• Use the grapevine. Researchers tell us that nine of every ten people who receive a personal message will tell ten others, and one of every ten, the professional talker, will tell more than twenty others. There are communications grapevines in every school through which rumors travel, sometimes at alarming rates. That grapevine can also be an effective vehicle for taking your organization’s messages to an existing system in the school whereby everyone is linked to someone else either personally or professionally.
• Set up a personal key communicator network. Talk to the opinion leaders that you know personally. Tell them about what is happening in your organization or about the specific issues facing your community, and ask them to share that information with others. Also ask them to tell you what they are hearing about your organization from others (as a reality check) and to call you immediately when they hear criticisms or something negative so that you can effect means to correct perceptions or mistakes. Remember that some of the most influential key communicators are not necessarily the most visible people in the community.
• Be active in the school community. Muslim organizations executives need to spend less time in meetings and talks and more time on the ‘main street’. Be seen to take part in halal community events. Form partnerships with like-minded campus-based organizations for your mutual benefits. Many organizations are natural partners in advocating for Muslim rights once there is a developed system of communication and joint participation in decision making for joint actions, as well as an understanding of each others purpose and responsibilities.
• Get to know your fellow members. Show an interest in other members’ personal lives, religious practice, their families, hobbies and activities in the organization. Find out their interests, and acknowledge the possibility that you may disagree on issues but you can still respect them and their privacy. Officials and members that work well together project a positive image based on trust and open, honest discussions. Also try to develop links with social workers and Muslim counselors to give social services to members in need of such services.
• Welcome visitors. People usually hang onto their first impressions. Those first impressions can contribute to the attitudes they form about your organization and its vision. Make sure that visitors feel welcome and that they know that their involvement is appreciated. Greet all visitors, even your biggest critics, with the attitude that your shared goal is what’s best for the Ummah.
• Speak in plain English. Talk so others can understand what you are saying. Avoid jargon. Jargon sets up barriers to clear communication. If you usually fall into the trap of using long and complicated words when simple, direct language will do, even those who are directly involved in the same projects as you may not comprehend the message you want to convey.
• Be an active listener. Question the speaker for clarity or paraphrase to be sure you heard what you think you heard. Reserve your judgment and listen to the full story before you respond. Take notes, but do so sparingly so that your note taking does not interfere with your paying attention.
• Be courteous and attentive to speakers. Even though you probably can read and listen at the same time, don’t. Eliminate personal habits, such as tapping a pencil, jangling change in your pocket or endlessly rustling your papers that might be distracting to speakers. Don’t get into a debate with someone in the audience.
• Learn the positive things that are happening in the Ummah, and tell other people about them. Muslim organizations do millions of things right every day, in addition to the occasional goof. Talk about all the things you are doing right in your own organization and their positive effects. Also, tell individuals when they do a good job; have a good idea or make a positive contribution to your programme or projects. Even the grouchiest person will light up when he or she receives a sincere recognition. Look for opportunities to tell others that they are valued and that you recognize their efforts on behalf of the organization. Use meetings to systematically recognize individual efforts and commend and honour volunteers. Express appreciation, write personal thank you notes for jobs well done – even small jobs that seem insignificant. Arrange for special events that showcase your organization’s appreciation to all who are involved. Never miss an opportunity to recognize the contributions of others to the success of your organization.
• Attack problems, not personalities. Be diligent about expressing your views in a thoughtful, professional way. An off-the-cuff, hurtful remark, even in jest, can greatly damage working relationships.
• Set high expectations. Set the tone for your organization by adopting policies and procedures that support strong public relations efforts and comprehensive school authority/Muslim Students organization partnerships. Model what you want by your words and actions.
• Keep confidential information confidential. Avoid making comments or suggestions that could demean or embarrass other members. Executives sometimes have access to sensitive information that could, if released prematurely, severely tarnish the organization’s reputation and could have negative consequences. Information discussed in an executive session should remain confidential until an agreed time for its release.
• Establish a friendly relationship with the Media. Develop a personal relationship with media agency in your community and of course across the country if you have the resources (click here to see how to engage with the media). Establishing a positive rapport with reporters and political office holders before a crisis hits will pay immeasurable dividends. Remember that the media’s role is to provide objective, accurate information, not to make your organization look good. Provide reporters the information they need to do a good job. Be available, friendly, honest and frank, and occasionally ask reporters for their opinions.
• Tell the truth. Never lie to a reporter —to your members, or to the public, even if it hurts. This is haram and it will hurt worse if someone has to dig out the facts because you haven’t been honest. Intentionally providing inaccurate or misleading information will affect your credibility and possibly tarnish the reputation of your organization.
• Always speak “on the record.” Be prepared to be quoted. If you don’t want your words repeated or quoted, don’t say them. What you say about your organization or others is news and, in varying degrees, influences public opinion. It is relatively easy and common for reporters to turn information received “off-the-record” into an “on-the-record” quote from another source.
• Recognize that bad news doesn’t get better with age. Acknowledge, even announce, when you have bad news and then quickly begin discussing what you are going to do about it. If you are aware of a potentially negative situation, consider going on the offensive by telling the reporters before it becomes public. This gives you an opportunity to manage the situation more effectively. Look at bad news as an opportunity to establish or strengthen positive ties with the news media.
• BONUS: Network with non-antagonistic groups on campus that are not engaged in uniIlamic activities or outlook. Share what you learn at conferences and workshops with others! Participation in conferences and meetings outside your local area is not only justifiable, it is mandatory for effective educational leadership. Summarize, for your members and others in your community, the key points from speakers and workshops, and highlight information that specifically relates to local school projects or problems.
• Have a regular Dawah table or pigeon-hole where leaflets can be distributed/taken, take Dawah to the street and get people informed about Islam. Live Islam by giving direct service to the society and let people know Islam in your deeds and actions. Choose and start a campaign for an Islamic cause. Campaign for Muslim interest and get involved in the School Student Union politics to gain control of student Union influence in your campaigns.
Community Relations Checklist
- Good governance is the best PR!
Share a common vision and goals: Spending the time to develop this common vision, with extensive involvement of your members, will help align decisions, policy, programme and staffing.
Take a critical look at yourself to make sure your organization is discharging its Islamic responsibilities to the community and the society as fully as possible. Consider a self-evaluation based on a positive approach — where are we doing well and where do we need to improve?
- Develop a robust development plan to build your skills as a team. Take advantage of opportunities to learn more about different projects and trends.
- Plan in-house training programme for your organization’s officials, especially new officials.
- Make or change policy thoughtfully. Support community relations in policy and structure.
- Develop a clear policy that reflects your organization’s commitment to dialogue and communication.
- Assign the communications function to a competent member.
- Provide budget support for the communications programme.
- Start a communications advisory committee that is active and involved.
- Include media-related topics and skills in your programme.
- Develop culture to maintain regular appraisal of how efficient your systems are and how effectively you accomplish your communication objectives.
- Agree that only the appointed/authorized person can speak for the entire group.
- Make sure your organization’s vision, mission and goals are clearly communicated to all members. This will serve as a guide in decision making and a public reminder of the driving forces behind your work.
Lastly, develop ingenious ways to raise and manage fund for your programmes. Depend more on fund you can generate within rather than donations from outside. Start a monthly, quarterly or annual levy system that will tax each Muslim student to fund the organization’s management and finance its projects. Be transparent, accountable and responsible. When you have rolled out this plan and reviewed progress, then design ways to bring in much needed funding from external sources.