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Using Visuals to Engage Your Audience

charity, support and volunteering concept – close up of happy smiling volunteers stacking hands at distribution or refugee assistance center

By Gregory Kolen II.

When it comes to non-profit communications, visuals can go a long way in increasing engagement. Good visuals provide potential supporters with an easy way of understanding the importance and urgency of the cause they are being asked to support. It also helps them see how their contributions are making a difference.

The most effective visuals for non-profits include images or videos of the people directly impacted by environmental injustices, as well as pictures that show what progress has been made due to donations. Additionally, data visualizations are very helpful in displaying facts and statistics about the issue at hand. This helps people understand the scope and scale of the problem more clearly. When used together, these types of visuals can help create an emotional connection with potential supporters to demonstrate how their donation can help make a change.

Finally, it’s important for non-profits to be transparent with their visuals. It is essential that the visuals accurately portray what the organization is doing and why they need funding. This helps create trust between potential supporters and the organization, which will ultimately lead to more action and engagement.

Good visuals are an essential part of any action driven fundraising strategy, so make sure you take the time to find creative and impactful visuals for your organization!


Environmental Justice Foundation. (2020). Visuals Matter: How Visuals Help In Non-Profit Fundraising. Retrieved from

Mangione, T. (2018). 5 Reasons Why Images Are Essential For Non Profit Online Fundraising Campaigns. Retrieved from

Sherwood, L. (2017). Visuals & Non Profit Fundraising: A Picture Tells a Thousand Words. Retrieved from

Visual Storytelling for Nonprofits: The Power of Visual Content to Connect with Supporters and Raise Money. (2019). Retrieved from

Weil, S., & Philipp, E. (2015). Introduction to Data Visualization for Nonprofit Organizations. Retrieved from https://opentextbc

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Train Derailment in Ohio: More of the Same – “No Cause for Alarm”

Photo credit: Washington Post

By Stephen Lester.

How many times have we heard the same refrain from government leaders and scientists involved in community wide exposures such as the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. This incident resulted in vinyl chloride gas being intentionally burned which sent hydrogen chloride, the toxic gas, phosgene, and dioxins/furans into the air. Health officials later stated that “there’s no cause for alarm, we have everything under control.”

If only this were true. Instead, hundreds of people who were evacuated remain frustrated by the lack of answers to their questions about health effects and accountability. This frustration is driven by how government leaders and scientists evaluate health risks and by the many uncertainties about what is known about the short- and long-term health effects associated with exposure to vinyl chloride or other chemicals. Scientists can estimate risks and give their opinions, but we simply don’t know what’s going to happen to the health of the people who were exposed to vinyl chloride in the aftermath of this accident. Yet this is exactly what people want to know – what’s going to happen to their health or to the health of their children because of the accident?

Here’s what we do know. We know that vinyl chloride is a human carcinogen and that it damages the liver and central nervous system; over 1,500 people living within a 1-mile by 2-mile area of the accident were evacuated; that Norfolk Southern opted to release and burn the vinyl chloride from all five derailed tankers releasing deadly fumes into the air to prevent a potentially disastrous explosion (see photo); that the state acted swiftly in evacuating the homes immediately surrounding the site of the accident; that 38 of the 150 cars being pulled by the train derailed; about 20 rail cars were carrying hazardous materials including five with vinyl chloride; other chemicals included butyl acrylate, ethyl hexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol mono-butyl ether. We also know that several days after the accident, most people are back in their homes with assurances from the local authorities that everything is fine. 

This is not surprising because government has repeatedly responded the same way in similar situations. But what was the scientific basis for this decision? According to EPA, air samples taken immediately after the accident and the intentional burn did not identify any substances at concentrations of concern. However, it’s hard to have much confidence in this testing because the tests did not include vinyl chloride and dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals ever conceived and the primary by-product of the burning of vinyl chloride. You can’t find a problem if you don’t test for the obvious chemicals you would expect to find in the air.

