When the organizational mission overlaps with the public need, associations can find value in connecting with an audience outside of their usual member base. It’s not an easy shift to make, but the National Council for Mental Wellbeing provides an example of how to do it effectively.

Sometimes associations need to reach a broader audience to advance their mission. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing, one of the organizations highlighted in the ASAE Research Foundation’s Impact Every Day initiative, connected with a large public audience to support its Mental Health First Aid training program.

The National Council’s members are healthcare organizations and management entities, but leaders recognized that outcomes for those experiencing mental health issues or addiction depend on public recognition of symptoms and signs and greater understanding of how to respond. The steps the National Council took to connect with a broader audience provide insights for anyone seeking to amplify their organization’s messages.

Big Vision, Specific Objectives

The National Council launched its Mental Health First Aid program in 2008 with a big vision. Increased public understanding would be both the cause and the effect of the program’s success, so the National Council set out to make mental health first aid training as common as CPR training.

That big vision was grounded in specific objectives. The program was designed to educate the public on insights and information they could use—risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction problems, strategies for crisis and non-crisis situations, support resources, and self-care strategies.

The National Council expanded Mental Health First Aid training through key partnerships, including with police departments, school districts, and universities. In 2016, it partnered with organizations and individual ambassadors in a major media and social media campaigns. Beginning in 2017, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council teamed up for a focus on teen mental health.

The National Council engaged partners and Mental Health First Aid trainees in media and social media campaigns to reach a broader audience—and connect with new partners. The hashtag #1in1m garnered more than 10 million impressions with help from Mental Health First Aid instructors, trainees, partners, and others. In 2017, the National Council launched the #BeTheDifference campaign to encourage trainees to use their skills and make a difference in someone’s life. The campaign’s videos, blogs, and Twitter chats have received hundreds of thousands of clicks and views. Major partners like Walgreens and Comedy Central cited the #BeTheDifference campaign as a reason they approached the National Council about partnership.

As of 2020, the program had engaged more than 15,000 instructors to train more than 2 million people to recognize and respond to mental health and substance use problems.

Takeaways You Can Use

The National Council’s case offers several lessons for those seeking to reach new audiences.

Define the vision. Campaigns often start with a vision. But to serve as an effective guide, that vision needs to be easy to express and tied to program objectives and success measures.

Develop partnerships that will expand your reach. Partnerships with like-minded organizations or individuals can provide access to the audiences you need to engage. You don’t have to do it all on your own—find people who have an interest in helping you.

Connect with audiences on the right channels with the right message. Social media created a huge boost for the National Council’s campaign, but they enlisted help from instructors, trainees, and partners to amplify a message that resonated with them. Engage stakeholders to share a message that speaks to them, and chances are it will also speak to others.

Keep going. The National Council’s effort wasn’t just one campaign but several campaigns over a number of years, and the program continues to grow. A single social media campaign may not connect you with the audience you hoped for, but an accumulation of repeated efforts could lead to major partnerships and new audiences.


Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.