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Communicating in Public Health With Molly Garrone of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


In this episode of the Nonprofit Thrive podcast, Molly Garrone, a communication specialist with the CHOICES Project, explores the use of digital media for effective health communication. She delves into the shortcomings of fear tactics in public health messaging, offers insights on building a professional network, and discusses strategies and tools for enhancing digital content accessibility.

Today's Guest
Molly Garrone

Molly Garrone

Molly Garrone oversees the development and implementation of the CHOICES Project’s communications strategy to disseminate and promote its research. She also conducts communications training and workshops for state and local health agency staff and their partners and creates communication materials and resources. Additionally, Molly supports the promotional efforts for the CHOICES Community of Practice and moderates monthly Coffee Chat engagement opportunities for a national network of public health practitioners. Beyond CHOICES, Molly is the Senior Communications Coordinator at the Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In her role, she manages the communication and promotion of the Center’s research and events.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [0:22] Molly Garrone discusses her transition from nursing to health communication
  • [4:06] The challenges of reaching audiences in health communications
  • [10:07] Why fear tactics fail in public health messaging
  • [18:19] Essentials for managing a community of practice
  • [21:12] Real-world, cost-effective strategies to combat childhood obesity
  • [23:22] How research and data drive actionable insights for health policy
  • [35:40] What is the essential role of partnerships in growing a professional network?
  • [41:25] The tools and tactics that make digital content accessible
  • [47:22] AI’s potential in revolutionizing accessibility in digital communications

In this episode…

In today’s digital age, health communication encounters unique challenges in reaching diverse and widespread audiences. Traditional methods frequently prove inadequate, underscoring the importance of leveraging digital media effectively.

According to healthcare professional Molly Garrone, effective health communication through digital media demands a comprehensive strategy. This approach involves understanding challenges, eschewing ineffective fear tactics, managing communities of practice, and employing accessibility tools. By adopting these methods, health communicators can successfully engage their audiences. Furthermore, integrating AI holds promise for further enhancing these efforts, aiming to make health communication more inclusive and impactful.

In this episode of the Nonprofit Thrive podcast, Molly Garrone, a communication specialist with the CHOICES Project, explores the use of digital media for effective health communication. She delves into the shortcomings of fear tactics in public health messaging, offers insights on building a professional network, and discusses strategies and tools for enhancing digital content accessibility.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Quotable Moments:

  • “I always enjoyed science, specifically health, biology, and anatomy, which led me to pursue nursing initially.”
  • “Health communication uses traditional communication and marketing strategies to promote health.”
  • “Fear appeals don’t work, especially for younger audiences.”
  • “Everything about managing our community of practice has been about partnerships.”
  • “Invest in communications as much as you can.”

Action Steps:

  1. Invest in partnerships to widen your reach.
  2. Embrace professional transitions as learning opportunities.
  3. Understand and adapt to your audience.
  4. Prioritize digital accessibility.
  5. Utilize digital engagement to support community building.

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by BFC Digital.

At BFC Digital, we help nonprofit organizations thrive on the web so they can improve the world.

Our team of creative and tech experts understands that an online presence can help foundations and organizations accomplish their missions. That’s where we come in. Over the last decade, we’ve advised our clients on web design, front- and back-end development, and tech support.

We’re committed to supporting a select set of clients who continually inspire us with their vision for a better world.

To learn more on how BFC Digital can assist you in realizing your organization’s mission, visit, email us at, or call 646-450-2236 today!