It’s no surprise then that several residents have filed suit against Norfolk Southern seeking a medical monitoring program for anyone living within a 30-mile radius of the derailment to determine who was affected by the toxic chemicals released by the accident and the subsequent burning of the vinyl chloride gas. They want medical screening for early detection of life-threatening medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride. This is a reasonable response to the many scientific uncertainties that exist in understanding what will happen to the health of people exposed to toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride.

If government leaders and scientists involved in East Palestine acknowledge the scientific uncertainties and honestly admit how little is known about chemical exposures and health outcomes, there may be a more satisfying resolution. A resolution that might include practical steps forward may be setting up medical screening for early detection of medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride.

However, if decision makers continue to protect the companies responsible for area-wide chemical exposures such as what occurred in East Palestine, this scenario will continue to play out as it has since the days of Love Canal more than 40 years ago. Isn’t it time we publicly acknowledge what we don’t know about exposures to toxic chemicals and stop deluding ourselves that using risk estimates that define “acceptable” exposures is the best way to manage exposures to toxic chemicals? There is no acceptable exposure if you’re the one being exposed. 

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Be Cautious When Playing on Artificial Fields

Photo credit: Getty Images

By Jose Aguayo.

Artificial turf fields have become the norm when it comes to athletic fields. They are everywhere here in northern Virginia and a reported 11,000 fields are in use in the entire country. I, myself, was just playing in one this past weekend (despite the freezing cold). However, there are lingering questions about the safety of these fields given that several studies have found elevated levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and toxic metals like lead present in them.

As someone who enjoys playing soccer, these turf fields are extremely convenient because they are available year-round, they provide a smooth and reliable surface to play on, and they don’t require much maintenance. Yet I am conflicted about playing in them, not just because of the myriad of toxic substances found in them, but because of the conflicting information we get from supposedly trusted sources.

As far back as 2007, concerns were raised from contaminants in artificial turf – specifically lead in an artificial turf field in New Jersey. Then, the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) noted that the field posed a public health hazard and recommended that the field be closed. Not long after, however, the Consumer Protection and Safety Commission (CPSC) released an analysis of synthetic turf and concluded these fields are “OK to Install, OK to Play On” and that they are safe for young children.

Since then, there have been other studies that have found several different toxic substances in these turf fields. The problem is that there seem to be no standardized way of determining if the toxic chemicals in these fields are readily available to enter your system or if they are contained within the turf pellets and synthetic fibers. Research seems to point to wear and tear as the cause for some of these chemicals as it can likely migrate from the field to the users more easily, but it is not quite conclusive. The other problem is that there little to no research into the health effects of sustained exposure to artificial turf in humans.

In an attempt to clear the uncertainty around the health risks of artificial turf, a federal multiagency research plan was started in 2016. This research consists of two parts. Part 1 characterized the chemicals present in tire crumb rubber and was released in 2019. Unsurprisingly, it found several toxic chemicals present but suggested these chemicals have little to no routes of exposure to humans. Part 2 is still to be released and will fully explore possible human exposures to the chemicals found in the tire crumb rubber material. It will also include the results of a biomonitoring study being conducted by CDC/ATSDR to investigate potential exposure to constituents in tire crumb rubber.

After all this, at least until part 2 of the multiagency study is released, we are left with more questions than answers. Until then, I’d advise caution. It’s probably a good idea to choose natural grass fields whenever possible, like in the warmer months, and playing in artificial turf ones when there is no other alternative. A cautious approach is always best when dealing with toxics.

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Juliana v. United States (2015-2021)

Photo credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

By Hunter Marion.

In 2015, a group of 21 young people ranging from 8-19 in age filed a lawsuit against the federal government for violating their rights to a safe climate as argued under the “public trust doctrine.” This collection of plaintiffs was represented by the environmental legal firm, Our Children’s Trust, and contained several activists from the youth-focused environmental group, Earth Guardians. Juliana v. the United States became a high-profile, youth-led, legal battle to correct the political mess that contributed to roughly 50-years’ worth of climate change (several of the young plaintiffs even cited it as directly damaging their ways of life).

