Tuolumne River Trust: How Content Helps Us Protect the River [Interview]

The River Trust’s Bay Area Program Director tells us how content is helping get the word out about saving and restoring the Tuolumne River in California.

Peter Drekmeier has been working with environmental non-profits for more than 25 years now. In 1990, he founded an organization called Bay Area Action which later merged with Acterra — an environmental action and educational non-profit. After serving as the mayor of Palo Alto, he shifted his focus to the Tuolumne River Trust — a non-profit that raises awareness for river stewardship and protecting the Tuolumne. Famous for their Paddle to the Sea event, the Tuolumne River Trust sheds light on how many local communities are dependent on the river. We often talk a lot about how businesses are using the written word to increase brand awareness, and it’s no different for those in the non-profit sector.

Scripted: April is the month of Earth Day. Can you talk more about how your non-profit do and how is it helping the environment and the Tuolumne River?

Peter: We were founded in 1981. At that time, there were more dams proposed for the Tuolumne. We were very concerned.

We have a number of education campaigns. We have done some land purchase and habitat restoration. We work on a lot of policy issues to protect the river. Trying to engage people to know the source of their water and how special it is — it provides the why to conserve.

Our first major victory was securing federal Wild and Scenic status for the upper 83 miles of the Tuolumne. That means no new dams can be built and no development can occur along its banks.

Scripted: How do you get the word out about the river?

Peter: We have an online newsletter that goes out. It has information on the issues and events that we’re encouraging people to participate in. Then we have a hard newsletter. A lot of it is face-to-face education — tables at events — always trying to encourage people to sign up for our emails.

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Scripted: How do you create that content?

Peter: We have an advancement director. Her role is to coordinate our fund raising activities as well as our communication. We also put together fact sheets for our specific campaigns and programs — articles for the web, newsletter.

Scripted: How do you guys measure your content’s success?

Peter: A lot of our content is to educate and encourage action. Write a letter to a specific agency — attend a hearing to testify. Those are easy to measure.

For fundraising, obviously, how much money we raise measures the success. At the end of the year, we measure the success of our content on whether or not we reached our goal.

Scripted: What is your content strategy like?

Peter: There’s a lot of information out there. People tend to be a little overwhelmed with email and content. It’s really important for us to make our content concise and focus on what people can do.

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We try to really focus content on our priority projects. We try to distribute in ways that aren’t overwhelming. A lot of times, it’s helpful to layer. An email goes out with the basics and then we give a link to more in-depth content on our website. From there, links that go deeper.

Scripted: What’s trending in content and non-profits right now? Any growing strategies?

Peter: It’s not so much trends in strategy, but more in issues. For example, we’re in the third year of drought and 2013 was the driest year on record. People are paying attention. We’ll shape a lot of our content around the drought and how it’s impacting the resources we care so much about.

We try to get them engaged in being part of the solution. If they make some changes in their lifestyle, whether it’s converting a thirsty lawn to climate-appropriate native plants or installing water efficient appliances.

Once they’ve taken action, then they’re more likely to get engaged.

Scripted: What has been the most effective way to get your message out, if you had to choose one?

Peter: We try to encourage our members to be messengers, and to reach out to their networks and get people engaged.

Invite a friend to join them on Paddle to the Sea. Bring a friend to a hearing. Encouraging their network to weigh in on an issue. People aren’t comfortable doing that, unless they know enough about the issue that they won’t come across as looking naive.

For example, if we want to generate letters around an issue, we don’t feel a form letter is effective, because it’s easy and decision‑makers write it off. We might have a number of suggestions and bullet points, “Who to write a letter to,” “Here is a suggestion how you might begin it,” making it really easy for them.

Editor’s note: The Tuolumne River Trust is part of Scripted.com’s non-profit program. If you’re a non-profit organization and need content to help tell your story email Nicole (Nicole@Scripted.com). 

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