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:06

Welcome to Nonprofit Thrive, a podcast where we learn from the humans who are helping nonprofits succeed in the digital world. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Ben Freda 0:23

Welcome. I’m Ben Freda, host of the show, where we share the stories of leaders in the nonprofit space, the people behind the organizations, the foundations, and the companies that help nonprofits make a positive impact in the world. Past guests, we’ve had a number of them now. Wendy Huestis from Worldreader is a nonprofit that aims to get kids reading. She talked about fundraising, different fundraising techniques, and how to set up a giving ladder to help donors sort of mature from small to large. We also spoke recently with our very own coworker, Ben Reinhardt, who gave some very practical advice on how to maintain your own nonprofit’s web presence if you don’t have a web developer on your staff and you don’t have funding to hire one, how to do that yourself. So, if you’re looking for practical tips, check that episode out today. I’m very excited about who we have on, but before we get to that, I need to let you know that this podcast is brought to you by BFC Digital, the company I work for, where we help nonprofits thrive on the web. I’m sure you know if you work at a nonprofit or a foundation or an impact program, how? Unless you’re doing a big, chunky project with a budget in the 10s of 1000s, you probably are having trouble finding reputable, positive, friendly help to get your everyday web problems taken care of and to get your web tech to help you further your mission. Instead of holding you back at BFC Digital, we help our clients succeed by being the web colleagues you wish you had at your organization. We can help you fix bugs, evolve your web presence, design your new campaign pages, or integrate that awesome new fundraising program that your fundraiser at your organization is so psyched about onto your website. And we can do it by treating you like a human and not making you fill out a support ticket. Go to BFC to learn more. So for today, I’m super psyched to have someone on the show that I know pretty well I’ve worked with for over, I don’t know, four to five years now, as she’s gone from sort of Communications Assistant to now senior communications coordinator for Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health, where she coordinates the communications of some vital programs to to improve public health. I personally know her through her work at Choices Project, which is the program at the school that attempts to identify the most cost-effective strategies for preventing childhood obesity. In that role, she’s hosted over two dozen virtual engagement opportunities for a national network of over 2000 public health practitioners. She’s led over a dozen training workshops for state and local health staff. She’s overseen the development and dissemination of hundreds of research-based resources. That’s all in her job at the TH Chan School of Public Health. She also in her free time separately, what little free time remains. She also works with another nonprofit. She’s an ambassador for the Lieber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy Project at the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, which is a mouthful, but a very cool organization, and we’ll get into that as well today. And her name, which I haven’t told you, is Molly. Garrone. Molly Garrone, thank you so much for joining us today.

Molly Garrone 3:46

Absolutely. Thank you for the wonderful, warm welcome. Ben. Great to be here.

Ben Freda 3:50

Yeah, no worries always. I’m super psyched to have you on because we’ve worked for so long together, and I know little snippets of your story but not the whole thing. So that’s why we’ll start with your childhood, where you grew up? Okay, where did you grow up, and what did you want to be as you were a kid, you know when you were a kid? Sure,

Molly Garrone 4:06

absolutely. Well, the story of where I grew up probably could take up the duration of an entire podcast itself. So I’ll try to get as brief as possible. I’m originally from Toronto, and my whole family is Canadian, but when I was just about four years old, my dad had a job opportunity in Atlanta, Georgia, so I decided to take it. So my mom and dad and I and my brother moved down to Atlanta. My brother and I grew up there, so I have had an interesting childhood with different points of view, and we certainly took many trips back up to Canada to see family. Family was very gracious, and came down south all the time, excited to enjoy the humidity and heat of Atlanta with us. So I had kind of an interesting, interesting upbringing in that manner. And. And when I was 17, just turning 18, graduating high school, I moved up to New England, and I’ve been kind of in between Connecticut and Boston ever since.

Ben Freda 5:10

That makes so much sense because I’ve only known you as a New England person, but it makes so much sense that you’re Canadian, not to get into stereotypes of different. I’m flattered. Yeah. Yeah, right, yeah, we Yeah. Canadians that I’ve met are always super nice, flattering stereotypes. Exactly, totally, totally. So you traveled, and you had to pick up new friends and new environments. Did you have anything while you were a kid where you’re like, that’s what I want to do when I grow up. Yeah, it was,

