Our company, Cooke Pictures, helps numerous national organizations tell their story in today’s cluttered and distracted culture. As a result, I love hearing the stories of others who are helping their churches, nonprofits, and other organizations tell their stories more effectively. A number of years ago, I met Lt. Colonel Ron Busroe, who is currently National Community Relations & Development Secretary at The Salvation Army’s National Headquarters. In simpler terms, that means he’s the Communications Director for the Salvation Army, and in that role he holds administrative responsibility for marketing communications, public relations, government relations, disaster services and corporate relations for The Salvation Army in the United States. And if that isn’t enough, he also serves as national spokesperson.
Lt. Colonel Busroe was commissioned as an officer in The Salvation Army in 1978, and has followed a diverse career path that has led him to serve in the United States and overseas. His first contact with The Salvation Army was as a bellringer in New York City while a student at Asbury College. I had the opportunity to talk to Ron recently and ask him about the role communication plays in such a respected global organization:
Phil Cooke: Tell me about your role in the Salvation Army, and what exactly do you consider “communications?”
Ron Busroe: Communications is about getting out a steady flow of information. As the national spokesperson, my priority is what we do and who we are. People support us because of what we do. They give because they have confidence that the money they provide will be used for the programs we say it will. By telling the story of what The Salvation Army does every day, donors and those in need of help can have the continued confidence and trust in The Salvation Army.
Phil Cooke: In today’s digital world, why is it so important for churches, ministries, and nonprofits to share their story more effectively?
Ron Busroe: The reason we have to share our story effectively in the digital world is because more and more people are getting their news and information there. That means having a presence on social media, as well as featuring a strong website and an active blog. Indeed, it’s a digital world, and we’ve got to be there to get our message out.
Phil: For a Communication Director at a local church or nonprofit, what advice would you give them when it comes to priorities?
Ron: Your communication priorities should mirror your organization’s operational priorities. So know your organization’s operational priorities and craft your messages around them. Whether it’s church attendance or providing a service to your community, everything you say needs to address one or more of those priorities. If it doesn’t, it’s not worth saying.
Phil: What about crisis communication? In a text message, social media world, word travels fast. How important is it to have a strategy for responding to a crisis before that crisis ever happens?
Ron: You have to have a strategy prepared ahead of time for crisis situations. You need to know who’s going to put together the talking points, who’s going to be the spokesperson, and who’s going to be on social media. To me, it’s about the details of the plan and that people are ready to respond.
Phil: What’s your role when it comes to assisting leadership? How can a Communications Director help those leaders he or she reports to?
Ron: My role is to be personally aware of issues that may affect the Army and conversations we should engage in so that I can inform leadership and present strategies to address those issues. And I love that part of my work. Sometimes it means reading the latest news, or going to Capitol Hill and listening to policy discussions, and then bringing that information to leadership so we can continue to do the most good in the most effective ways possible.
Phil: The world has changed during your career. We’ve gone from an analog to digital world, and today we experience distractions at record levels. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over that time?
Ron: Tell the truth. There are certain things that have remained constant in my career, and that’s one of them. Regardless of the medium—newspapers, television, or internet—our responsibility to tell the truth will never change.
Phil: As you look into the future of The Salvation Army, what do you see out there?
Ron: It’s important for The Salvation Army not to be caught up in distractions. It’s very easy in an organization this size to start paying attention to smaller issues that may not directly address our mission, whether on a local or national level. For more than 150 years, our mission has been to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination. Our mission will not change, but what may change is how we fulfill our mission. The times we live in have been called an era of hopelessness. Well, The Salvation Army is an organization that provides hope in the midst of that hopelessness. That may look different in 10 to 20 years, but we will always be here to meet human need, whatever that need may be.