Communicating for Social Change

Greetings! I’m Vincent DiCaro, and this is my first blog post here on the JHU Communication Career Blog!

I hope over the next few weeks, I can share some insight about communication in general, and specifically about my experience working in the nonprofit world.

ImageAs you can guess from the title of this blog post, my job is really about “communicating for social change.” I work for the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a national nonprofit based in Germantown, MD. At the end of the day, I am trying to get people to change their minds and, hopefully, their behavior.ย As you can guess, we are working to help men be better dads, and educate and inspire the public as a whole about why it is important for children to have good fathers in their lives. It is not an easy job, but it is important work, and that is why I have been at NFI for over 11 years now.ย 

I started my career at NFI answering phones, and now I am a vice president. I hope to share on this blog how that all went down, and what I have done in those 11 years to “communicate for social change.”

I will write about some of speeches I’ve given, and why you shouldn’t be afraid of public speaking. I will write about some of the cool technology I use every day to help me do my job. I’ll write about some of the things I’ve picked up about leadership and how I think you can become a better leader.

So, rather than diving into those topics right away, I want to ask some questions; I want your suggestions on some of the things you want to hear from out here in the hinterlands of Montgomery County ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

So, what would you like to know about working in the nonprofit sector? Do you have any questions about the tools of the trade I use to do my job? Is there anything you want to know about leadership and growing as a leader? Any other questions are welcome, too!

I look forward to communicating with you!



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15 responses to “Communicating for Social Change

  1. Susan Allen

    I’ve already learned a lot from reading your first blog. Thanks. My question is about changing attitudes. Our persuasion class has been reading about how attitudes form and how tough it can be to change them. What are your strategies for changing attitudes of people who might be reluctant to get involved with their kids? Thanks, Susan

    • Susan. This is a great question, and I don’t know if anyone has THE answer to it, but here is my take, based on what we do at NFI. There is a saying, “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.” In other words, change your behavior first, and then you will start to change your attitude towards that behavior.

      I think this is especially true for men, or core audience. This is why we focus so much on getting fatherhood skill-building materials into the hands of dads. Our resources help them build important skills and give them actionable tactics they can use right away to engage in their child’s life. Once they start to simply “get involved” they see the beauty and value of being a good dad.

      Beyond that, we always try to combine facts with emotion. Show people the facts (statistics, data, etc) about why fathers are important, and then tell stories or give real examples of how father involvement changed a dad and/or a child’s life for the better.

      Finally, influence from peers or other important people in a person’s life is critical. And often the most important relationship that determines the level of involvement a father has with his children is the relationship he has with their mother. That is why we also work to ensure that mothers are involved in the “process” of increasing father involvement.

  2. thanks Vincent! I’d be interested in hearing from you which nonprofits in DC you think are doing the best job in communications. Maybe a top five list?

    • Dawn – you’ve stumped me on this one. Let me pay more attention over the next week or so and I will let you know if I come across anyone local who is doing a good job on this.

      Two non-local groups come to mind though.

      One is World Vision. They are very good with communication because they are great at telling stories and building a personal sense of urgency with the children they are trying to help.

      Another is Charity:Water. They are similar to World Vision in some ways. Most importantly, they are MASTER storytellers who are incredible at making you feel personally connected to the folks they need your help helping.

  3. Steph Mc

    Looking forward to the nonprofit focus! Whatever you wish to write, I’ll look forward to reading. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I’d love to hear about your top 5 pain points or challenges that you run into in your work. Is it capacity, financial, structural? Very much looking forward to it, Vincent!

    • Allegra – I don’t know if I can come up with 5, but here goes.

      1) Financial. I guess this is obvious, but things are tough out there for nonprofits. There is so much competition for a limited pool of funding, and then the economy is struggling, charitable giving becomes even more scarce. So, the last 4 years have been especially tough. We’ve had to adjust our approach to make sure we are “going where the funding is” and not letting any “sacred cows” around “traditional” fundraising get in our way of finding new ways of generating revenue.

      2) Apathy. Apathy is a huge barrier for us (and any nonprofits, I would imagine). It’s not that people object to what we do, it’s just that it is hard for them to get excited about it, or to think that the problem we are addressing is “that bad,” or, if they agree it is bad, to think that there is much that can be done to change things. How do you battle apathy? Great storytelling, engaging use of social media, etc. Not easy.