Although promising, the case was kicked around the court system, eventually getting stuck in legal limbo with the U.S. Supreme Court currently debating on whether to accept it for oral argument. If accepted, this case (and others) could potentially lay the groundwork for novel legal actions to prosecute against entities that contributed to climate change. It could also lead to more thorough punishment of gas and oil companies, set precedent for other environmental lawsuits, and possibly guarantee a constant right to a clean and stable environment.

Some legal scholars have criticized that the points brought up in Juliana were too weak, had too many sources of damage, or could not be given proper resolution within the judicial context. However, many judges involved in reviewing the case pointed out considerable evidence to the contrary. Critics also protest that even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to accept the case, it would not have the power to enact these changes because it is not the rule-making body of government. But this criticism also falls flat when one recognizes that the U.S. Supreme Court has a record of judicial activism or “legislating from the bench” (creating or interpreting their own new laws or constitutional rights without the need for the legislature to create them first), see Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Roe v. Wade (1973), or Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). To put it bluntly, the courts can find the necessary points, damages, and resolutions if they want to.

The key takeaway from Juliana vs. United States is that for those seeking environmental justice, the courts are not a guaranteed pathway to restitution. Even if you or your group brings solid, compelling evidence or has a resounding reputation, that may not be enough to overcome the federal government’s reluctance to address its responsibility (or even culpability) in environmental degradation, climate driven or otherwise. While this approach creates another pressure point on those responsible for climate change, we at CHEJ would put more faith in a grassroots-based, multi-government level-focused strategy that gives us a seat at the table rather than relying upon a team of lawyers and government officials to do it for us.

If you would like to learn more about the case, you can watch the documentary Youth v. Gov now available on Netflix.

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Do We Need A Worldwide Polluters Pay Policy ?

Photo credit: Pixabay, Creative Commons

By Sharon Franklin.

Emily Beament published an article on January 16, 2023, on The Ecologist, a news and analysis website that focuses on environmental, social and economic justice, about a study by Stuart Jenkins. The University of Oxford researcher’s study was on why we need a polluter pays policy. Jenkins said the world dramatically needs to scale-up geological carbon storage and that making fossil fuel firms pay to clean up carbon could help curb climate change.

The study posits that requiring fossil fuel companies to pay for cleaning up their carbon emissions could help curb dangerous global warming at a relatively affordable cost. Its argument is centered around what is already happening in other industries, such as plastic packaging and electrical goods, and in the water sector. This approach holds producers responsible for the waste generated by the products they sell.

Can the World Afford this Approach to Make Polluters Pay?  

Jenkins’ study describes it as a “carbon takeback obligation” and it would help overcome the energy trilemma – the choice between energy security, affordability, and environmental sustainability. He also stated, “Unfortunately when governments are forced to choose, they often forgo that latter obligation” (e.g., environmental sustainability). According to his study, “A carbon takeback obligation provides a simple and predictable regulation ensuring the fossil fuel industry cleans up after its activities and products without government subsidies.” To opponents to this approach who might ask, “But at what cost?” Jenkin’s response is, “It does add to the cost of fossil fuel production, and so it’s not an incentive to continue production by any means.” 

And What About Energy Demands? 

Dr. Hugh Helferty, a former employee at ExxonMobil North America, added to this argument: “It makes sense that the producer and consumer should pay rather than the taxpayer should pay, and that puts the drive to reduce costs in the right place.” He later issued a warning that “a lot of the reaction to current very high fossil fuel prices has been to increase supply not to reduce demand.”

So, What’s Next?  

Professor Myles Allen, from the University of Oxford, also stated that “ending fossil fuel use was going to be hard. We need to start a conversation about how we redirect this colossal amount of money that is currently simply being injected into what we call fossil fuel rents to addressing the climate problem.” Professor Allen went on to state that implementing the obligation could reduce and ultimately prevent further global warming from fossil fuels at an affordable cost.  

