Jennifer Charney is firmly grounded in a set of values that benefit the planet. For many years, she wanted to use her marketing communications expertise to advance conservation. Then, during a visit to California in 2003, Jennifer was so inspired by the breathtaking natural resources of the San Francisco Bay Area, she quit her job as Editorial Services Manager at Wayne State University in Detroit, packed her bags and began volunteering for the conservation not-for-profit, Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association. After a few months of producing marketing communications for the association, she took a job to help protect another California natural wonder: the ancient redwood forests.

Nonprofit marcom that reflects her values

Since then Jennifer has served as Communications Manager for Save the Redwoods League – a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring redwood forests and connecting people to them so that these wonders of the natural world will not only survive but thrive.

“Being in a redwood forest is a truly uplifting experience for me,” says Jennifer. “Standing among the tallest and oldest living organisms on earth and knowing that they are threatened by persistent logging and development provides the inspiration for me and others to get deeply involved.”  Jennifer explains it has taken only 150 years for mankind to destroy 95% of the ancient redwoods – trees so old that they had been alive during the time of the Roman Empire.

Inspiring action through storytelling

As part of the marcom team Jennifer manages the print publication process for newsletters, annual reports and marketing brochures as well as the electronic newsletter.  She also writes much of the content for the organization’s websites.

“I feel I am in the right place to make a positive difference in the world by getting the message out about the plight of the redwoods,” explains Jennifer. “As a communications professional my focus is to help engage our various audiences and inspire them to get involved, hopefully through donations so that we can fund our protection and restorative programs as well as sponsor and run education and scientific research programs.”

Jennifer and her colleagues recognize the power of emotional storytelling to attract and retain members.  “We always begin with the idea of a shared value – why people should care. We then explain the threats, how readers can help and how their donations make a difference. We end with our vision for the future, using vivid imagery throughout.”  She tells one story of a woman who, soon after reading one of their newsletters, donated $175,000 to protect a grove of trees.

Translating effective communications into fundraising results

Jennifer and her colleagues won a 2013 Gold Quill Award from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) for the revised website, While preparing the submission for the award and compiling results, the team came to really understand the impact of the new site.  “The best moment for us was learning that we increased online gifts by 32% since launching the new site! Emotional stories played a big part.  We really applied the idea that while facts make people think, emotion makes people act.”

Beyond her day job Jennifer volunteers regularly at the Humane Society helping to rehab injured and orphaned wildlife and builds her communications expertise and experience by volunteering with IABC and other nonprofit organizations.

Asked for words of wisdom for her nonprofit marcom colleagues, Jennifer says, “Get more experience by volunteering to help with nonprofits’ communications projects – these organizations always need help! Then be reliable and do your best work.”

Sue Derby

Sue Derby

Sue Derby is an independent organizational communications professional. A seasoned Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, Sue’s focus is helping organizations engage in possibility focused dialogue to inspire positive change. She has worked with nonprofits such as Canadian Diabetes Association, Canadian Hemophelia Society, Breakfast for Learning, as well as many healthcare, government and educational institutions. She was a volunteer producer to two Toronto Foundation for Student Success galas.
Sue Derby