TransWild Alliance

Natural Resources Blog

Author: billc

Getting Your Message Out

“If it’s birds versus jobs, you’re dead. You lose. If it’s corporate greed versus protecting the forests, that’s good.”
Jon Haber of Fleishman-Hillard, strategic communications firm

Unfortunately, the general public knows very little about the conflict between wildlife and transportation. A 2006 study by the University of Denver found four major barriers to effective citizen participation in wildlife sensitive transportation projects:

  • Lack of awareness—citizens are only minimally aware of wildlife and transportation issues
  • Public apathy or a lack of citizen interest in wildlife and transportation issues
  • Ineffective citizen participation techniques and processes
  • Poor communication with citizens

While millions of people are involved in wildlife-vehicle collisions, very few people understand the full scope of ecological effects of roads upon wildlife. Even fewer are aware of methods to reduce these impacts or understand their own ability to participate in the process. It’s our job to wake this sleeping giant and cultivate an informed citizen constituency.

How to Write a Press Release

Are you doing something newsworthy and want to tell the world about it? Then a press release may be just the ticket. A press release is a written statement to announce a news item such as a scheduled event, a victory or to generate a feature story. While nothing will guarantee your story will be picked up, you can improve your chances with a well crafted, professional press release.

  • Is your news newsworthy? Just because you’re excited about it doesn’t make it news.
  • Give your story a news hook by being unique, unusual or by tying it to a current event or issue.
  • Start strong. Tell your story succinctly in the headline and first paragraph.
  • Just the facts, ma’am. Don’t embellish. Answer the who, what, when, where, why and how.
  • Keep it short. unnecessary adjectives and make every word count.
  • Use correct grammar and spelling. No jargon, no acronyms, no CAPS and no exclamation points!!!
  • Make it easy. Journalists are busy people; the easier you make their jobs, the more likely they are to cover your issue.



Contact: Provide contact info for the story

Headline Announces Story at the Top, Keep it Under 80 Characters

Subheadline: One short sentence on why the headline matters; brief elaboration on main message or introduction of secondary message.

City, State – Use the lead sentence to provide a brief synopsis of the information you are presenting. Don’t assume that the reader has read your headlines; the first one or two sentences have to capture the reader’s attention immediately.

First quote: 2-3 sentence quote from an identified source explaining your organization’s position/reaction/comment on the main message of the release.

Use the next 1-2 paragraphs to expand on the opening paragraph and provide backup data or history that further underscores your message.

Secondary quotes: These further expand upon your organization’s position or give other stakeholders an opportunity to comment.

Optional additional factual “context” paragraphs.

About Conservation Group: Close with organizational information and website.


Remember: Just like news stories, press releases use short sentences and paragraphs. Keep paragraphs to four lines or less. The entire press release should ideally be no more than one page or a page and a half at the most. The tone should be objective and neutral except within quotes; if you find “I,” “you,” or “we” outside a direct quote, start over. And when crafting your quotes, remember that the average newspaper reader absorbs information at an eight grade reading level, so avoid overly “wonky” words or phrases…

The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project (SREP) spearheaded an education and outreach campaign in Colorado that focuses on the human safety issue, while drawing attention to the plight of wildlife on our highways. The Colorado Wildlife on the Move campaign urges drivers to watch for wildlife on Colorado highways, especially during times when animals are migrating. SREP held a media conference with Colorado State Patrol and other partners that reached millions through television, radio and newspaper coverage. Campaign posters and driver tip sheets are displayed in rest stops, tourist information centers, rental car offices and other locations across the state.


The I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition educated elementary students across the state of Washington about issues surrounding wildlife and our roads with a specific focus on the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project. They asked the children to express their thoughts through drawings that show how we can collaborate to benefit both animals and people in the I-90 Project. Coalition Director Charlie Raines and Washington’s Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald selected the winning drawings.

How to Write a Letter to the Editor

Know the newspaper’s policy. Letters to the editor are great advocacy tools. They reach a large audience, including elected officials. They can bring up information not addressed in a news article and illustrate more widespread support for or against an issue. Following are some tips to help ensure success in getting your letter published and a sample outline to guide you as your write your own:Call the newspaper or check its Web site for its requirements for printing letters from readers. Some newspapers have strict word-count limits; others only accept letters from people who live in the community. Many newspapers even have forms on their Web sites for submitting letters.

