By Lauren Rule
Taos, New Mexico, with its diverse cultural blend of traditions and values, makes for a fascinating area in which to study communication approaches. This is especially true for environmental groups in the region, struggling to be heard and to enlist support for each cause. New Mexico is ranked the 3rd highest state in poverty. With over 300 non-profit organizations in Taos alone, communication strategies are vital to gaining support and awareness. This became crystal clear when I visited Habitat for Humanity’s Re-store in Taos recently. During such a weak economy and with so many nonprofits clamoring for support, how does an organization reach its key publics?
Habitat for Humanity helps those in need by building homes using volunteer labor and donations. A typical home in the Taos region costs about $300,000 and an average citizen makes about $25,000 in a year. This demonstrates the need for non-profits such as Habitat, and for the volunteers and donations to assist those in need. The Taos branch of Habitat depends on tourism for aid, since 64% of the homes in the region are vacation homes, owned by people who think of themselves as visitors, rather than vested members of the community.
For an organization such as Habitat in Taos to be heard and to enlist support, it must use a variety of communication strategies aimed at this diverse cultural mix. In addition to writing articles and press releases for news media, organizations have begun using social media. Another non-profit organization, Amigos Bravos, is in the midst of launching its first social media campaign: “Got Muck,” which aims to create awareness about the devastating pollution surrounding the dairy industry in New Mexico, one of the largest cheese producers in the U.S. But this can be hard in a rural, low-tech town. And since so many regional nonprofits are hitting up local businesses and churches for assistance, help and money is limited.
Habitat’s primary support comes from outside of the state. Susan Nuss of Habitat’s Re-Store says the most effective ways to generate outside funds involves creating videos, such as “Build Taos.” But when it comes down to it, Habitat and Amigos Bravos organizers agree, that in a region like Taos, the best strategy involves building one-on-one relationships.