Listen to a replay of John Thomas' JGA webinar on jargon in nonprofit communications

JTPR Insights

On Oct. 3, John had the opportunity to chat with JGA's Angela White about translating nonprofit jargon. To listen to a replay of the webinar on the JGA site, go to (Of course, you can also listen to many other great webinars on the same site). 


Apex Energy Solution CEO Foit touts benefits of skilled labor

Client Watch

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 12, 2018, Indianapolis Business Journal. To read the article on the IBJ website, go to 

By Michael Foit

CEO, Apex Energy Solutions 

We hear a lot about the increasing need for college degrees. We’re told that, because so many of today’s jobs require a college education, young people who want good careers must go to college.

Generally, that seems like good advice, but it overlooks two realities: One, our economy relies on high numbers of skilled workers without degrees; and, two, not every young person today wants or needs to go to college.

It’s time to change this “everyone should go to college” mindset, along with the attitude that those who do not go to college are limited to low-income jobs (and, by inference, unhappiness).

I don’t suggest that this is a challenge we must face for the future. It is a challenge we must face today. Across America, building projects, manufacturing lines and more are lagging because employers can’t find enough skilled workers. Nationally, estimates suggest that more than 243,000 jobs await workers in the construction industry alone.

At the same time, we see negative repercussions from our efforts to push everyone into college. For one, record numbers of people drop out. Recent studies show that barely more than half of all students who start college will finish within six years.

But the problem isn’t just that these people might have wasted a couple of years or might have suffered unnecessary stress. The problem is that many of those dropouts are leaving school with considerable student loan debt. In 2015 and 2016, 3.9 million students dropped out of school with student debts, with many owing thousands of dollars. In other words, they were worse off than when they started school.

Now consider the alternative: If those same people had entered a skilled-trade training program, they would have earned money while they learned a trade. They would not have student debt hanging over their heads, and they could earn as much as many people coming out of college.

Today, skilled tradespeople earn an average of $60,000 or more a year, and some earn six figures. When people tout the long-term earning potential of people with college degrees, they overlook the cost of degrees and the value of the skilled worker’s extra time in the workforce. One recent article suggested that “a dentist will not catch up to a plumber’s total net earnings until they are both well into their 30s.”

I am not disparaging the value or benefit of a college degree. However, I am suggesting that, in our effort to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to attend college, we have pushed the pendulum so far that we now suggest that everyone must go to college. By doing that, I think we have pushed into college some people who would be happier—and better off—if they learned a skill and entered the workforce.

How do we overcome this problem? For one, we acknowledge that college should be open for everyone but isn’t the answer for everyone. Second, we should embrace the value and benefit of skilled trades. Employers who rely on skilled trades should collaborate to make their case to the parents, counselors, educators and others who guide young people to let them know that there is an alternative to college—an alternative that, for the right people, leads to happiness, financial security and long-term fulfillment.

America needs skilled tradespeople, and many Americans need skilled trades. Let’s put those needs together for the benefit of people on both sides of that equation.•

Browning: First 16 Tech building fully leased

Client Watch

Browning and 16 Tech Community Corporation announced today the anchor building for the 16 Tech Innovation District, a 120,000-square-foot, $30 million research and office facility, is fully leased.

The building will be the headquarters for the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) in addition to the headquarters for the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), including its talent and industry initiatives, and Indiana University School of Medicine researchers focused on industry collaborations and commercialization.

16 Tech, a 60-acre innovation district on the near west side of Indianapolis, is purposefully designed to ignite collaboration among innovators and entrepreneurs in life sciences, tech, advanced manufacturing and engineering in an urban live-work-play-learn environment. Construction on the anchor facility is expected to begin in late 2018 and will be followed by Browning’s rehabilitation of the former Citizens Energy Group building with high-bay garage, construction of a second innovation building, and construction of apartments.