This is relative to conventional solutions, because the world spent ~$13 trillion in energy costs last year, mostly on fossil fuels and with a substantial fraction going into “rents” or profits, taxes and royalties.  By 2050, the global economy is expected to double, and the net costs would be less than half of last year’s energy costs as a proportion of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

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8 Strategies to Grow Your Social Engagement

Social engagement
Credit: Rudzhan

By Gregory Kolen II.

When measuring the effectiveness of your social media messaging, engagement through actions such as liking, sharing, and responding indicate a potential for growth and continued interaction. This growth doesn’t just stop at the number as a vanity metric, but can be converted into effective action takers and loyal contributors. There are a number of strategies that a nonprofit organization can use to increase social media engagement. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Create valuable and relevant content: Make sure the content you are sharing on social media is interesting, informative, and relevant to your audience. Share stories and updates about your organization’s mission and the people you serve, as well as tips and resources that your audience might find useful.
  2. Use visuals: Social media is a visual medium, and posts that include images or videos tend to perform better than text-only posts. Consider using photos and videos to showcase the work of your organization and the impact you’re making in the community.
  3. Engage with your audience: Respond to comments and messages, and encourage your followers to share their own stories and experiences. When people feel like they are part of a community, they are more likely to engage with your organization’s social media content.
  4. Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to social media engagement. By posting regularly, your followers will come to expect new content from you, and they’ll be more likely to engage with your posts.
  5. Use social media advertising: Use social media ads to reach new people who are likely to be interested in your organization’s mission. Target your ads to people in your area, or people who have shown an interest in similar organizations or causes.
  6. Collaborate with other non-profit organizations or influencers for cross promotion, this way you can expose your organization to new audiences and vice versa.
  7. Create a sense of urgency and scarcity on some of your posts, by promoting upcoming events, deadlines, or limited-time opportunities.
  8. Consider hosting or sponsoring events that can be promoted on social media, that way you can create buzz and attract new followers.

Keep in mind that social media engagement is not always about the number of followers or likes, but also about the quality of the interactions and the impact that you are able to generate from those interactions. Time to create value for your audience!

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2022 – The Year in Review

Photo credit: Eman Mohammed | Survival Media Agency

By Stephen Lester.

As CHEJ begins its 42nd year in operation, it’s always good to reflect on the previous year. We found that 2022 concluded with incredible success. Our staff, volunteers and, most importantly, our leaders on the frontlines successfully adapted to new ways of organizing and fighting back during a difficult pandemic period. And they continued to win local efforts to stop polluters and protect their families.  

This is all possible because of our donors and supporters. With your support, we were able to provide leadership skills, facilitate strategic action plans, produce scientific analyses and provide the much-needed resources to frontline grassroots communities through our small grants program and community organizing efforts throughout the country. 

With the new administration in Washington, we saw significant new legislation passed by the Biden Administration including the Build Back Better and the Inflation Reduction Acts that offer promise for a better tomorrow. Most notably, the reinstatement of several Superfund polluter pays fees that promise to raise $3.5B for Superfund cleanups as part of the Build Back Better infrastructure legislation. Many Superfund communities across the county celebrated this long-awaited victory, which never would have been possible without the persistent call for action from hundreds of grassroots communities across the country.

CHEJ’s Unequal Response, Unequal Protection campaign continued in 2022 to create a clear, community-driven framework for conducting health investigations that prioritizes public health and gives community leaders the decision-making power to decide how government should respond. After meetings with community leaders and scientists who helped brainstorm an alternative response, we finalized an 8-step process that follows a defined timeline – ensuring that communities get answers in a timely manner.

This past year we also continued our work with grassroots groups in communities like Bristol, TN/VA, Wausau, WI, Houston, TX, Greeley, CO, Seattle, WA, Rostraver, PA, Rensselear, NY, and the Ohio River Valley, OH, all of whom had many accomplishments and expressed the strength and passion to fight against polluters and for environmental justice. Many of their stories are truly inspiring and help to keep us going.