Molly Garrone 5:39

it was, you know, I was a typical kid in that it would, you know, change kind of week, week to week, as it does with kids, as you know, of experience, I’m sure. But there was often a common thread for me, and I knew I wanted to do something that was kind of directly helping other people and something to do with science. I don’t know what, but I always really enjoyed science and kind of health and biology and anatomy, and so I, you know, ended up kind of realizing in high school, towards the end of high school, that I, you know, I think I want to do nursing. I think I want to be a nurse. So that was my original, my original idea,

Ben Freda 6:20

really, that’s really interesting. So you want it to be directly, like, actually, like, sewing people up and stuff,

Molly Garrone 6:26

yeah, very, very much. So I was, I was really interested in that, and I had heard of the renowned nursing program at Fairfield University in Connecticut, and someone had recommended it to me, and I just happened to be moving with my parents right before beginning college, so I kind of applied last minute, and so I did begin my undergraduate career as a nursing student for a couple of years, but found it just very challenging. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the patients, but I found I was kind of less interested in the clinical side of things and really liked the interpersonal elements, so I switched and chose communications instead.

Ben Freda 7:08

Gotcha, that makes sense so, but to me, the clinical stuff is, isn’t that the day-to-day dealing with patient stuff, or is it or not it

Molly Garrone 7:17

is, but I think more the really direct, you know, taking vitals and, you know, needing to administer medication and IVs and things like that was very overwhelming to me. Really, just, yeah, it was just kind of, kind of, it could be kind of hard to do, and I had sort of an unpleasant clinical experience with one round of clinicals I needed to do. And I ended up realizing too, that I would just get so into just chatting with the patient, sometimes I would forget to do what I was supposed to do. So I think that was kind of a cue that, okay, the interpersonal sides are there, but the knowledge is there, but, but, you know, maybe, maybe my strong suit is communicating more, more than administering treatments. Oh,

Ben Freda 8:02

That’s interesting. So you were doing that for a couple of years. Did you like transfer schools, or did you finish Fairfield?

Molly Garrone 8:09

No, I was fortunate enough to wrap it all up and finish it all in four years at Fairfield. Everyone was very supportive. I had a great advisor, and my parents were so supportive and helped me to catch up and finish on time. So it worked out really nicely.

Ben Freda 8:24

And then, by the end of it, you knew you didn’t want to be an on-the-ground nurse. You wanted to be in the communications angle. So how did you know what happened then?

Molly Garrone 8:33

Yeah, so I had, when I switched to communications, I had a wonderful advisor, Dr Michael Pagano. I believe he’s still there, and he is a physician’s assistant, I believe, but he kind of had a career in health communication. And so I think folks often are unaware of the field of health communication. When people hear communication, they often think corporate communication, or mass media or journalism, and that absolutely is communication, but there’s sort of a niche branch of communication known as health communication, and the Community Guide kind of defines it as the study and use of communications to inform and also influence individuals and communities in ways that enhance health really, and it considers a variety of channels targeted messaging really uses almost like marketing, to strategies to help influence health behavior change in a positive way. So this professor, Dr Pagano, offered a course in health communication, and I thought that’s kind of interesting. Maybe that’s a spot for me and that I mean that course, if I hadn’t taken it, I wouldn’t, probably wouldn’t be here right now. So it totally defined the entire trajectory of the rest of my career. I knew I wanted to do something in that area, and I wasn’t sure what, but I knew that was the place for me.

Ben Freda 9:54

Wow, that’s interesting. So health communication, so it’s so if you were to define it, it’d be like a partial market. And partially like advocacy-type communication or science-type communication. How is that? Yeah, what do you think of it? Yeah, absolutely.

Molly Garrone 10:07

It does use components of science and research communication, but it really is just using traditional communications channels to influence positive behavior change, whether that’s direct, so trying to get individuals on their own to make behavior change, or, more broadly, trying to make environmental or systems changes, such as policy change and things like that. So it’s really just using traditional communications and marketing strategies to promote health, simply put.