“The first 16 Tech tenants are true pioneers for the innovation district,” said Bob Coy, president and CEO of 16 Tech Community Corporation, the nonprofit operating entity of the 16 Tech Innovation District. “Building One will be home to researchers, entrepreneurs and advanced industry leaders in tech, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, ag-bioscience and talent development. These tenants represent the ideal cross-section of industry expertise and entrepreneurial energy that will drive innovation in Indiana’s economy.”

Building One will house the IBRI in 67,699 square feet of space on the first three floors and include office, lab and open work spaces. The IBRI is a leading independent, industry-inspired applied research institute focused on the discovery and development of innovative solutions to improve health, targeting diabetes, metabolic disease and poor nutrition.

“We look forward to not only continuing and expanding our current research and translational activities to help improve the health of Hoosiers and millions suffering around the world from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, but our anchor space in the new building in 16 Tech enables the IBRI to serve as the facilitator and accelerator for life sciences startups,” said Dr. Rainer Fischer, the IBRI’s chief executive officer and chief scientific and innovation officer. “With more than triple our current space, we’ll be able to expedite our growth and better retain and attract new talent for the IBRI and for our existing and new industry and academic partners.”

CICP and its affiliate organizations – BioCrossroads, Conexus Indiana, TechPoint, Energy Systems Network, AgriNovus Indiana and Ascend Indiana – will move its headquarters and approximately 80 employees to 30,446 square feet on the top two floors of the five-story building.

“At 16 Tech, CICP has a unique opportunity to be a part of, and sit in the middle of, our talent and innovation district– putting our initiatives and employees near companies that we already collaborate with, ones that we hope to engage with in the future, and others that are yet to be created,” said David Johnson, president and CEO of CICP.

Indiana University School of Medicine will occupy approximately 12,000 square feet, where it will house part of its newly established Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine; a molecular therapeutics program that is part of the IU Precision Health Initiative; and a technology incubator that is a partnership with IU Health and will support faculty entrepreneurs working on the development of drugs, devices and health-related information technology with the goal of bringing their discoveries to market.

Building One will have a café and community space open to the public.  

Browning’s plans for additional construction include: Renovation of office and high-bay garage once occupied by Citizens Energy Group; anew Class A office building including food, beverage and retail space; and a new multi-family apartment complex with approximately 250 units.

Browning’s investment in these first four buildings tops $120 million.

“16 Tech offers a dense, vibrant mixed-use environment that drives collaboration,” said Browning CEO John Hirschman. “The buildings that Browning is developing allow us to apply the experience and expertise we’ve gained over four decades of creating places that help to drive growth and innovation.”


About Browning

Browning changes skylines and communities by developing, building and managing game-changing commercial real estate projects. With a reputation for executing large transactions and complex projects, the firm’s diversified portfolio includes market-leading industrial, office, mixed-use, healthcare, life science and higher education projects. Established in 1977, Browning is based in Indianapolis. More information can be found at

About 16 Tech

16 Tech is one of the largest talent attraction, retention and development opportunities in Indianapolis’s history. Located on the near west side of Indianapolis, 16 Tech will bring talent together to collaborate and drive cross-sector innovation in advanced industries. The nonprofit 16 Tech Community Corporation oversees the development of the district and ensures benefits of economic growth, new investment and job creation in the 16 Tech District extend to nearby neighborhoods as well as the city, the region and the state.  More information can be found at

# # #

Media contacts:

16 Tech – Laura Miller, 317-332-3306,

Browning – Jen Thomas, 317-441-2487, 

Central Indiana Corporate Partnership – Lori LeRoy, 317-514-0095,

Indiana Biosciences Research Institute – Mark Craft, 317-670-2270,

IU School of Medicine – Karen Spataro, 317-278-3676,

Missed Connection: 6 Common Nonprofit Communication Failures

JTPR Insights

This post originally appeared on the Johnson Grossnickle & Associates blog site. To see the post on that site, go to

Nonprofit organizations do amazing things. Things like curing diseases … feeding people … making art accessible to the masses … helping communities come together and fight injustice. 