We also continued providing our technical assistance to grassroots organizations in support of local organizing; published our biweekly feature Toxic Tuesday, which provides information on the toxicity of individual chemicals as well as features on the challenges of interpreting toxic effects; conducted 14 diverse and informative Zoom training calls that focused on topics designed to educate and develop skills amongst grassroots leaders. Attendance on these calls increased by over 86% from the previous year. Additionally, CHEJ was delighted to support 48 grassroots organizations with the assistance of our donors and supporters, as part of our Small Grants Program, as we continue to build the base of the Environmental Health and Justice Movement. We look forward to more success in this coming year.

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Don’t Let the Fossil Fuel Industry Take You Down with Them

Photo Credit: Appalachian Voices

By Jose Aguayo.

The fossil fuel industry is dying. As it does it tries to take as many people with it as it can. On one hand, this death is a good thing. Emissions from fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change and the reason why in the past few decades we have seen such severe droughts, intense fires, devastating floods, and powerful hurricanes. So, the fact the industry is on life support is great news. However, as it takes its final breaths, it is trying to strangle the most vulnerable communities in our country.

Just last week, Senator Manchin attempted to include a provision onto the National Defense Authorization Act that would fast track fossil fuel projects and authorize the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This pipeline would move natural gas, produced from fracking activities in the Marcellus and Utica shales, through Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Although Manchin’s attempt failed, there is the threat of it resurfacing in the near future. This is the fossil fuel industry attempting to delude the poor and rural communities of these three states with a handful of money in one hand while hiding a knife behind their back with the other.

We don’t need to look back far to see the potential dangers of oil and gas pipelines. Just last week, on December 8th, the TC Energy pipeline, a component of the Keystone Pipeline system, burst and spilled an unknown amount of oil near Washington, Kansas. This leak has impacted surface water from the local Mill Creek and will likely lead to contamination of nearby private wells and subsurface water. TC Energy recovered 2,598 barrels from the spill, but that is likely a small fraction of the total spill. The people of Washington got stabbed in the back by the “profitable” fossil fuel industry.

Projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline and fracking operations all throughout the northeast need to be stopped for the sake of all the communities whose water and air are threatened. The fossil fuel industry needs to accept its fate and wither away without poisoning or killing more vulnerable communities along the way.

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What Does Pearl Harbor and Environmental Injustice in San Francisco Have in Common?

Photo credit: Christopher Ulrich/Flickr

By Sharon Franklin.

Pearl Harbor happened 71 years ago on December 7th, 1941, but remnants of this World War II attack are still being felt by residents living at Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco, California. This neighborhood has been called a “textbook case of environmental justice.” As reported by the Earth Island Journal, this community’s battle for environmental justice has been almost a century-long battle.

The EPA declared a shipyard near this community a Superfund site in 1989. This was due to contamination from asbestos, PCBs, and, most controversially, radioactive materials. The U.S. Navy and EPA have been trying to clean up the radiation from this site for decades, but to enable the sale of the property to a very lucrative real-estate development deal with the Lennar Corporation. Not for civilian safety. Activists believe that should the Navy and EPA get away with this subpar cleanup, then the equivalent of transporting the fallout from Hiroshima across the Pacific to the Bayview-Hunters Point community will go untouched.  

The Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was again in the public eye in the Fall of 2022, when the EPA made it known that it does not intend to hold the Navy responsible for a full cleanup. Mr. Schwartz of the Earth Island Journal reported that failure to do so would disregard Proposition P, a measure passed overwhelmingly by San Francisco voters in 2000 (and adopted by the city’s board of supervisors in 2001). This measure also urged that the site be cleaned up to the agency’s most protective standards for safe residential use without restrictions.

According to Environmental Policy Analyst, Daniel Hirsch, of the San Francisco Examiner, the EPA “intends to allow the use of far weaker limits and let the Navy walk away from much of the pollution at the site, relying on unenforceable land-use restrictions and covering up rather than cleaning up the radioactivity and toxic chemicals.” The EPA’s vague assurances has only led to more questions for the community of Bayview-Hunters Point.  

Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction and a longtime community leader at Hunters Point, believes that the Navy’s use of Battelle and other federal contractors tied to the Navy and polluters is the opposite of independent oversight. He further says, “The plans by the Navy and EPA to leave large amounts of radioactive and toxic waste buried and capped at the shipyard are blatant environmental racism, especially as sea levels and groundwater are rising and will eventually flood and spread the contamination further into the community.” Also, Dr. Robert Gould, President of the San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility expressed outrage at “the abdication of EPA’s public duty” in their decision to let the Navy off the hook. 

On the other side of the debate is San Francisco Mayor, London Breed, who has gone on record in support of the Navy’s cleanup plans, describing them as “robust and appropriate.” In response to the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors President, Shamann Walton, asserted the EPA’s decision to allow a limited cleanup, saying that “the board will have a say on whether or not the city will accept land transfers from the Navy.”

So, What Can Environmental Justice Advocates Do?

As we approach the remembrance of Pearl Harbor 71 years later, environmental activists across the nation will continue to keep a watchful eye on what happens at Bayview-Hunters Point, noting that should the Navy and EPA get away with a substandard cleanup at a heavily contaminated site, we can only imagine what they could do to less affluent and less well-organized communities in other parts of the country.

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10 Content Creation Tips for Non-Profits


By Gregory Kolen II.

Content is an essential component for non-profit organizations, providing them with the ability to share their story and mission with the world. It allows them to connect with potential supporters and build relationships, creating greater understanding of their cause. Here are ten tips for effective content creation:

  1. Share stories about the people you help: By letting people know what you do in story format, you’re not only spreading awareness of various issues, but you’re allow others to understand how you can help them.
  2. Share your story: Although the people that you help are one of the most important parts of your story. Your origin and continuing motivation can be a powerful inspiration for helping your audience envision the journey from problem to resolve for a solution.
  3. Hold events and workshops: This may be something you are already doing, imparting knowledge and sharing strategy with attendees. But not everyone is able to join in the moment. You’ll have hours of valuable content to share based on your existing hard work.
  4. Keep It Fresh: Stale content is a surefire way to drive away readers – so keep things fresh by frequently updating your content or mixing things up on regular intervals. Try different types of content (e.g. videos, infographics etc.), look for data-driven stories which are relevant to your audience or create customer stories that will resonate with them emotionally.
  5. Leverage Your Network: Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help from your board, volunteers or even other non-profits who may have expertise you lack. Working together to share content can create a much more powerful connection with your audience.
  6. Have a plan and stick to it: A content calendar is essential for staying organized and making sure your message remains consistent across all channels. Set specific goals, create deadlines, and assign tasks so everyone on your team knows what they are responsible for.
  7. Make use of visuals: Content with visuals has been proven to be much more effective than just text alone; people are twice as likely to remember something if it’s accompanied by a picture or video! Whether you want to include infographics, charts, videos or even memes – make sure your content stands out with some eye-catching images.
  8. Get creative with storytelling techniques: Non-profits can benefit greatly from weaving stories into their content marketing efforts; stories help to build relationships and engage audiences. Use personal accounts, interviews, or anecdotes to bring your message to life and make it more relatable.
  9. Measure your results: Your content strategy should always be evaluated in order to see what works best for you and what can be improved on for the future. Track key metrics such as website traffic, social media engagement, leads generated, etc., so you can get a better understanding of how effective your content is at achieving its goals.
  10. Utilize influencers: If you have some budget available for your marketing efforts, consider partnering with influential individuals who are already well-known within the non-profit sector or even beyond it – this will boost visibility and credibility for your organization. Reach out to influencers and see if they would be interested in helping you promote your cause.

By following these content creation tips, you can have a successful content creation strategy that will help you reach more people and make a bigger impact on your cause. Good luck!