Creating allies through online conversations: RoiAnn Phillips [profile]
With more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, RoiAnn Phillips has a firm grasp on what motivates a team. From program staff to administrative staff, Board members to donors, and everyone else in between, RoiAnn has a strong sense of what each role involved in a nonprofit organization needs communicated at the end of the day.
She uses this learned experience in her role of communications manager for HealthConnect One, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works with community groups across the country to support new families during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.
HealthConnect One helps local community organizations, such as clinics, hospitals and nonprofits across the United States develop and sustain breastfeeding peer counselor and community-based doula programs, primarily serving low-income communities.
As communications manager, RoiAnn strategizes to develop HealthConnect One’s website, e-newsletter, social media communications and branding messages.
Facilitating online discussion
For example, the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for insurance companies to reimburse breastfeeding support providers is open for interpretation as to which type of providers should be reimbursed. This, along with a trend in the breastfeeding community to hold some breastfeeding support providers in higher esteem than others means that many critical providers of breastfeeding support, such as peer counselors and community-based doulas, would be excluded.
“As advocates for the community health worker role, we needed to respond. So we released a statement and organized a Twitter Chat to build our numbers and tease out the trouble people have with the idea that all breastfeeding support providers should be paid,” says RoiAnn.
It was a large undertaking since, according to RoiAnn, HealthConnect One had only been on Twitter for one year – and she had never coordinated a Twitter Chat before.
Throughout her two decades of nonprofit work, RoiAnn recognized the value of listening, observing and even debating with the people around her as a learning process. She used this tactic to help her execute HealthConnect One’s first Twitter Chat.
“We partnered with MomsRising and Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), and they both had loads of experience hosting Twitter Chats – but on this topic, HealthConnect One needed to take the lead, which meant I personally had to host the chat, relying on my colleagues from the program team to develop substantive content,” says RoiAnn.
RoiAnn pulled from her experience participating in the Nonprofit MarCommunity #NPMC Twitter Chats to help her plan. “I searched Twitter for the #NPMC hashtag and literally copied and analyzed the anatomy of the last #NPMC chat. Focusing on Marlene’s role as host, I outlined for myself what was needed – build-up, introductions, housekeeping, Q1/A1 format, responses in real-time, reminders to stay on point, upbeat chat conclusion and replies after the chat to secure each connection,” she explains.
In the end, HealthConnect One’s Twitter Chat used the hashtag #BFSupport, had 98 active participants and drove traffic to their Policy Statement. “It positioned us as a stakeholder – and leader – in the ongoing conversation, and gathered allies who will participate in our next action around the topic,” says RoiAnn.
With each new program, HealthConnect One is responsive to the strengths, vision and needs of the local community. This flexibility has allowed them to see positive results in their work. “We consistently get results, but how we get results varies,” says RoiAnn. “This can be a challenge to explain to funders and prospective partners who want a formula for adopting our program model. Essentially, our programs are more art than science, but we’re operating in a ‘maternal and child heath’ context where people expect science and medicine.”
“We’re mostly a positive, optimistic bunch – which tends to bring opportunity,” RoiAnn says. This has led to developing relationships with federal and state-level decision makers over the years. “We have allies and champions all over the country. We also breed goodwill each time we are invited into a community. So when it’s time to pull together support for a grant or media campaign, we have a strong network to draw on.”