Unfortunately, some organizations that do those amazing things wither and die, not because they fail to perform, but because they fail to get their messages out to the people they need to receive them. Whether they’re trying to raise money or engage people in their mission, they fail to connect with the right people.

As you consider that statement, note what I didn’t say: I didn’t say these lost organizations didn’t sendmessages. They probably sent a lot of messages. But they didn’t send them effectively.

Nonprofits find innumerable ways to drop the ball on communicating, but most of those fumbles can be attributed to a few consistent mistakes. Following are a half-dozen of the most common failures, and some quick cures that can help your organization communicate more effectively. 

  1. The failure to send a concise message. If you haven’t boiled your message down to its essence, you need to keep boiling. The classic “elevator speech” concept is a good guide, but elevator rides seem to be getting shorter and shorter. Here’s a better guide: Boil that message into an old 140-character Tweet. When you can do that, you’ve got a clear, concise and simple message. 
  2. The failure to know what you’re trying to make happen. Sure, you have organizational objectives, but do you know what you’re truly trying to make happen with a particular communication? Ask yourself, “What do I want people to physically do when they get my message?” Pick up the phone? Write a check? Go to my website? Figure out what you want people to literally do and you’ll sharpen your objective. 
  3. The failure to define a target audience. Yes, your message is so wonderful it should be received by everyone who ever walked this green earth. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, no matter how much you have to spend on marketing. Zero in on those people who can truly make a difference, identifying them as specifically as possible, and then communicate as directly as possible. 
  4. The failure to let the message rise above the data. Yes, measurable results and hard data help you make your case, but more data doesn’t help you make your point more effectively. On the contrary; numbers can be numbing. If your message is obscured by metrics, your audience won’t engage with it. Choose the two or three data points that reinforce your messages, and drop the others. 
  5. The failure to focus on benefits. Many nonprofits like to engage in chest-thumping … endless recitations that seem to finish the sentence, “We’re great because …” They highlight awards. They talk about how hard they work. They show off their credentials. Instead, they should highlight their impact. Work on completing this sentence with a few powerful benefits: “With our organization, you get …” 
  6. The failure to speak English. The nonprofit world is like any other – it has its own lingo. On top of that, in the last couple of decades, as the nonprofit world sought to “become more business-like,” it unfortunately embraced business-speak. So, now a lot of nonprofit communications mix corporate jargon with nonprofit terms and throw in a big scoop of cliché (“donor pipeline,” “granular,” “move the needle,” “outputs versus outcomes,” and so on), resulting in a language that leaves most people unmoved. Imagine your audience as someone who doesn’t live in the nonprofit world. No one’s going to say, “I didn’t give to them because they didn’t use enough jargon.” But they might say, “I didn’t engage with them because I didn’t understand what they do.” 

Remember: You’re not communicating to impress. You’re not communicating to assert your importance. You’re communicating to send a message that moves audiences to action. And if you fail to do that, eventually, you’ll fail as an organization. 

John Thomas is co-owner of JTPR Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations firm that works with nonprofit and for-profit organizations to deliver messages that move people to action.  

Three poverty-fighting projects selected for grants

Client Watch

The Faith & Action Project at Christian Theological Seminary has awarded grants totaling $100,000 for three efforts aimed at reducing poverty in Indianapolis.

The 2018 grant recipients follow.

  • $50,000 to the ROCK Initiative at Eastern Star Church in partnership with Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and RecycleForce. The Double Forward Initiative seeks to disrupt the cycle of recidivism and housing eviction in the 46218 zip code. With new housing options, a grocery store and counseling services already being developed, this grant will create avenues to second-chance opportunities by helping project participants gain financial stability and integrate educational and life-skills attainment, assisting with housing placement and educating participants about smart rental practices.
  • $30,000 to Heart Change Ministries. Heart Change provides ongoing, daily support to vulnerable families in the Brookside neighborhood who are working to achieve stability through formal and informal counseling. Heart Change staff and volunteers develop deep personal relationships with individual moms with a goal of helping them make lasting changes. Heart Change will use the grant to finish renovations at the house that will serve as home for its Gift of Work initiative called Heart Felt Soaps. The new space will allow Heart Change to employ more women and sell more soaps, thus helping moms break the cycle of generational poverty. 
  • $20,000 to Outreach Inc. Outreach provides homeless youth with a safe refuge from the unrelenting pressures of homelessness. During drop-in hours at the near eastside facility, youth have access to laundry facilities, computer labs, a food pantry, shower facilities, and family-style warm meals. Additionally, homeless youth are supported on their journey by case managers who help the youth navigate a path to sustainable independence and growth.

