By Susan Lichtenfels
In April the PCB Board of Directors finalized its action plan to address the top weaknesses and threats facing the organization. A variety of leadership work teams have been tasked with carrying out the goals of the plan. From time to time you will receive updates via The PCB Advocate and the PCB-l listserv regarding our progress. Members wishing to read the plan in its entirety should contact me directly for a copy.
For the purposes of this article I would like to address one specific goal and lay the groundwork for it. The Communications Team in consultation with the Conference Program and Planning Team has been assigned the goal of developing a PCB brand. The concept here is not much different from brand recognition and marketing in the corporate world. Consider your reaction when you think of companies such as Heinz, Nabisco, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg. You recognize the names, you probably know what products they make, and you know what level of quality is in their products. If you are really into brand awareness, you may determine your opinion of the company based on their environmental policy, their social giving record, or their history of hiring minorities and people with disabilities. What types of scenes or skits do they share in their commercials? All of these factors and more go into creating a brand—an image.
So why does brand matter to PCB? The image that people have of PCB is vital to our continued success in promoting independence and opportunities for people who are visually impaired. How we want people to see us effects our ability to attract people new to vision loss, mutual support from other agencies, opportunities for fund development, our reputation with policy makers, the increased involvement of current members, and the sighted community’s perception of us. Developing a new brand for our organization is a way to reshape the way others and we think of it.
Consider the following likely responses to the question, “What is the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind?”
Average person experiencing vision loss: “Well, I’ve never heard of it but from the name, I would say that it’s a group for people in Pennsylvania who are totally blind.” And yet, the truth is that PCB welcomes people of all vision levels regardless of where they live. Does our name truly reflect who we are and what we do?
Staff at a local PAB or BBVS office: “It’s the opposite of the NFB. You know, it’s one of those consumer groups that is always trying to stick its nose in and tell us how we should improve services. We stay away from both groups because we don’t want to get caught in the middle or known for taking sides.”
The reality is that we have come so far from the ACB-NFB rivalry days, and PCB does so much more than work to get legislation passed and services improved. How do we shed this antiquated perception?
Unaffiliated people within the visually impaired community: “That’s the group that meets once a month at the blind association because they don’t have anything better to do. They are always talking about political junk that I have no interest in. I don’t want to be a whiner like them. I’ve got better things to do with my time and I’m happy with my talking prescriptions and audio described shows. I can even vote independently so I don’t know what they have to complain about.” These folks are clueless about what PCB’s accomplishments are and how we impact every person with vision loss, not just our members. Is there a way that we can awaken and engage these individuals?
If you think I’m off the mark in how others perceive PCB, I encourage you to conduct your own informal survey. The image people have of PCB is nowhere near what we are. And this inaccurate image is a major barrier to our growth and pursuit of our mission. Developing and promoting a brand that can reshape some of the long-held negative attitudes about our organization will require support from every one of us.
For example, think about how you currently describe PCB to others? Most of us say PCB is a grassroots advocacy organization. As I mentioned in my address to the regional meetings, advocacy is often linked to negative concepts such as politics, fighting, complaining, and evangelism. Unfortunately, those connotations can be detrimental to an organization like PCB that has always prided itself on being an advocacy organization.
The reality is that if we truly want to change the way people look at PCB and appreciate the work that we do, we need to reshape their image of what PCB is by highlighting more than just our advocacy work. You and I know that PCB is so much more than an advocacy organization so let’s start spreading the word.
Consider some of the work we do and have done at the local, state, national, and international levels:
* Engaging in volunteerism and community service projects
* Contributing funds to other blindness organizations
* Teaching young blind people life skills
* Mentoring and supporting individuals new to vision loss
* Offering a conference to educate people with vision loss about new trends and opportunities
* Demonstrating through TheReImage that people with vision loss are more alike than different
* Providing scholarships to blind students
* Educating community and service clubs about the abilities of people with vision loss
* Referring people new to vision loss to available resources
* Advising businesses, organizations, and agencies on how to improve service to the blind
* Handing out activity sheets on blindness awareness to sighted youth
* Promoting peer interaction and learning through in-person and teleconference forums
Over the years PCB leadership has found many ways to fulfill our mission of promoting independence and opportunities for people who are visually impaired. We have moved way beyond only being an advocacy organization. We offer service and support to all who experience vision loss, not just our members. Let’s create a new brand that showcases all that we do and breaks through the existing obstacles to growth.