By Sara Williscroft, ABC

Last year, communications consultant Ashley Wilford-Matthews helped an immigrant-serving agency host a national conference for case-workers across the country who help LGBTQ newcomers settle in Canada.

The agenda highlighted many challenges these new settlers face: persecution in their country of origin; potential fall-out from someone finding out their status here and telling their home community; and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation on top of racism.

The audience was a mix of experienced case workers who shared their challenges and successes, and those new to the work who wanted to learn more about how to best serve LGBTQ clients.

There were tears of relief and ah-ha moments of understanding. What was left was a huge network of people who were poised to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ newcomers. For non-profit communicators like Ashley, seeing the fruits of their labor manifest in ways like this is just part of the job.

“I have so many stories of moving and touching projects. I’m lucky to be able to learn a lot about people through the organizations I help. But, as with all communications work, there are challenges,” says Ashley.

Ashley Wilford-Matthews makes a difference by providing communications consulting for non-profits.

Ashley has worked as a consultant focused on non-profit communications for human services organizations for the last seven years and worked in the sector before that. While she loves what she does, she recognizes that it’s very different from for-profit corporate communications roles.

“Communications work in the non-profit sector requires an in-depth understanding of organizational restraints. If I work on a strategy for an organization and they don’t have funding to hire a staff person to do the work, then what good is the strategy?” says Ashley.

“My work requires me to do a lot of investigation on what is possible. Is there a board member that has a skill set to leverage? Volunteers? In the non-profit sector, it’s critical that your strategies are creative and flexible.”

Ashley’s clients will often reach out for help with a small project that is outside of the communication team’s capacity (if a team even exists) or funded by a one-time grant. For example, she may re-write an organization’s website and materials to help them bridge the gap between an audience of clients and an audience of funders:

“I find a lot of non-profits can be very client focused. They are often focused on communicating to their clients and forget the donor. Bridging the two can be tough because of the sensitivities around telling client stories. Ultimately, I try to encourage buy-in from donors and a broader community-level support. I bring that lens into their focus.”

This focus has led Ashley to help tell the stories of vulnerable people across Calgary in a way that honours who they are and inspires people to support their cause. It’s one of the reasons she is so committed to making sure non-profits are successful.

“I have interviewed the adult children of Alzheimer’s patients who relied on support to help ease the burden of being a caregiver. I’ve told stories of lawyers who volunteer their time to help low-income people access legal advice. I have worked with the research and impact of Gay Straight Alliances and have been able to tell powerful stories about kids who benefited from them. I have a really special job,” says Ashley.

Turning client stories and the impact non-profit organizations have into real, tangible stories, websites, fundraisers and events is what non-profit communications are all about.

“My number one goal is to help these organizations continue helping people. They are dealing with big, challenging, systemic issues, and it’s incredibly difficult work – I have so much respect for those on the frontlines. My hope is that by telling their stories and communicating their impact, I’m going to make it just a bit easier for them to make a difference.”

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