Focus on the message. As you write, always keep in mind what you want the reader to come away with after reading your letter. Don’t make the editor wonder what you’re trying to say.

Be concise. Keep your letter brief (150 to 200 words) and limited to one topic. If your letter is too long or complicated, it may be edited or discounted altogether. You can be direct, engaging and even controversial, but never defamatory or obscene—no matter how provoked you are.

Type and proof it. Handwritten letters can be tough to read. Don’t chance it—type your letter and proofread it carefully; letters with mistakes may be discarded quickly.

Refer to specific articles in the paper. While some papers print general commentary, your chances of getting printed increase if your letter refers to a specific article. However, don’t do a lengthy rehash of the article, simply refer to it briefly. For example, “I strongly disagree with (author’s name) narrow view on habitat protection (op-ed title, date)”…

“I am deeply saddened to read that Representative Doe is supporting this destructive and unnecessary road project (article title, date)”…


“I am happy this paper has taken up the charge for protection of endangered species (op-ed title, date) and I hope Senator Doe listens to this message when casting her vote.”

Be timely. When responding to an article, submit your letter to the editor as soon as possible. You want the original article to be fresh in the mind of the audience.

Get personal. The best letters contain attention-getting information or personal anecdotes. Refer to personal stories to make your point. Use personal examples whenever you can.

Include your contact information. Many newspapers will print a letter only after verifying the identity and address of the author. Provide your full name, address, ZIP code and daytime telephone number so the newspaper can easily contact you to verify your letter or to discuss editorial changes prior to publication.

Don’t give up. Most publications are very selective. The smaller the newspaper’s circulation, the better your chances of getting your letter printed. Don’t keep calling to check on the status of your letter. If your letter isn’t selected, don’t be discouraged. You can send a revised letter with a different angle at another time. Be aware, too, that many publications have guidelines about repeatedly printing letters from a single individual, so don’t expect to have your letters printed on a regular basis.

Share your success. If your letter is published, don’t stop there. Send the clip to your elected officials so they see what their constituents are writing and reading about. And don’t forget to send it to your fellow conservation advocates. It’s your voice that helps us all succeed in our work and we want to hear it.


“The problem the environmental community has is they don’t listen to their opponents. When I do my research, I spend more time studying the opposition argument because that’s what I need to respond to. The environmental community never listens. If they listened, they would have realized very early on that they would find common ground with other allies.”
-Republican pollster, Frank Luntz

Additional Resources

Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes
Andresen, Katya. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, California. 2006.

Designing a Communication Strategy: the 4-P Workshop
Conservation International, Washington, DC

Recommended Web Designer Web Designer Charlotte
Website Design for non-profits. Lucid Crew, Charlotte, NC.

Now Hear This: The Nine Laws of Successful Advocacy Communications
Fenton Communications, Washington, DC

Communications Tools for Nonprofit Professionals
Spitfire Strategies

Speak Up! Media Relations
Governors Highway Safety Association

Dialing In, Logging On, Nodding Off: The True Costs of Teleconferences, Videoconferences and Webinars
Andy Goodman, The Goodman Center
“How NOT to run a teleconference or webinar” Over 1000 employees of nonprofits, foundations, educational and cultural institutions and government agencies across North America participated in a survey to determine the right and wrong way to meet and work online.

Fundraising for Conservationists

Unless you’re independently wealthy, you may need to raise money to run your campaign. Fundraising is nothing new to conservationists; it can mean everything from “tin cupping” to receiving major, multi-year grants. But don’t be overwhelmed. Reduced to its simplest expression, fundraising is the act of asking a person for a gift of money.

Research prospective donors Ask yourself, “Who would give us money to work on this issue?” List all the people, organizations, businesses, foundations and agencies that are touched by the wildlife and transportation conflict. Get creative.

Now just ask Send an introductory letter and follow up with a friendly phone call. Offer to meet over coffee to tell them more about your activities.

Use the internet to raise funds and build relationships with donors. Develop a website to tell the world about your campaign and add a mechanism for accepting donations.

Host fundraising events at or near your area of interest. Bring people to see the area, the species and the project site for themselves.