“At the Faith & Action Project, we believe that building on a community’s existing assets can be more powerful than focusing on a community’s unmet needs,” said Faith & Action Director Lindsey Nell Rabinowitch. “These projects offer great examples of asset-based solutions that engage a faith component along with nonprofit partners, something that’s integral to the Faith & Action mission.”

The Faith & Action Project received 36 applications for consideration for its 2018 grants. The jury chose 13 finalists to move to Round Two of the program, which required full project summaries.

“Ultimately the jury selected the three programs they feel have the greatest potential to create real, lasting change,” added Rabinowitch.

Launched in 2016, the Faith & Action Project at Christian Theological Seminary is supported by the Mike and Sue Smith Family Fund and Lumina Foundation as a multiyear effort to help reduce poverty in Indianapolis. In addition to providing grants, the Faith & Action Project has held communitywide events and attracted national poverty experts to Central Indiana.

The three recipient projects will be highlighted at the Faith & Action Project’s next public event, which is Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Clowes Memorial Hall and features Michelle Alexander, author of the bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

In 2017, Faith & Action awarded $125,000 in grants to six efforts: Goodwill’s New Beginnings; Purposeful Design; Broadway United Methodist Church; Trinity Episcopal Church; School on Wheels; and Edna Martin Christian Center, American Baptist Churches of Greater Indianapolis and Eastern Star Church.


About the Faith & Action Project

The Faith & Action Project at Christian Theological Seminary is dedicated to helping to spark a revolution of hope by leveraging resources of communities of faith to connect, inspire and empower lasting solutions for people confronting poverty. Through annual public events and grants, the Faith & Action Project seeks to ignite a solution-oriented movement for inclusive well-being in our community. The Faith & Action Project is supported by the Mike and Sue Smith Family Fund and Lumina Foundation.

About Christian Theological Seminary

Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) is a fully accredited ecumenical seminary, open to all, affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It offers nine graduate-level degree programs, including programs in theology, ministry and counseling, plus open-to-the-public classes and events. More than 30 denominations, including no denomination, are represented among CTS students and faculty. Additional information about CTS is available at

Commuter Connect leads city in celebrating Car Free Day

Client Watch

Central Indiana residents are encouraged to take part in Car Free Day Indy by taking a bus, biking or walking or by going “car lite” and carpooling or vanpooling on Sept. 21.

To sweeten the challenge, Commuter Connect, the region’s rideshare program, is offering a free emergency ride home for anyone who signs the online pledge at Plus, by signing up, you’re eligible to win great prizes.

“This is the third year for Car Free Day Indy, and we’ve found it’s a great way to encourage people to try transportations options other than driving alone even if it’s for just one day,” said Andrew McGee, interim director of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA), which runs the Commuter Connect program. “Of course, our hope is that once they try it, they’ll see how easy it is and incorporate a day or two a week into their regular routine.”

The day includes two events – one at Cummins Plaza from 7a.m. to 9 a.m. and one on Monument Circle from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Both will feature free music and food while it lasts.

“Ultimately, this is all about improving air quality in Central Indiana," said McGee.

Participating employers include Browning, Citizens Energy Group, Cummins, Emmis, Eskenazi Health, IUPUI, OneAmerica and Salesforce.

