so they understand all the different things that funders are looking for and how those align with different assets that they hold. And what I think you just said is brilliant.

Let’s say your organization is really struggling to create relationships with a certain type of corporate department, whether it’s a corporate social responsibility department or the marketing department, or the foundation, for example, and that you have a certain amount of assets, but something big is really missing there. That’s where I think this strategic PR and media can really come into place with an expert like you is to build out that asset line, to create a really clear bridge, to then be able to go to the funders and highlight that piece of media or you’re getting in front of them organically. So I just think that’s such a brilliant and fairly easy way to help strengthen the offer that you’re putting in front of different types of funds. 

Domonique: We’re so aligned. And in some of my group programs where I teach organizations how to do this, where they don’t have the capacity necessarily to hire a full-time comps person, some of this you can actually do on your own, but it absolutely gets down to asset mapping.

Just as you said, understanding what you bring to the table. Who needs to hear that? I don’t know if you’ve done the math, but this just inspired me. As I heard you talking about your program, I’m sure you have a phenomenally high success rate in terms of your pitching and development asks. And it’s because you’ve done all of this strategy on the upfront side, and I’m sure your funders are like “Oh my God, we’ve been looking for someone like you”.

I do some fundraising and in my affirm as well, and I’m connecting funders to align organizations. I’m inspired to look at my pitch success rate. I imagine it’s really high because I just have that clarity going in. I know the publication, the reporter of what moves them, what they like to talk about and I know exactly what makes my organization unique. Why my everyday expert is the exact person that they need to talk to. And it just feels very effortless, but also it feels really good to actually pitch that story, because I know this is something that we absolutely need to be talking about, 

That’s something that media professionals tell me all the time “Oh my God, this is great. This is exactly what I was looking for”. And one of the few things that I say to them is “Thank you for helping elevate this story. We have been trying to do this or this organization has been trying to highlight this specific problem”. So it just becomes a common sense, really effortless sale if you will. And that’s fundamentally what our work is about. 

Mallory: Yeah, I love that And I think just to drive it all the way home, what we’re both starting with is alignment, in fundraising. You’re having those conversations where it’s just clicking. It’s so easy. It feels so good.

You’re doing the same thing. You’re not saying what’s the most watched TV station, but I’m sure you have people come to and they’re like “I want to be in Forbes and I want to be in this and I’m going to be in tha”t. But it’s like “Where is the alignment?”. And if you actually start with alignment, instead of the things that make us satisfy those ego pieces, or feel like the shortcuts or the old school way of doing things.

I think that’s the other thing you are disrupting this industry by saying there have been some old school ways of doing this and having the same voice. Just getting regurgitated on these same platforms all the time is just leading to the same problem, which is exactly what I’ve been saying in fundraising. So we could literally talk all day, but please tell everyone where they can find you, where they can learn about these courses and how they can work with you. And then, this is an optional question for you because I know you work with a lot of nonprofits, but I invite folks to share about a nonprofit that’s near and dear to their heart.

Domonique: I’ll start with that question first. I definitely do everything with a sense of purpose in my mind. But also alignment, as I shared, there’s just so many stories that live within me. So many experiences that I have, that when I represent organizations, it’s really effortless for me because I can not only pull back on that lived experience and tell this story authentically but I know we’re connecting over some shared issues as well. So I don’t want to shout out a specific nonprofit, but I will say that the work that I do again comes from my story. So I have worked on ballot initiatives, surrounding community safety and public safety. I have a relative who has had over 20 interactions with the police all before the age of 30.

And so just seeing that play out firsthand has really challenged how I think and view about public safety. I have an organization again that works with girls, you heard me share about them before and have talked about the importance of mentorship and self-confidence, especially in those middle school ages.

I also went to an all women’s college. So I’m aligned there. You heard me share about receiving the Federal Pell Grants and how that was transformative in my life, but also receiving a full scholarship to go to school. And it was actually from an outside foundation and I wouldn’t have been able to attend Spelman, had it not been for that scholarship and really the financial burden and freedom that it gave me to focus on school and academics and not just survival.

My agency is Politics with Purpose. Our website is politicswithpurpose.com. There are several ways that we can work together. Not only privately through some VIP impact days, but also through some coaching programs or group programs where we teach you how to raise your influence in the media, especially when you have a tight staff.

My name is Domonique James. I hope that I get a lot of LinkedIn requests after this podcast goes live. I’m ready to help you rise so that we can be the people who are really making the world better and helping us make better decisions.

Mallory: Perfect. Thank you. Thank you for joining us today and for this amazing conversation, I’m really so grateful for you. 

Domonique: Thank you.

PR is Not Just For Big Nonprofits and Here’s Why with Domonique James

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