Nonprofit Management is Archival: Telling Your Organization’s Story

Earlier this fall, my family undertook a move from an Upper East Side apartment to one in East Harlem. On top of our busy life at Winkleman Company, nonprofit board activities and my teaching at Columbia University, we’re still throwing our spare time at unpacking. Taking care to assess every piece of furniture, every knickknack and every memento that made the first cut of moving (but may not fit into our life’s new schema) has brought into focus for me the relationship of memory and possessions.

Philosophers and thinkers from the Greeks to the Renaissance often used the position of rooms and objects in the construction of “memory houses,” mental structures intended to organize their ideas — the ars memoriae, or “art of memory,” as the Romans called it. Perhaps the idea first came to its inventor during a home move.

Each object in each room signified a portion of the total concept to be remembered, and their placements relative to each other represented the relationship between them. While I took stock of our possessions, I recollected the story of each. I came to realize that our lovingly organized photo albums, bookshelves, artwork and furniture told the story of our lives together and

A 1912 Corgi Classic Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. When I bought mine it was the first time I saved towards a goal.

A 1912 Corgi Classic Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. When I bought mine it was the first time I saved towards a goal.

individually. The wall of family photographs catalogs the people whose stories intersect ours, from my grandfather in his pharmacy in the 1920s and my wife’s rocket-pioneering grandparents to my son graduating from high school. The vintage toy cars, like my prized 1912 Corgi Classic Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, and political memorabilia harken back to past times and youthful enthusiasms.

The same principle would apply to an organization’s story. Some of this arrangement is literal — the way you style your office, which achievements you display to your visitors and in what order — but also the way that you manage and track your operations. In the short term, it enables learning and saves time. How did we run this event last year? What worked and didn’t work? In the long term, though, inventory and reflection define your values and build your traditions. Archives and stories, whether legitimate files required by law or scrapbooks of letters from clients and students, digital or paper, all contribute to a picture of not only who you are, but where you’ve been and the lives you’ve touched along the way.

During my days at Clark University, for example, we were tasked with a logo redesign. Other members of the committee suggested hiring an ad agency, focus groups and designers, but we couldn’t quite agree on what the logo should convey. To find our identity, we went to the archives and looked at our school’s history. We saw what we’d achieved in the past, and we were proud of that tradition. Accordingly, we found an elegant logo from the 1920s that not only fit our current concepts, but nodded to our institution’s humble regard for the past successes that enabled us to seek excellence in the current moment.

As an organization, you must sometimes confront the question of modifying your presentation. Whether it’s a logo redesign or a total brand overhaul in preparation for a capital campaign, the next chapter of the story is impossible to write without reading the ones that have come before. Commitment to an archival perspective enables you, as a leader, to help your organization find its way forward.

For your sanity, it is important to remember that becoming a good archivist doesn’t necessarily mean keeping everything. Any compelling story requires development, and whether by loss or by the introduction of a better idea, sometimes this development requires us to let go of possessions, practices and people. While packing to move, I left some things behind, things that weren’t crucial to my life now because they didn’t contribute to the story of who I am. In doing so, I freed up a little space — blank pages, if you will — on which to continue the next chapter of my story.

Marketing like the Big Guys for Small Businesses and Nonprofits: Announcing Under3PR

Sometimes that “do-it-yourself” approach can only get you so far. While small-budgeted organizations fueled by passion and talent can be extremely effective, a roadblock might appear that necessitates outside expertise.

Under3PR, a collaborative service from Winkleman Company and Coa Design, was inspired by the interests and challenges posed by my students throughout nearly two decades of teaching at Columbia University’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management, Mailman School of Public Health, United Jewish Appeal, and Fordham University’s Center for Nonprofit Leaders. Each student’s organization shared the acute need for quick, strategic and affordable guidance to targeted challenges.

Through public relations, marketing and graphic design, Under3PR addresses the most common issues facing small nonprofits and businesses. Projects range from drawing media attention for a program, branding and social media management to crisis response and counsel on leadership continuity – and everywhere in-between. Like many of my students’ organizations, prospective clients must have revenues under $3 million and a short-term project that fits within Under3PR’s targeted parameters.

Our test drive for Under3PR came to us in the form of Heart Gallery NYC. A small nonprofit, Heart Gallery NYC uses the artistic talents of renowned photographers to raise the visibility and public awareness of children in foster care seeking their “forever families” – all on an annual budget of under $500,000. Laurie Sherman Graff, Founder and Executive Director, needed help drawing coverage for a press conference but had limited funds. Heart Gallery NYC was a perfect opportunity for Under3PR – small budget, acute project, good cause – so we set about being perfect for it.

Our PR expertise packed Laurie's press conference with reporters and photographers.

Our PR expertise packed Laurie’s press conference with reporters and photographers.


“The media coverage was awesome, and the professionalism of the Winkleman Company team was so apparent and appreciated! I look forward to continuing to work together on future events,” Laurie wrote in an email to us the day after the conference. As Under3PR, our team brought together the right television and traditional media to help tell these children’s incredible stories to a broad, multilingual audience of potential families.

Working on a project basis can be the right approach, especially when a challenge may be outside the scope of small business or nonprofit managers who is already too stretched for the cause/goal that drives them.

When a small organization comes up against a roadblock, it can’t afford to slow down. Under3PR will help you navigate and resolve those roadblocks.

Please see our full menu of Under3PR offerings or call Katherine at 646-234-8077 to discover what we can do for your business.

Walking the Corridor: Finding PR Stories Where Nobody’s Looking

When acting in a PR capacity, many people struggle with the problem of finding stories. Every organization wants press – but what strikes you as newsworthy about your operation might not seem quite so fresh to a journalist. Where, then, do you find something to pitch?

A very fuzzy journalist

A very fuzzy journalist

One option, of course, is to make the story happen yourself. If nothing new is going on, think of the kind of story you’d like to read and guide the organization toward it. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But the best kinds of stories are the ones that serve themselves up organically – complete and irresistible, like catnip for journalists, and never where you expect to find them.

Just because the best stories happen by accident doesn’t mean you’ll find them by accident, though. Our colleague Roberta makes a point of visiting clients as often as possible, learning everyone’s name from the reception room to the boardroom, and stopping to chat. She calls it “walking the corridor.”

Even if it’s easier and more convenient to conduct all your business over the phone or via email, those intentional channels only bring you the first kind of story: the ones that you and your client expect. The real gold only ever comes to you when you’re not (appearing like you are) looking for it. It’s like keeping your eyes in a softer focus to look for new patterns, or, as Ann Handley puts it, “seeing content moments everywhere.” 

From the New York Daily News

From the New York Daily News

One of Roberta’s stories, for example, was a grade-A “people story” about a resident at a client’s elder care facility. A veteran of World War II, this gentleman took public transit by himself into Manhattan at the ripe old age of 90, in his old uniform, to help out at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Incredibly, nobody knew about it until he mentioned it to Roberta while she was on-site! He simply never thought to tell anyone, because he wasn’t involved in the traditional PR loop – Roberta just happened to be there when he shared the story of his experiences. It ended up widely reported and shared.

Of course, many trips don’t include such wonderful gifts of stories wrapped up with bows. They’re a bonus, not an expectation, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. Besides, you can never have too many friends. So the next time you’re stuck for a story, don’t go back to the drawing board – walk the corridor and chat with the folks at the water cooler instead.