# # #

About Commuter Connect

Commuter Connect is a federally funded service designed to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. There is no charge for employers or employees to use Commuter Connect’s services. To learn more, visit

Opportunity Sessions Announced for 16 Tech

Client Watch

INDIANAPOLIS – Browning Davis, a joint venture between Browning and Davis & Associates that is responsible for constructing the first building (Building One) at 16 Tech, is announcing its July and August monthly info sessions to share opportunities for businesses to be involved in the project.

The sessions are July 26 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Hawthorne Community Center, 2440 W. Ohio St., and Aug. 30, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Indianapolis Urban League, 777 Indiana Ave. Three monthly sessions have already taken place.

Located at 16 Tech, Building One is a $30 million, 120,000-square-foot, five-story steel-and-concrete structure featuring four floors of lab space, one floor of office space, a rooftop patio and a cafe. It serves as the anchor building for the innovation community and will house the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, IU School of Medicine and other innovation tenants.

“Often by the time some firms hear about opportunities to bid on large projects, the train has already left the station,” said Ron Keough, senior project manager at Davis and Associates. “We’re really trying to get ahead of things and let people know the opportunities are coming and to get ready.”

Companies that are certified by the City of Indianapolis as M/W/V/DOBE – or companies that are interested in pursuing certification – are particularly encouraged to attend. The session also would be of interest to contractors and sub-contractors looking to place prime or sub bids, as well as suppliers, business leaders, potential tenants and apprentices and journeymen looking for employment in the construction trades.

“16 Tech is all about collaboration and opportunity, and we want the construction of it to reflect that we’re collaborating with and providing opportunity for the local community,” added David McMath, project manager at Browning. “We’re doing everything we can to involve Marion County firms, and specifically those located in the neighborhoods surrounding 16 Tech.”

Officials from the Indianapolis Office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development will be in attendance and available to help provide information on applying for certification.

Bid packages in various sizes are expected to be let in October 2018, with construction scheduled to begin in November 2018.

# # #

About 16 Tech

16 Tech is Indy’s urban innovation community. It is a dense, 60-acre community that provides tenants and residents with vibrant, inspiring and collaborative spaces designed to facilitate discovery across life sciences, technology and advanced manufacturing through the convergence of people, purpose and place. It is bordered by Indiana Avenue and White River/Fall Creek and 10th and 16th Street on the near west side of downtown Indianapolis. More information can be found at

Castle Wealth's Pittsford makes case for small biz impact in IBJ

Client Watch

The following was originally published in the May 18, 2018 Indianapolis Business Journal.

By Gary Pittsford, President and CEO of Castle Wealth Advisors

Last month, The Wall Street Journal published a column by Robert Atkinson and Michael Lind that, like their new book, “Big Is Beautiful,” seeks to debunk the “myth” of small business.

I started reading the article because I was intrigued by what the authors would say about the sector to which I have dedicated most of my career. I forced myself to continue reading when I realized how bad their information is.

As context, remember this: The nation’s 28 million closely held businesses account for more than 50 percent of our national gross domestic product. Further, six of 10 people who get hired in the United States go to work for a closely held family business.

Atkinson and Lind imply that such impact is snake oil. I can’t list all their arguments, but I’ll highlight a few:

  • They claim the tax code “lavishes benefits on small firms.” They correctly point out that profits for large public companies are taxed twice, but they fail to mention that tax reform lowered most big corporations’ tax rates to 21 percent. By contrast, pass-through firms such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and LLCs (most of the closely held family businesses) are taxed either at 37 percent or roughly 30 percent if they qualify for the Qualified Business Income deduction. So, the local hardware or grocery store pays federal taxes at those higher rates while Apple, Exxon and General Electric pay 21 percent.
  • The authors suggest small businesses get cut-rate financing supported by the SBA. It’s true that business owners that apply for a loan with a local bank can get an SBA loan guarantee (which would pay 90 percent of the loan if the business went broke), but that guarantee comes with a hefty fee and does not include rate discounts. Also, that small-business owner signs for loans personally, unlike officers of large public companies.
  • The authors charge that the top 1 percent of pass-through businesses earn 50.8 percent of the income for such firms and a mere 13.4 percent of pass-through income goes to the bottom 60 percent. While those percentages are probably correct, the same can be said of the medical, legal and architectural professions, as well as others.

