009 – Action-Oriented Awareness Months with Carolyn Baker of The Autism Community in Action

Does your organization have an awareness month? If so, you know it’s not just about spreading awareness—it’s about encouraging action.

In this episode, Carolyn Baker of The Autism Community in Action (TACA) comes on the show to discuss why TACA calls them “action” months, how they encourage people to take action, and how they’re adapting their messaging as they emerge from the pandemic.


Full Transcript

Spencer Brooks 00:04

Welcome to Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing, we’re a podcast for nonprofit marketing and communications leaders using the internet to reach and engage people with health issues. I’m your host Spencer Brooks of Brooks digital, a digital agency for health nonprofits. Today I’m joined by Carolyn Baker. Carolyn is the Development Director at the Autism Community in Action. They’re a nonprofit providing education, support and hope to families living with autism. So, Carolyn, first of all, super excited to have you on the show today, would you mind just starting by giving listeners a brief overview of who you are and what you do?

Carolyn Baker 00:43

Well, thank you, Spencer, I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and share with you. I’m the development director for TACA The Autism Community and Action, we’re a national organization, but we’re headquartered in Irvine, California. So that’s where I’m stationed at, and my job, obvious development, director is fundraising but on top of that, I also work with the outreach people in our local community, and also the marketing.

Spencer Brooks 01:08

Wonderful, I think it’s really interesting, as well to have conversations with people who do straddle, the development and marketing roles as well, because I think there’s a unique perspective on that and so it’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to talk with you today actually. The topic we’re focusing on today is Awareness Months. So, I know it’s something that many health organizations have, so I thought it would be interesting to talk with you because I understand that you view those awareness months a little differently at TACA. So, could you just start by telling listeners how you approach Awareness Months at your organization?

Carolyn Baker 01:49

Well, we’ve always, for several years, said it was action month for us, fits in with our name. But beyond that, it’s a belief that we have, yes, awareness is so important. But we also feel that you need to take action. So, that’s been our focus, always calling an autism action month in April. But this year, what we did, and I credit, our multimedia communications manager came up with the idea to really set it all to plan it all out and, well not that we don’t plan it all out, but a real intense focus on steps for action, and make it for our clients, our viewers or people that are, follow us and support us, give them the 123 on how to do action. And then what we did is he designed a page on our website so our whole for the entire month of April, though, the homepage was autism action month, that was the center of it. So, anybody coming into it saw that with all of the different opportunities and things to do.

Spencer Brooks 02:53

Yeah, I think it’s such a fantastic perspective, because obviously awareness certainly is important. But taking action, I think is also a critical step. Could you outline for me and for listeners as well, what you kind of view the differences are between just a standard awareness campaign or an awareness month versus action? Like what are the pros and cons? And what do you see as missing just with that awareness piece? And how can how can people incorporate more action into their awareness months?

