With an academic background in philosophy and the history of thought, Heather Cosentino says her career in marketing communications was the result of a happy accident. Today she uses the critical thinking and research skills she honed at university in her position of communication specialist at ABC Life Literacy Canada (ABC) in Toronto, where she develops the organization’s communications strategy and manages digital communications content, including writing communications plans, website and social media content, monthly newsletters, media releases and editorial content.

ABC Life Literacy Canada is a nonprofit organization that inspires Canadians to increase their literacy skills. “We connect and mobilize business, unions, government, communities and individuals to support lifelong learning and achieve our goals through leadership in programs, communications and partnerships,” says Heather. “ABC envisions a Canada where everyone has the skills they need to live a fully engaged life.”

 

Redefining literacy

“The biggest challenge we have as a literacy organization is engaging the public in our cause,” Heather says. “We’ve spent the last decade redefining ‘literacy’ to broaden the definition to mean more than just reading.”

A recent international study release by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in October of last year indicated that 1 in 2 adult Canadians lack literacy skills in problem solving, numeracy and critical thinking to help them succeed in the workplace and grow in their jobs.

“In order to continue to grow our economy our workforce must ‘upskill’ – that’s where literacy comes in. We’re taking literacy training out of the classroom and bringing it to the shop floor. This evolution of literacy has been slow but steady and we’re beginning to see progress,” says Heather.

 

Using digital assets to celebrate literacy

“Although I love all aspects of my job, I’d have to say that my favourite part is the opportunity to think strategically about all of ABC’s digital assets, and how we can best use them to connect and engage with our audiences, while raising awareness for literacy in Canada,” Heather says.

One component of ABC’s digital assets, social media, was especially important for the 2014 Family Literacy Day celebration. Canadians who celebrated Family Literacy Day across the country were encouraged to tweet what they were doing with the hashtag #15MinutesofFun.

The hashtag was a tactic ABC used to measure the success of the event. “This was extremely successful as we were able to get a sense of the big picture across Canada as thousands of parents and families celebrated Family Literacy Day. This was an event that I’m most proud of,” says Heather. She was the key organizer of the Family Literacy Day celebration, which included developing a Canada-wide communications strategy of all digital communications platforms for the event.

 

Prioritizing projects

“Working for a smaller nonprofit has allowed me to grow in my job and take advantage of work experiences and opportunities that may not be available to someone in my role at a larger organization,” says Heather.

Yet, she has a word of caution to other nonprofit communicators: “Don’t take on too much! I’ve found that in the not-for-profit field especially (but not exclusively) people tend to add new projects without letting go of old ones. It’s a constant battle between quantity and quality, and requires a lot of practice with strategic prioritizing. Instead of asking ourselves how we can reach our target audience, we should focus on how to have the most impact, with a high ROI.”

 

To continue the conversation with Heather, connect with her on Twitter.

 

Linda Alberts

Linda Alberts

public relations coordinator at National Alliance for Youth Sports
Linda Alberts is a communications professional, with a focus in public relations. She is currently the public relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Youth Sports headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla. In addition to her work in youth sports, Linda enjoys reading, baking, gardening.
Linda Alberts