As troubling as those claims are, I’ve saved the most stunning one for last: Atkinson and Lind say small businesses actually slow our economy in two ways:

  • They charge that subsidies and other size-based policies enable less-efficient firms to gain market share. I would suggest the authors try to convince the founders of Walmart, Microsoft, Amazon and Google that they should not have been encouraged to gain market share when they were small and inefficient.
  • The authors say “discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small” in order to avoid regulations and remain eligible for government handouts. To this absurdity I can only say that, in 45 years of working with business owners across the country, I have never met one who planned to stop growing to avoid government regulations. Also, I know of no business owner who looks forward to government handouts. On the contrary, most work hard every day and pay taxes in order to support a government that regulates them more every year.

I have no problem with Atkinson’s and Lind’s belief that big is beautiful. I do have a problem with their suggestion that the impact millions of small-business owners have on our economy is some kind of “myth,” especially if they base that suggestion on bad information.•

Depicting an evolution

Inside JTPR

Sometimes marketing types talk about brands and identity like they’re talking about alchemy. Or top-secret missile codes. Or Col. Sanders’ seven herbs and spices.

We tend to think of it more plainly than that. A brand should simply be a reflection of an organization or product. And as that organization or product evolves, that brand and the way it is communicated – through a graphic identity, a tagline or whatever – should evolve, too.

That’s why you’re seeing a new logo for JTPR. We’ve evolved, and it’s time for the way we present ourselves to evolve, too.

Of course, we started out as Jen Thomas PR, a one-woman show that quite simply got the job done.

We grew into JTPR, a two-JT firm that offered solid, clear-cut skills and expertise.

And now we think of ourselves a little differently. We still offer those same services, but we put an increasing emphasis on the power of the well-chosen word, straightforward counsel and the right action at the right time. It’s what our clients say they expect from us … what we do best.

So now we describe ourselves like this: JTPR gets people talking about things worth talking about in order to move people to action. With expert counsel, the right words and hands-on execution, we help organizations reach the right audiences, say the right things and get the results they want.

This fits nicely with our business plan, which we sum up by saying, “Work with nice people, and have fun doing it.”

When we discussed this vision of our business with our friend (and designer extraordinaire) Lindsey Hadley, she brought back a new logo for JTPR that we think captures wonderfully who we aspire to be: It’s sturdy and solid, with a dash of color and whimsy. It gets the job done with a bit of flair and fun.

That might not be as impressive as alchemy, or as intriguing as missile codes, or as “spicy” as a secret chicken recipe. But it’s who we are. 


We are Doers

Inside JTPR

During our firm’s recent rebrand, we spent a lot of time pondering the right words to describe what we do best.

We settled on Advisors. Writers. Doers.

Since the core of our work involves writing, Writers was a no-brainer.

Advisors was pretty easy, too. At this stage of our careers, we’re confident in our recommendations and the advice we provide clients.

The last word, though, was harder. We ended up with Doers.

We hesitated about that at first, worried that it sounded too tactical, too elementary, too lightweight. “Doers” are often seen as the “lowest rung” on the ladder, and we didn’t want people to think of us as a “low-rung” organization.

On the other hand, one of the reasons we opened our shop is that we wanted to provide advice to our clients and then actually see it through to fruition. To DO the work. We like what we do, and we plan to stay small – just the two of us – so we are, by design, the doers.

Of course, we also believe that serves our clients well. When they choose us, they get veterans doing the work. We’re not cooking up big ideas and handing them off to junior staffers. We’re not promising expertise and delivering rookie execution. We’re following through. Putting our experience to work. Making sure the job gets done.

And when we do need help? We reach out to the best partners and subcontractors in the business – people who we know value good work as much as we do – and continue to be engaged so that the job is done right.

Yep: We’re doers. And we feel good about that.

John and Jen

© JTPR, INC. 2019