Ben Freda 10:37

And so, what works? What Works, telling people what to do. Does that work? Scaring people? Does that work? What is the well, so

Molly Garrone 10:44

Fear appeals definitely don’t work. Really. We really do see that. And I can say that after my undergraduate career, I pursued a master’s degree at Emerson College in Boston, and they had, it’s actually no longer being offered, but they had a fantastic health communication master’s program, is the perfect place for me, and I learned so much about so much more in-depth about health communication in that program. And we really talked a lot about what works. It was a really practical program. Just can’t say enough good things about it. And we talked about that fear appeals, the evidence really isn’t there, particularly for young people. It may be more effective for, you know, kind of older audiences, but certainly, young people, you know, showing kids a picture of a black lung is, you know, just historically, has not really deterred teen smoking rates. And so I think, in the past, using that as an example, things like really tapping into what teens care about? You know, they’re not worried about what’s happening when they’re 6070 years old. They care about what’s happening now. And so figuring that out, and tapping into that, which is really just, you know what, what advertisers do and marketers for products. So a very similar process. I think just tailoring messaging and communications as much as possible is one of the best ways to have effective, healthy communication. So

Ben Freda 12:11

What do you do? Yeah, because the thing that came to mind for me was going to Europe and seeing pictures on the cigarette packages, which are regular. I think it is required to be put there like somebody’s lung, which, to me, is shocking. And I’m like, Well, what? Totally, but, yeah, but maybe the younger, when you’re younger, you’re right. You don’t care about what’s happening to your lungs when you’re 60, right? So, what do you Do? What works for this? Maybe this is too tangential, but what would you say to somebody, a kid who’s 15 years old, who you know, what do they care about when it comes to smoking, you’re going to smell weird, like it’s or what, like,

Molly Garrone 12:44

absolutely no, you’re onto it. And I wish I could recall the fantastic researchers who did so much groundbreaking work on this in, I believe in king of the 80s and 90s that actually ended up really curbing teen smoking rates, at least for tobacco. Obviously, we have other problems today, but some really phenomenal research work was done, you know, several decades ago on this, and specifically, they were targeting a population of young males, teenage, teenage boys. And they really were tapping into like, what do you care about, and how can we show you that smoking will deter you from getting what you want? And it’s exactly what you said. They were finding that a lot of the girls who the boys might have been interested in were saying, Oh, I don’t want to date a guy who you know is smoking. He smells terrible, and his teeth are yellow, and he has bad breath. And it really, really worked. And I don’t remember again, that is crazy. The Yeah, I can’t, I can’t remember exactly the individuals who are involved in that, or even the, you know, exact media that they used to convey this messaging. But I know it was very successful. And you know, it just is a perfect example of how they went right to the community itself. They went right to the people, and they found out what care what they cared about, and they tailored it in that way. Yeah,

Ben Freda 14:06

And I like that because I think a lot of what people care about is almost kind of embarrassing to admit. I will admit that when I was 15, I was obsessed with whether girls would like me. I’m, you know, that was my normal and natural, though, also, totally and totally Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate that. Yeah, years of therapy have taught me that, but, um, but yeah, it was probably my main concern. Was will, particularly 15-year-old girls, like, you know what I mean, which is right? Oh, and yeah, you’re right. I wasn’t really super concerned about 60 or 70, yeah, yeah. That is really interesting. Yeah, so non-judgmentally going to the other thing. And I wonder what’s your take on what I wonder what your take on. This is what I have, I’ve mentioned this on before, but I have a great friend who’s a psychology PhD, and one of his studies he had to do was a fake charity study where he pretended to be from March time. Times, and he pretended to go door to door and read a certain two scripts for what would make people more likely to donate to hard times, or, I forget if it was United Way, or one of these organizations that was well known. So he had two scripts, one of which I forget, I think he called it like the popularity script, and the other one he called the scarcity script, or something. Anyway, we went to these neighborhoods, and the first script was knocking on doors and saying, Hey, listen, we have, I’m from March times. We do this incredible work. I’ve been having a really hard time getting people to donate. It’s been tough , you know, your donation would have such an impact, because it would be one of the only ones, and we really need it, and you would be making such a difference. That was script one. Script two as he goes to every house, knicks, and says, This neighborhood is incredible. Donations are off the charts. Everyone’s giving to us. It’s been so great. Will you join your neighbors and give to us as well? And he did both of these. He thought the first one would be more effective because its impact was not even close. Not even close. Yeah, it’s the one where everyone’s giving. Will you give to, you know what I mean? Which really changed my mind about some of these communications as well, you know? Anyway, I’m wondering if that is just a hypothesis. Is that true based on your research or your experience and, or are there other things like that that are surprising? Yeah, absolutely,

