As I sat and listened to the introduction to our week of service, I was fascinated. For the whole week, we would be working for the Cumberland Trail Conference, and organization in Tennessee building a gigantic nature trail than spanned the width of Tennessee. Not only that, but this trail would eventually link up with other state trails to form what they had decided to name the “Great Eastern Trail”-a trail just as long as and parallel with the Appalaichian Trail.
As we worked through the week, and I spoke with our site leader on the trail, he kept saying the biggest problem the CTC faced was their difficulty in acquiring land for the trail. One factor contributing to this difficulty is very little public awareness of the project. Much of their funds are focused towards equipment and acquiring land and so they have little to no money to spend on publicity efforts.
This is a trend present in a lot of small non-profit organizations, they have little to no money, and very few ways to generate a lot of public support. The trend is cyclical, organizations have no money for publicity, and can’t generate enough public support to increase donations as a result. Large, non-profit organizations have massive donor bases and are able to allocate money specifically to public relations efforts. Most of the funding small non-profits like the CTC allocate most of their money and time towards operations.
One reason for this is these small organizations have a poor utilization of social media, probably the cheapest way to generate publicity. One glance at the Facebook page for the CTC and it is mainly just photos of work being done on the trail. The organization has no twitter handle attached to them, something that can be vital when generating public support over social media. It’s clear when speaking to members of the CTC that no one in the organization knows how to utilize social media and no one really sees the value in using it, when so much of their time is already dedicated to actually working on the trail. In one week, we built a half mile of trail, and the entire trail is hundreds of miles long. With so much time dedicated to working on the trail, who has time to conduct a Twitter campaign?
Yet the relevance of public awareness cannot be lost on these organizations. Sometimes, non-profits get so caught up in their own causes that they lose sight of how much public support can help. However, like the case of the CTC, its not that they don’t value public support, they simply are lost on how to achieve it.
There are a variety of answers to what can be done for organzations like the CTC. Social media is a cost-effective way of generating publicity, and an easy way to access a large audience. More traditional media costs more money and more time, time that could be used to work for their cause.
One simple answer? Everyone should get out and volunteer for these organizations. Not only can you help them work further towards their cause, but these organizations can open your eyes to industries you never even considered working for. I know that as I stood working on the trail, looking out across the mountains and into the valley, I was inspired to speak up for the CTC whenever I could, spreading the word to my friends as soon as I got home. Volunteering with organizations like this one can move people towards new avenues and new career paths and possibly-forgive my horrible cliché-make the world a better place.