Carolyn Baker 03:32

Well, awareness is always that education. I mean, I looked at it that because you know, every month is something almost. So, I look at personally and myself as I look at it for the different organizations, different nonprofits, different causes, I enjoy. And I want to know, the education and that’s mostly what everybody does is they’ll tell you, here’s a certain facts about this, here’s a certain percentage, how it affects these people, here’s these, but they don’t always give you like, Well, what do I do now? So it’s very nice to be educated. But if you don’t, you know, have the have that passion, maybe about that cause, or you just got that thing. So how are you going to know to step forward, and what can I do to help in the situation? Or how can I work for the cause or work for the mission? What can I do? So that’s where we took it there simply and put it out, giving them several steps. And if you have to, I’ll go over them with you. If you want me to do that right now I can give you the simple steps that we gave everybody the options to be able to participate. And one of them is obviously the spread awareness. So, what we did on our homepage is we did actually made it very simple for social media purposes. We did five little videos with one on the numbers of what the cause of autism and then was the other thing was different things that happened to a child with autism. So, seizures are prevalent, sleep disorders, different things like that. And then we just then had a short video, but we made it simple for them and encourage people to share this information on their social media, if you want to do something to promote action, then here share this video, the cause. The other things is maybe it was learning. So if you’re facing it your family with a child with autism or any other things like that, and you want to learn more about it, we publicize what we normally have is we have regular webinars and networking groups and support groups. We just put it all on there for the month of April and did some extra month because it was autism action month. So, we gave them that one, then the normal would a lot most people do is they’ll put the information out and then say, how can you help us support? So yes, we always do it during April is with a peer-to-peer family and friends fundraising campaign. And this is where families then can put, tell their story about their child, their teen, the situations happening in their family, and then ask their friends and families or family and friends to donate to their team to regularly like a walk peer to peer fundraising. So, then there’s that. Then what we had before COVID happened, we had a lot of people in the community that would do fundraisers for us. We had a ride for autism, different things that were that involved in person events. So, when COVID hit, that ended, so that in the 2020 we had nothing, because we march had happened in April was autism. And it just it all stopped. So this year, what was fantastic is a lot of these community groups came back and said, We can’t do in person, but we’d like to do something else. So, what we did technically, as we produce their own, we’ve created online fundraisers for them. But it wasn’t beyond the peer to peer. It was whatever these community groups that come to us with their passion example was what a lot of cause related, we had companies that say we’ll give a percentage this month of our product. So great, we put that up there. We had another one that was unique. It was a family, a father, whose son had passed away in February. And the son was a teenager, early 20s. And he was a big fan of Godzilla and King Kong. Saw every movie, was a huge fan. And he passed away before the big premiere movie. But his desire was to see that movie, and it touched the family so much. So, in his honor, they said we want to do a fundraiser for you. We want to support TACA, you’ve helped us and in the honor of our son. So, they raised over $7,000 promoting and putting this we got local media from it, because it was a great heartfelt story. And then and they felt good because they were they were remembering Matthew. And they were able to tell his life, his story. And so it was like there was no there was another group that said, they had a jewelry company, and they said, was just a bunch of artists together. And they said we want to do a Facebook fundraiser for you. And we’re going to auction off our crafts our art the things that we’ve created. So, we gave them that freedom to be able to do whatever that was their passion, whatever they do. And then we put it on that homepage. And we put the marketing, you know, design the graphics for them, if they needed a fundraising page or an update, but the application, we created it for them. It was everything to make it simple. So, they could just have fun and do what their passion was.

Spencer Brooks 08:24

It sounds like here that you’re there’s almost like this ladder of engagement. These are all like amazing examples, super inspirational. And going back to what you said earlier, actually, I thought it was interesting to highlight how when it comes to engaging someone or taking them, having them take action that you said things like spread awareness or learning or doing peer to peer fundraising. And to me that almost seems like in terms of engagement, that it’s kind of ladders up from just a super simple ask to something that’s more substantial, right? So like spreading awareness, sharing, pretty low bar for entry, right? And then learning okay, maybe attending a webinar or you know, support groups or things like that. That’s a little bit more of an engagement level. And then, you know, going all the way to peer-to-peer fundraising, it seems like that’s a higher level there. So, did you find that you would get different levels of engagement with those different asks? And was one more effective than the other?

Carolyn Baker 09:29

Not really, because it’s all different. It’s all different levels of involvement. So our social media went up, our web page views went up. So, they were looking at it they were doing that. It would be hard to say on that one. I did see more community people wanting to do fundraisers for us. We did see the increase the peer to peer, our peer-to-peer fundraising in years past before COVID was really high. And COVID when COVID hit we dropped. I mean it was it was a huge drop. This year we’re excited that it came back up again. But the reasoning in that is because in our peer-to-peer fundraising, the people that that target audience are the families that we serve. So, when COVID hit, they were, they were going through it, the strain on their families, on their children. Change is really hard for families with a child with autism or any. So, all of these things were so unknown. So, we didn’t even push fundraising that year, it was just here it is, if you want to do it. So, this year, we were seeing them come back, although they’re still facing challenges, we all are facing challenges. So, but we were happy to see that the involvement increased, and they wanted to do it. So, it’s a little hard to measure on that. Trying to think see, but we were more excited what we were excited, and saw is that people were coming to the website and viewing it, was a huge jump. And I’ve got the stats here from and this is just for the one page. So, it’s not for the entire website. So, if you looked in 2020, just for on our homepage, for the month of April, we had 363 views. So, you went to so then in 2021, we had 19,000, over 19,000. Just and that’s just the homepage count. It jumped to 243,000 for the entire website in the month of April. So, we saw that there was excitement, people were coming to it, they were engaged in it. And we marketed the homepage, we sent out national enews, we put it in social media, we went around telling people you got to come see the homepage, you’ve got an autism action. It’s all right there for you. So, we went beyond and marketed, marketed in that way, too.

