Justin, your title is VP of Health Strategies at American Heart, what does that mean?
We’ve gone to a more locally based organization. All the non fundraising departments roll up to the VP of health strategies. Our advocacy and quality work and more to focus on the local community.
Justin has a lot to do with the bigger picture AHA in town. You do a lot of events, some big and some small. Tell us a little bit about your philosophy around engaging that audience around a cause, policy, idea and how do you effectively do it.
Elizabeth: It was about 6 years ago where we were looking at our major events and finding survivor stories to talk about our general what do we do?It was pretty big picture broad. We figured out what are we doing in this market specifically and what are we trying to move the needle on. We started to weave that into our events and found the audience really resonated more because it was local and impactful.
Everyone asks how do we engage the audience deeper in the cause? We are always seeking to engage the audience.
Justin: Being ahead of the curve on the local surface. We can always find good national stories, but we get in front of the local community and show what we are doing in the local community. Do you like all new borns get screened for heart defects, that’s what we did. And not all states and markets have done that but we have and we can point at our local staff and volunteers. Advocacy has been a huge part of AHA and that is where I started, the person at the state capital working on our policies. That has been a big part on how we impact the change.
Moving into the rubber meeting the road Elizabeth, you are writing the show flow for these events, how do you take the advocacy work you do and really weave it into the messaging in a way that doesn’t bore the audience?
Elizabeth: Policy can get in the weeds, I frequently have to edit. Internally you have to work through what are we doing as an organization over this year and what are things we want to move the needle on. Not all will fly or sell in an event. Which one’s are going to? This last women’s lunch telephone CPR is what we focused on and that was something people could get their heads around. We are trying to pass a law that would put in place a standard so the dispatchers would know how to walk people through CPR. We wrapped that message into our luncheon. Part of the beauty was that our audience members could engage and actually send a petition to their legislators. Its a way your audience can feel connected to your mission.
You have events all the time, how do you make sure the flavor of the year doesn’t get lost next year?
Elizabeth: As a non profit we have various avenues we reach out to our volunteers. Even though this year we focused on that next year we won’t even though it hasn’t passed. We have cultivated those people and we will continue to touch base through texts or emails without having another event.
In the non profit space, how do you communicate the message?
Elizabeth: A good example would be our gala this last fall. We did a restructure and zeroing in on social determinant of health. How can we make the healthy choice the easy choice? That is an area we are starting to expand where we have been. How do you bring this to an event? We found a survivor, a stroke, she had the symptoms and waited to go the hospital because she didn’t have health insurance. She was a single mom, a nurse. That hindered her choice to seek health. That told that story as well as we brought in a group and did a rap about healthy food. Then we were able to use that moment to talk about our work in food access. We bring in different elements to talk about where we work and where we are going to do more and illustrate why.
Justin: You have to take risks for greater impact.
Although these issues are not political, how do you make sure its not turning into a political thing?
Justin: You keep it outcome and patient focused. Keep it away from the political arena and create the heartfelt feeling. Pitch the stories correctly but we also protect our brand so we are not known as a partisan organization.
Elizabeth: It’s about people, people can’t argue with someones personal experience. They might not agree with the angle or push but they can see why we push and they can’t argue with that. There is a lot of talk on our end behind the scenes, about what issue we pick, and how we talk about them.