      Those are the two most important ones. I will think of more as we go along over these two weeks.

  5. Hey, Allegra, Steph, Dawn, and Susan. Thanks for the great questions. They are so good, I don’t have answers to any of them. Just kidding. I will answer them all later when this crazy day job of mine is not taking up all my time. Geesh, day jobs… ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Carly Raasch

    Hi, Vincent. Thank you for your advice thus far! I am interested in learning more about tools/tools of the trade you currently use. What are the top skills you feel you need to constantly work on to keep up in your line of work?

    • Hi, Carly. I may answer this more fully in a blog post, but I will give you the number 1 skill you need to have and grow – writing. It may sound obvious, but I am consistently shocked at how mediocre many professionals are at writing. If you can write well, you can do almost anything in communication. If you can’t, you are in trouble. So, use your time at Hopkins to learn how to write well. It is both an art and a science, so embrace both sides of it, find mentors, write a lot, and just keep getting better.

  7. Hi Vincent,

    Great post, looking forward to following along the next few weeks. I was curious how digital communications has changed how you work at NFI. Did it take a while to integrate it into your work? Once you did, did you find that it changed how you fundraise, educate, advocate, etc? And have you found it replacing other tools that maybe used to be the best means of spreading your message before (TV or radio spots, mailers, etc.)?

    I realize that’s really more like four questions, so feel free to pick and choose. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Emily, in short, digital comm has essentially replaced traditional forms of communication here at NFI. We ran a national PSA campaign with the Ad Council from about 1997 to 2007. But they are extremely expensive, and frankly, I am starting to question their impact. Do people really watch or feel the impact of TV commercials, or are they looking for more intimate engagement via tools like Twitter and Facebook?

      There is certainly still value in the old-fashioned, expensive ways of communicating, but for a nonprofit like us, we simply can’t afford them anymore. So we have embraced social media and a philosophy (and technology) called inbound marketing. We use a platform called Hubspot to engage in this inbound marketing, and it has transformed the way we interact with our audience. I am definitely going to do a separate blog post on Hubspot and inbound marketing. So stay tuned!

      With social media like blogging, Facebook, and Twitter, it took us about 2 years to really start making an impact with those tools. Certainly there were immediate benefits, but it is really in the last year (we started using those tools in 2010) where we feel like they are a central part of what we do and the primary means by which we interact with and learn from our audience.

  8. Hi Mr. DicCaro,

    Thanks for sharing information about your non-profit and for connecting with all of us here. What an absolutely wonderful mission to better society as a whole.

    Wow, folks have asked some pretty incredible questions so far. Therefore, I’m going to let you off the hook by asking very few questions right now.

    In addition to being a student, working for Defense Dept, I own a small Llc consulting business, PreEmpt Career Solutions ( I help connect people w/the right career for then but specialize in government careers. This may be somewhat off base but I’m going to ask anyway. Do you have a career services element to your non-profit, where you help these fathers understand the importance to obtaining meaningful careers so they can take care of their children financially? If so, how do you communicate that to them and how they can find these resources? I ask because personally I want to do more to improve society as I gear my focus more towards the ‘disadvantaged.’

    Lastly, from a social media communication stand-point (Yes, I’m a media major!), could I recommend that you insert hyperlinks to topics such as your non-profit’s web site? ๐Ÿ™‚ I could not do so but maybe you have the admin rights on your end.

    Thanks so much again for your time.

    Dee Fitzwater
    PreEmpt Career Solutions, Llc
    “It’s Not a Job. It’s a Federal Career.”
    Bridging the Gap Between Career Seekers & Employers
    Office: 540.327.7527

    • Hi, Dee. To answer your question about career services for dads, since we do not do direct services, but rather help other CBOs implement our programming, I can say that many of the CBOs who use our fatherhood skill-building programming often couple it with a career services element, since as you state above, part of being a good dad is providing financially for your children. We like to say that good dads provide, nurture, and guide, so even if they are out of work, they can still nurture and guide, and be great dads.

      And I will try to add more links, but I do not want to be too “linky” and move people off this page too often.

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