Spencer Brooks 11:32

That’s so impressive to me that you did that. And that’s actually one of the things that I you know, as I’m taking notes, as you’re talking here, creating that dedicated page on your site, too. And that’s a very big thing to do is to actually take over your homepage, it’s kind of a brave step.

Carolyn Baker 11:50


Spencer Brooks 11:50

Some organizations might split the difference and do like a landing page or a separate thing. But I think that it sounds like that was a bold step that really paid off for you to actually to do that. And so, with that, what was your thinking behind it? Because I know you mentioned there’s a team member or something like that, that actually, that came up with that idea. So, could you give us maybe some background into how you started to form that idea and develop that campaign?

Carolyn Baker 12:24

He came to us, our multimedia community manager just presented the idea. He’s part of my team, and he came to present the idea. So, we got together the team of us, and we just sat down in a conference room. And we said, okay, so what would it look like? What are the features that we’re going to do, and just started on the whiteboard, designing it, and yeah, it was not accepted 100% there was that hesitancy from our other staff, I mean, executive levels going, what do you mean, you’re taking our homepage? So we had to really show the benefits and show the how very organized, very laid out, like I showed you all those different areas, and that they still were able to go to our if you wanted to see our mission, if you all the basic things on your homepage, it’s still in the top, it’s still in the top of the page. But it was not it, we had to really present how we were going to do this, a lot of discussion, a lot of the design we went several times going back and forth. He is very strong on videos. And that worked for us. He went in and filmed this for a bit with four or five videos with one on one with families very short one or two minutes. And then we marketed those videos. So, every single week, we’re putting out a new video on all our social media from the announcement of Autism Action Month to here’s a mom and her son talking about he nonverbal communication, the sleep and these are key things are affecting our the families we serve. So, it was attention grabbers that like, oh, yeah, my child does have sleep issues, or yes, my child does have seizures. So, it was something of interest. But we marketed those videos. And that was one of the push that we presented to the rest of the team. We’re going to these videos, were really pushing who we are on top of that, and it was really well accepted by people that wanted to be sponsors. We were able to bring in sponsors for the page, because if you’re gonna get this coverage, you’re right here up in front. So that was marketable people like that. We looked at all of those different areas. And then the fundraising thing, I guess it was people that came out that weren’t our normals. They hadn’t done fundraisers before, but we started talking about it. We started sharing when they would come to us and say, Hey, we’re thinking of this idea then I was able to pitch, I got a platform for you. We’re doing the whole month of April, you’ll be on it, you will be publicized, so then that was another like okay, then, you know, we do want to do some cause related marketing with you. You know, that was the other thing to be able to come in. Yeah, it was it. I think it was a bold move, but I appreciated that I had a team member that he just said here’s my idea and we just jumped in with him and it worked, it was a great idea.

Spencer Brooks 15:07

I love that. Yeah, I think that your commitment to just really double down and say, like, we’re gonna go all in on this, it sounds like that really paid off. And so not kind of splitting the difference there. I think that’s a lesson that I want to highlight. I think another thing was, that was really interesting to me, as well as I have enough of these conversations. And I start to see these patterns where, when it comes to spreading awareness or grabbing people’s attention, that idea that you mentioned of sharing videos, and having a person or a caregiver or whatever with a with a condition, sharing their experience, from their point of view, and then just letting them speak for themselves, and then sharing that to grab attention. I just see that as part of the successful campaigns over and over and over again. And then I think you had a, there’s a wonderful follow up to that where you not only are grabbing that attention and the awareness, but then you’re also providing these very tangible ways for someone to then get more involved and take action. So I just, I think that’s really great. And I wanted to highlight that for listeners as well. And just to commend you for that work. I did, I wanted to ask you actually just kind of switching gears into some of the questions that I love to ask every guest on this show. What’s one thing in marketing that you’re working on right now that is just occupying a ton of brain space for you? And what takeaways could you share with listeners who might be encountering that same challenge?


