Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Ayana Sadler and Ryne Jones
As a land-grant university, NC State is committed to providing students hands-on, highly-engaged learning opportunities AND to providing research that is of direct, practical use to the fields we work in. Philanthropy Journal proudly presents the latest in a series of evidence-based resource articles developed by Dr. Amanda J. Stewart‘s masters level Management of Nonprofit Organizations classes. These articles represent a perfect overlap of engaged learning and practical research.
Rhetoric, which is derived from Greek, means “the art of rhetor,” “art of orientation,” and “the practice of effective communication.” Rhetoric is important for the nonprofit sector, because it’s a means of getting “people to listen to their message.”
El Pueblo, Inc., a nonprofit organization based out of Raleigh, NC, realizes the importance of rhetoric and even established their mission in their name, which in Spanish means, The Community. One main goal of El Pueblo is to empower members of the Latinx community to share their stories and advocate for various needs in the community in ways that they feel safe and comfortable. Upon meeting with El Pueblo’s leaders, we learned about the importance of the alignment of mission, vision, values, and practices and the significance of reflecting on the work of a nonprofit and how it relates to the mission.
During today’s political climate, rhetoric is being used to affect policies and influence social issues that matter to nonprofit missions. For example, many media outlets have used negative rhetoric, including “illegal,” “border control,” “good vs. bad immigrant,” and “barrier/wall,” to foster a stigma against the Latinx community. As a result, these hurtful words have caused a distrust amongst the Latinx community–making it hard for individuals to establish trust and turn to organizations for support.
Leaders at El Pueblo understand the importance of communication within their organization and align their mission with their intended work. Mission statements serve as a tool for public relations to draw volunteers, donors, and members, but most importantly the audience being served. As emphasized by nonprofit leader Dan Pallotta, rhetoric in relation to communication is commonly disregarded in the nonprofit sector. Many question the importance of “communication” and avoid hiring a trained communications professional, oftentimes relying on interns or other staff members. The significance of communication and the power of rhetoric is evidenced through El Pueblo’s work and leadership structure.
El Pueblo was created as a year-round advocacy organization that provides programs to address the evolving needs of the growing Latinx community in North Carolina. El Pueblo was established from La Fiesta in 1994. As Development Coordinator, Michelle Bermeo Betancourt shared, “El Pueblo was established to show that we are your neighbors and friends. We are just like you – and this is what makes us, us.”
Currently, the organization has revised its mission to also engage leadership development programming, fostering emerging leaders in becoming an affianced activist, “whether they are advocating with El Pueblo or advocating for change alongside other community members” as emphasized by Bermeo Betancourt.
With El Pueblo’s stakeholders, the organization brainstormed, “How best to determine the needs of a community? How to align the mission, vision, and values to fit the desires of our people?” After reassessing their previous mission, collectively El Pueblo visited various communities to speak with members, program participants, and allies to establish a restored gauge. Bermeo Betancourt said, “The community responded by saying, ‘Raleigh, North Carolina is a [politically active city]. Do some more advocacy work! You’re here – use your opportunities to access and create change.’” Advocates aided the organization in realizing the importance of leadership and how individuals wanted more in terms of being equipped to help enact change.
As a result, El Pueblo shifted their rhetoric to encourage more action-oriented efforts. Within this political climate, the organization changed its mission to foster Latinx communities to know, “it’s not up to [El Pueblo] to decide your future, it’s up to you.” Empowering all communities to control their destinies and stories – that is quintessential to El Pueblo’s mission. “We had to update it to reflect our current work; [to reflect] what the community wants and what they want us to do for them,” Bermeo Betancourt further mentioned.
The vast majority of these conversations are being held on social media platforms. Millennials, in particular, are active on social media, posting and live-streaming about everything from trending issues to working to enact systemic change. Communications Director, William Saenz, stressed that emerging leaders are correcting rhetorical agendas by addressing outlets on the misrepresentation of the Latinx community – by correcting individuals on culturally insensitive social norms. Saenz elaborated on the importance of strengthening relations with the media and making sure that staffers and community members are able to protect and control the narrative surrounding immigrant issues. Saenz noted, “We strongly suggest against using [trigger] terms because they stimulate fear and anxiety among the Latinx community.” Fostering key relationships with reporters and staying abreast of Associated Press standards can help reduce fear among undocumented individuals and be used to help build a stronger trust between this community and the media, police, and beyond. According to Saenz, “People are also less likely to speak with reporters if they are going to be identified as being ‘illegal,’ as opposed to ‘an undocumented resident.’ We have seen firsthand accounts of internet trolls who will belittle and attack someone by using this term.” Saenz shared an example of how to be a reflective practitioner and address concerns with rhetoric in the media with the following excerpt from a correspondence with a journalist:
“I wanted to touch on your article featured…We find it troubling that the title of the story uses the term “illegal resident.” I wanted to ask if this was a decision on your part or that of the editorial staff, as the use of the term “illegal,” being dehumanizing and offensive, is also discouraged within the Associated Press Stylebook. Even without the modern day political context, the term is considered offensive in the sense that we no longer refer to people with schizophrenia as “schizophrenics.” If this was not your decision and was made by the editorial board, I would ask if you could connect me to them so that I can continue this conversation. I would like to ask them if there is an organizational policy towards the use of this term, and what can be done as next steps to improve communications in the future.”
Over the past year, El Pueblo has focused its efforts on racial equity as a part of their values. Training staff members, boards, and advocates on the faces of racism both towards and within the Latinx community, particularly anti-blackness and the stigmas associated with colorism. Together, El Pueblo leaders and community members work to make racial equity a core component of the nonprofit’s work to understand how to decolonize racism within the community. Civic Engagement Director Mary Jose Espinoza stated, “Talking about racism is not easy but we think that those conversations still need to happen. Tackling racial equity at the core is one of the values that we need to move forward with.” In order to combat anti-blackness and racial stigmas, the rhetoric used to describe communities of color within the greater Latinx community needs to be inclusive and avoid trigger words, with the goal of this becoming common practice is everyday vernacular.
The mission of an organization is its guiding principle. It’s important for nonprofits to be mindful of the issues of the communities served and to align their mission and resources to meet the communities’ needs. One of El Pueblo’s emerging leaders is Nathalia Diego-Cruz. She is currently in college but participated in El Pueblo’s youth leadership programs. Diego-Cruz shared how El Pueblo influenced her in understanding civic engagement and how to use rhetoric through word of mouth to share the mission and values of the organization to help influence policies and systemic change. El Pueblo has demonstrated the effectiveness of mission alignment to create safe environments that foster critical dialogues that lead to systemic change. As modeled by El Pueblo, the emphasis on communications and mission alignment is key in serving the target community to its fullest potential.
Ayana Sadler is a technically sophisticated professional obtaining her MS in Technical Communication from NC State University. Upon graduation, she is prepared to leverage a career in medical marketing & communication, travel globally with her profession, and bridge the gap within patient-centered rhetoric.
Ryne Jones has spent the last six years as a high school educator, teaching French, serving as head coach for swim & dive, and mentoring students as an advisor for both student government and French Honors Society. He is currently pursuing a masters of public administration at NC State University in hopes of working as an advocate for public education.