Essays

What’s in a Name?

“Why the name Bold Bison?” It’s a question I get all the time. And my answer is always the same:

“Because our communications must be bolder.”


I’m Brandon Hayes; I’m the founder and principal of Bold Bison Communications and Consulting, the business I started six months before the start of a global pandemic. Prior to starting my own business, I spent 20 years working in the nonprofit sector, which included significant time working in publicity for arts & cultural organizations and before a seven year stint as Communications Director with a land trust servicing the greater Chicago region. While this was my formal entrée into professional conservation, I’ve been an avid lover of the outdoors and a lifelong advocate for nature. 

It’s because of my passion for conservation that I’ve paid such close attention to the movement. And surely, there is progress to note. Conservation is starting to make the connection to agricultural land use and local food; environmentalism across the board is beginning to realize that people are a key component to healthy communities in a healthy ecosystem; organizations and funders are beginning to realize that a mission to preserve a local waterway and the people are interconnected, and communities often need to be invested before the natural assets.

But it’s also been stunning to see how a movement so widely supported by Americans has time and again failed to rise to the moment, especially during the watershed moments of the previous administration. 


Through both my personal and professional experiences, I’ve watched as conservation organizations (and non-profits more broadly) have slowly, but surely surrendered the rhetorical high ground on their issues. Whether on climate action, racial and economic justice, community organizing, and even public land protections, I’ve watched conservation organizations back away from participating in the actual work on their movement because it was controversial at the time – always offering up dismissive suggestions of mission drift, claiming that getting involved in a cause is, “nothing something we do,” while we only ever seem to actually define our work in the context of the most pressing grant report. 

It’s a cowardly retreat to what’s comfortable and familiar, rather than honestly discussing the work that needs to be done and the existing needs of the communities we purport to serve. 

It’s an existential problem for the non-profit sector… But it’s not due to a lack of passion. 

Some of the most talented, innovative, and forward-thinking people I know are folks I’ve met supporting conservation and local food movements – folks realigning their small community arts organization to amplify the voices of their environmental justice movement; folks fundamentally rethinking the meaning of local food economies in the wake of the pandemic; folks in under-resourced roles whiteknuckling their work in overburdened communities simply because they care. I could go on all day and we’ve all met people like this. 

If these movements are going to enact the change they envision, then we need to activate these passions, we need to amplify the voices already doing the work, and we need to reach the audiences that already overwhelmingly support our cause with bold messages and bold visions of change. 


I firmly believe that anyone passionate about an issue can be a fabulous communicator of that issue. What I’ve noticed missing in the sector are the tools, trainings, supports, and strategies that allow all the passionate folks we know communicate with the full impact and confidence that reflects why they came to this work in the first place. And especially in the wake of the pandemic, I’ve seen new leaders step up, and organizations respond successfully to all kinds of new challenges and opportunities – but many of them left wondering how to define themselves in this new space we’re working in. 

There has never been a more important time to be communicating boldly about your work and I cannot encourage enough to not hold back. And if you need help, Bold Bison is equipped to help you think through these issues. I invite you to take a look at our robust portfolio of recent work and read through our services – I assure you this list is but a snapshot how we can help your organization.

I founded this company to expand the communications capacity and help guide the strategic thinking of non-profit organizations. The Bold Bison team is always happy to meet with you, get to know your organization and hear where you’re at, and offer a recommendation. 

Please feel free to get in touch. It’s why we do this.

And welcome to the herd.

Brandon

Workshop: Better Word of Mouth Marketing

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
10:00 a.m – 11:30 a.m. (PT)

Even in the era of social media, the most effective marketing strategy is word of mouth. Regardless of your role – board, staff, or volunteer – you can represent your organization more effectively and encourage positive buzz. Join the brilliant Andy Robinson and me to learn how to engage potential supporters, develop compelling messages, and deliver them effectively. 

Hosted by The Nonprofit Association of Oregon

Presenters
Andy Robinson, Principal, Andy Robinson Consulting
Brandon Hayes, Founder, Bold Bison Communications and Consulting

Lights! Camera! Action!

Video is an absolutely vital tool for involving volunteers, donors and neighbors in the work of land conservation. Unfortunately, many land trusts and conservation organizations approach video as something that they need to spend a lot of money on, hiring professionals rather than doing it themselves. In an effort to show that making a video is fun, easy and inexpensive, I premiered a workshop at Rally 2017 in which I didn’t just talk about the importance of video, but instead worked with attendees to create a brief video— brainstorming messaging points, shooting interviews and editing footage—right there in the conference room in a 90-minute hands-on experience.

We had so much fun that the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) brought the workshop back for every Rally since, including virtual Rally 2020. The workshop has been so popular, in fact, that LTA asked me to compile my notes from the seminar for a story in Saving Land, their print publication. I’m happy to share that story with you.

Lights! Camera! Action! Let’s Make a Video, Saving Land, Winter 2021 (p. 32)

Photo: Noah Powell

Conservation Must Meet This Moment

In May, I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop at River Network’s Virtual River Rally, and in September had a chance to “sit down” with River Network continue to the conversation.

We had a very illuminating conversation during which I expanded further upon my view that the conservation sector must find ways to be true leaders in a movement for social change.

“I think we are well past the point that any organization can simply decide to make equity, diversity and inclusion a priority in their next strategic plan over some number of years. That moment for inaction through slow action is gone, and we need to act decisively.”

For far too long – and despite overwhelming public support – the conservation movement has surrendered the rhetorical ground in the public sphere and retreated from focusing on the changes needed on our planet in favor of projects that are fundable.

I firmly believe it is nonsensical to try and separate the work we do to care for our planet from the true and everyday experience of how we live on this planet. I founded Bold Bison not just to start conversations like these, but also to help the conservation sector rise to this moment, so I am thrilled to share this interview with River Network.

Read the Full Interview

Earth Day R.I.P.

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an event that first took place some eight-and-a-half years before I was born. Sitting here on the forty-second day sheltering-in-place in Chicago from COVID-19 and watching the Earth Day messages from conservation and environmental organizations large and small fill my email inbox and my social media streams, each fighting with the other for my click and my credit card number, I think, “To hell with Earth Day.” Earth Day was an effective tool of and for its time. But it is not for our time.

Let this 50th Earth Day be the last. We need something new.

Continue reading “Earth Day R.I.P.”