Carolyn Baker 16:39

It’s not just one thing. But an overview of something that I personally am excited about and working with is that we’re connecting more with the program staff. I’ve got two programs staffs now in my department. So, and you can relate, and I think other fund development, people in marketing can relate to this, you get involved in just one area. So, you’re looking at how do I work more compressed? How do I market to prospective donors? How do I share the message? How do I do all these things? So and if you’re not connecting, really day to day and really in touch with the people that we’re serving, shat are the issues that they’re facing? What are the questions that they’re asking? I mean, you may have the big story, obviously, you have to, but the big, you know, here’s our mission, and this what we do, here’s our programs, but and we’ll get some quotes and success stories once and a while, you know, from the families, but day to day getting that information and knowing it helps make you make the decisions that you need to make when you’re targeting certain audiences and communications. And I can give you an example, we had a company come to us with a great opportunity for cause related marketing, when they presented things to us and their I myself was going well, it’s nice, but I don’t know, they’re national organization. I don’t know how much this is going to relate, I don’t know how much we can put them out this. That was just my personal thinking. But I pulled together the team and I said, Hey, I need your help. We got this opportunity what do you think? Well, our program person, she’s our social media coordinator, who’s in all the support group meetings, she’s hearing their voices every day said, Oh, my gosh, this is a question that we have in every single chapter meeting, every single webinar, they want this product, and I was like, I didn’t know. I’m like, Oh, my gosh, thank goodness. So, she was able to give us some great input, the team got all around it, we’ve written a proposal, not sure what’s going to happen. But this is we’re proposing to this company, that they’re gonna get exposure and it’s a product that the people we serve want. And I wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have known that. So just getting being really close and in with your program people is affecting how we make our decisions on any of the marketing, we have to work, especially in social media, because of your social media marketing is going out to the people you serve, they don’t want to hear and we get, and I appreciate their feedback. They don’t want to hear about every fundraiser you’re doing because they start to get that attitude, like you just want my money. So, there’s always that fine line of how do we do that? How do we still market to them without asking that. So, I love the program people will say, hey, we have to limit those posts, we have to be careful of how we do this. So that’s great. And then the other side where I’m stronger in is working with the people that don’t know about who we are. And I’m working to go to the families that because we’re you know, we work with families with autism, but I want to reach the person that’s never met a person with autism. So I work and I’ll share with them as I’ll share with our program people and go, Hey, this is really great. But we need to reach the people that don’t know. And so they’ll, you know, I help them to say wait a minute, let’s do this messaging and don’t limit it to just this because someone over here is not going to understand what you’re talking about. They’re not going to understand PT or ABA. They’re not going to know that. So, we have to talk and we have to say and explain it. So, to me, that’s what I’m excited about is working so working closely more with the program people with our target audiences, which are separate and our messaging, it’s just, it’s just important that we help each other and make the organization stronger.

Spencer Brooks 20:06

I love that piece of feedback, Carolyn, just because it sort of hits on a, a chord for me, through my own words, right, I think it’s like it’s developing a good understanding of your audience right through that relationship with program staff. And I think that’s a very interesting perspective to take. Because certainly there are times when you just don’t know stuff about your audience, and you have to go out and have structured conversations with them. I mean, it’s certainly like part of the work that I end up doing. And you know, through my firm, as well as we were talking to people, but at the same time, if you have program staff, who are already spending every day talking with those people, man they’re, they must be such a great resource for learning about for your audience, and for pulling out those insights. And so I think that just the I would totally agree with that concept of just developing a good shared view of your audience. It’s a great concept, it’s a very difficult one, to actually ask the question, how do you go about doing that? And I think that’s, you know, that’s probably a whole podcast episode in and of itself.