Government Grants

Federal, state and local governments award hundreds of millions of dollars every year to nonprofit organizations. Winning a grant is a competitive process, and the best grant writers are the ones who know how to read a request for proposals (RFP), address the funder’s goals, and provide the right documentation to support their plans.

The United States government provides “direct” and “pass through” grants. Direct grants, as the name implies, go directly from the government to your organization. Competition for direct grants is fierce. The federal government also gives monies to individual states for distribution as pass through grants. To be considered for a pass through grant, you must go to the appropriate state agency. Since only in-state applicants are considered, competition is less intense. Government grants are either “competitive,” meaning applicants must compete for a share of the money or they are “formula,” meaning grants are allocated on the basis of a specific formula.


Government agencies may support your efforts to the extent that they are aligned with the agency’s priorities. They may not be so keen to give you money to support your efforts to oppose them. Once you accept money from a government agency, the dynamic of your relationship may change dramatically from advocate to employee.

Where do I find information on government grants?

The best source is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. Grants are divided into 20 main categories and almost 200 subcategories. Each entry includes the following information:

  • Name of the federal agency distributing the grant
  • Federal legislation that authorized the funds for the grant program
  • Program’s goals and objectives
  • Financial assistance the program offers
  • Non financial assistance
  • Restrictions and eligibility requirements
  • Application and selection processes
  • Examples of projects that have been funded in the past
  • Other government programs with similar objectives has information on 900 individual grant programs that provide more than $350 billion in grants each year. The Federal Register, published by the U.S. Government Printing Office has announcements about federal grant programs and opportunities.

Writing a grant proposal

So you want to write a proposal? Now that you have defined your objectives and researched your potential funders, you’re ready for the next step. A proposal is a short, narrative document that describes your organization and pitches your idea to the granting agency. Proposals come in three forms:

Letter of intent – Typically two to three pages long, the letter of intent (LOI) describes your program in a nutshell and explains how it fits the needs of the granting agency. Based on the LOI, the granting agency can decide whether to ask for a longer, more detailed proposal.

Short proposal or letter proposal – Similar to a letter of intent, the letter proposal describes the project, the need and requests funds.

Long proposal – Most often used by foundations and government granters, the long proposal includes a cover letter, a proposal summary, and as many as ten pages of proposal text, followed by appendices that provide greater detail about the project.

How to Write a Grant Proposal

Most grantors will provide their own application forms or basic guidelines, but in some cases you will need to start from scratch. While grants can come from a variety of sources such as foundations or government agencies, most require the same basic information in the grant proposal. Here are the most common sections of a grant proposal and the information you should include:

Your cover letter should include a two to three sentence summary of your proposal. Give a brief description of your organization, mission, and an overview of your accomplishments. Make your case for why the grantor should invest in your vision.

A problem or needs statement should demonstrate the importance, urgency and relevance of your proposal. Be clear and assume that the reader doesn’t already know everything about the issue. Convince the grantor that you are the right organization for the job.

The bulk of your proposal is found in the work plan, which includes your target audience and any planning or research you may have done to prepare. Describe the proposed activities, when and where they are to take place and project start and end dates. List the project lead and other involved staff along with their qualifications.

Tell your prospective grantor your anticipated outcomes and how the project will improve the situation.

Include information on other funding you can use for the proposed project. Grantors rarely want to be the sole source of support for a project. Be sure to mention any in-kind contributions such as supplies or work space.

Attach a budget showing the various project costs including staff salaries, direct expenses and administrative or overhead expenses.

Grantors are likely to request additional materials, such as proof of your tax-exempt status, a list of your board members, last year’s financial statement and budgets for the current fiscal year.

Additional Resources

EPA and Purdue University’s Grant Writing Tutorial

CONVIO: Best Practices Guides
Download these free guides and learn the secrets of nonprofit online fundraising, advocacy and email marketing that can help you find new constituents and turn them into long-term, loyal donors.

Web Visibility Services by WRITE LAW

GROUNDSPRING: Offers online fundraising solutions for nonprofits

Fundraising for the Long Haul
Klein, K. 2000. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, California.

Big Gifts for Small Groups: A Board Member’s 1-Hour Guide to Securing Gifts of $500 to $5,000
Robinson, A. 2004. Emerson & Church, Medfield, MA
Think of fundraising as barter: donors give money in exchange for your organization giving good work and benefits to the community. Soliciting donations is simpler than you think!

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