December 21, 2017 at 10:30am
Dane Lisser

Millikin students help local organizations with communication needs

Developing a communication plan can help an organization reach its target audience and raise awareness about a particular event, project or the organization itself. Recently, a number of nonprofit organizations in Decatur, Ill., have identified marketing and communications as an area of need. To fulfill those needs, the local nonprofits reached out to Millikin University's Communication Department to work directly with the organizations and craft communication plans.

In early 2017, the Human Service Agency Consortium (HSAC) of Decatur dissolved as their own standalone nonprofit and became partners with Forefront, a state association for nonprofits and grantmakers. The HSAC is comprised of many different service organizations in Decatur and Macon County including Old King's Orchard Community Center, United Way, Macon County Conservation Foundation, Webster-Cantrell Hall and Macon County CASA.

Through the partnership, the HSAC worked with Forefront on different types of professional development. Forefront decided that marketing and communications was an area that many of the nonprofits needed to improve.

Millikin Organizational Communication

"We reached out to the Communication Department at Millikin to see if their faculty would be interested in serving as facilitators for the topic area," said Sarah Tapscott, director of statewide at Forefront. "After much discussion with Millikin we decided that it would be a great opportunity not only for the members of HSAC, but also the students. It would give them real life experiences working directly with the local nonprofits on their various communications needs."

Dr. Nancy Curtin, chair of the Communication Department and associate professor of communication at Millikin, attended an HSAC meeting in March 2017 to gather information about the HSAC's needs. She started to develop a plan from there.

Students in Dr. Curtin's Survey of Organizational Communication class were involved with the project this past semester. Dr. Curtin also reached out to Dr. Alan Duesterhaus, assistant professor of marketing at Millikin, to brainstorm and collaborate on the project. 

Millikin Organizational Communication

"Dr. Duesterhaus' Marketing 200 class provided a couple students who volunteered to help out," Dr. Curtin said. "The students have worked hard to contribute useful, quality work for the organizations."

The Millikin students were divided up into groups for various projects. One group facilitated two different workshops on creating and implementing a communication plan. Additionally, five other Millikin groups were assigned to five nonprofits within the community working on specific marketing and communication projects.

As part of their communication needs, the nonprofits wanted to reach several different audiences including donors, volunteers, funders and the general public.

Millikin Organizational Communication

"Since the audiences were so diverse we went with the strategy of helping the nonprofits create a detailed communications calendar, which many nonprofits admitted they did not have," Tapscott said.

Students Tyler Pygon, a junior communication major from Orland Park, Ill.; Breana Bagley, a junior communication major from Mt. Zion, Ill.; and Austin Mosier, a senior digital media marketing major from Decatur, recently showed members of the HSAC how to utilize the communication calendar during a presentation at Millikin's University Commons on Dec. 7.

"We need to establish a mission statement, who your target audience is, what message are you sending to the audience, and how are you reaching the audience," Bagley said. "We found that a communication calendar is a very useful way to keep yourself organized and keep track of what tasks need to be completed."

Millikin Organizational Communication

The students showed an example of a communication calendar from the Make-A-Wish Foundation with events ranging from a marathon to a fashion show. The calendar gave HSAC members a clear-cut example of how the plan would work.

"The companies needed help because they either did not know how to keep volunteers, stay organized, or know how to go about developing a communication plan," Austin Mosier said. "I really feel we gained a much needed experience helping real organizations with the difficulty of adapting to their issues."

Tapscott says Forefront and the HSAC will evaluate the first go around of the communication plan to make sure the partnership was mutually beneficial for the nonprofits and Millikin. From there, they will decide if it's something they will consider trying again during a different semester.

Millikin Organizational Communication

"I think the students have a better understanding and increased exposure to the nonprofit sector and specific needs within the community," Tapscott said. "It is my hope that they all saw that working within the nonprofit sector is very rewarding despite some of the challenges we may face."

Dr. Curtin added, "This is a learning process, and I certainly hope the organizations implement what the students completed."