Carolyn Baker 21:17

It is tough. It is because in our organization, we’re a lot of, like I said, I’m here in Irvine, California, but my program staff is across the country. So, it’s a new thing, that we just did a reorg that this, that I’ve got program staff that working directly in our department, still doing their program, but still working in that area that is rare in a nonprofit, because usually, they’re often in another area, obviously doing program. And sometimes communication is tough. So, it’s rare. So, I’m very blessed, that we were able to reorg kinda and work like that, and that we have that relationship and work with the program people. It’s hard, because they’re doing your job, you’re doing theirs, and it’s separated. And one of the things that when I’ve always told the fundamentalist stuff when people kept to keep back and saying to them, Why are we here? We’re here for the program people. We’re raising money for the programs. That’s why we’re here. Don’t forget that. It’s not just about this. And I have to keep and I’ll keep saying that don’t they know, they hear me say, that’s why we’re here it but it is I’ve been in other organizations. And it’s one of the things that I always got into, I would go meet with the prominent people. If it was a classroom, I’d go sit in the classroom, and build relationships with them. I just felt it was so important because I couldn’t do my job without knowing and having more involvement with them. I just felt it was important.

Spencer Brooks 22:41

Sage advice right here, folks from Carolyn Baker. On knowing your audience, right. Great. Carolyn, I didn’t want to ask you here. Just what two or three resources would you recommend to listeners, you’re wanting to keep up on trends and nonprofit marketing?

Carolyn Baker 23:01

That’s a tough question. I mean, you’ll get all these things. Now, I’ll follow a lot of webinars and do this different things. But there’s no concrete resource, fully what I do, and I recommend this in anybody in different community is you learn your community, I’m fortunate to be in a large community, in Southern California, Orange County is you know, highly populated. And what I do is a join a lot of our community, the groups, so I’m working with other nonprofits, but I really what I do is I follow what other nonprofits are doing. I sign up for other newsletters, and they’re things like that. I watch their websites, I watch their events. During COVID, when everything was virtual, I attended a bunch of virtual events. But I watched the trends from in organizations, they’re not even serving the same public and we are, the different ones, I still watch how they communicate, or watch how successful or any of their events or responses are, how are they presented, what kind of media coverage are they getting, how are they getting that media coverage, and it’s the culture of our community. So, by following that, and I know kind of what’s the outside culture of where we’re going to work, what we do here in Orange County is not going to work in a rural area, and what a rural area in Tennessee or something is not going to work here. So even though we’re national, a lot of our outreach, and everything is done right here. So, I just watch the trends of what’s happening with these other organizations, and learn from them. And it’s exciting sometimes when I can see like, hey, we were the first ones to do it. Yeah. So, to just kind of watch, you know, but that’s where I learn the best and meeting and being in groups. There’s a lot of leadership in different groups. I like to go to those and hear and get examples work network and get examples of how other people are doing things. To me, that’s been our most successful, I feel other than just any other exact resources, watching what everybody else is doing.

Spencer Brooks 24:53

Wonderful. That’s good advice. And I appreciate you sharing that with listeners just to help them along their journey as they try to become better at their jobs. So just to wrap up here, how can listeners get in touch with you if they’d like to learn more about you and your work?

Carolyn Baker 25:09

My email address is Carolyn C A R, o l y n, dot Baker be a K er @tacanow, it’s one word.org to be simple, just email me.

Spencer Brooks 25:20

Absolutely. And I’ll make sure for listeners as well to get your info in the show notes so that if you want to email Carolyn or check out TAKA’s work that you can make sure and visit the website for this particular episode. Well, great that that wraps up our show today. Just some housekeeping, we’re a new podcast so please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple podcasts or whatever podcast listening app you might be listening to this on. This show is also a part of the thought education of Brooks Digital. Again, we’re a digital agency for health nonprofits, and we help organizations create better health outcomes by treating their digital platform like a product, not a one time project. So if you’d like this, feel free to go to brooks.digital and you can check out some of our other resources or insights. You can download our free report on digital benchmarks for health nonprofits. With all that housekeeping stuff out of the way, Carolyn, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Carolyn Baker  26:16

Well, thank you Spencer for the opportunity. I really appreciate it.

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