Molly Garrone 16:24

I’m not surprised to hear that. And I do think often people do want to go with the crowd. You know, if there’s something that other people are doing and they hear that kind of everybody’s doing it, they might, you know, feel more inclined. So I think that that is, you know, a good strategy. And I think with health behavior change, particularly if you’re really trying to affect people on the individual level, like the example that the teen is smoking sometimes, you know, using that type of framing and maybe doing it in, you know, a really positive way. Well, everybody’s drinking water. You know, we’re all drinking water nowadays, we’re all making a healthier choice, kind of framing it as kind of a nice collective thing that, you know, everyone’s interested in can be, I think, very effective. But I do think it depends on, you know, the specific circumstances, and it’s always going to depend on the audience. And if there’s anything I can reiterate over and over and over with communications in general, but absolutely in the world of health communication and research communications, it’s absolutely all about the audience. And I think in your example, that audience in particular, there may have been something really specific to those people in that neighborhood, and using that type of framing, just, you know, so happened to be very effective, whereas maybe in a different neighborhood, they run different results, I don’t know. So that’s interesting. Yeah, I can’t underscore enough. It is just all about the audience, truly.

Ben Freda 17:49

So, if your audience hates your neighbors, maybe it wouldn’t work. You’re like, damn it, if they’re doing it, I’m not exactly. Oh, that’s funny. So, who is the audience that isn’t really getting into them? So which is a good I want to transition for a second speaking of the audience, to one of the audiences you deal with at choices, which, by the way, we do need to say, right? You’re not here on behalf of Harvard but on behalf of yourself, right? So any you, yeah, go ahead. Yeah.

Molly Garrone 18:19

Thank you. Ben. I just want to note I’m going to be sharing my own opinions and personal perspectives today, and I do not speak on behalf of Harvard,

Ben Freda 18:27

even though she works for Harvard and has learned stuff from it. But anyway, so, so when you’re when, so one of the things you do is you manage a community of practice through the school there, through the choices project there, and it’s basically 2000 or so practitioners that are sort of working in this field of childhood obesity, trying to release, reduce child release, trying to reduce childhood obesity. So when you’re talking about the audience, and you’re and you’re managing communications among these people, are you sort of managing the communications to them, or are you helping them in as communications outward to the greater world?

Molly Garrone 19:04

Great question, a little bit of both, but mostly it’s focused on what you know. How can we present information and get information, disseminate information to the audience of state and local health agency staff, particularly the most? There are other audiences were interested in reaching as well, but our main goal is, really, you know, what, what can we say, and how can we say it in a way that’s going to, you know, help them, or, you know, help them to understand and, you know, recognize that they can use our research and tools in a way to then go and hopefully, you know, make great changes in their communities.

Ben Freda 19:42

Got you, got you. And so you’re helping them sort of address, you’re helping the members of the community of practice sort of addressed, what 1000s and 1000s of 1000s of these state and local health administrators, I suppose, yeah, well,

Molly Garrone 19:54

that’s, that’s our goal. That’s what we’re trying to do. And I think, you know, maybe it could stay, take a bit of a. That back to and just sort of frame it more broadly, because the choices project, as you, as you mentioned, is a, you know, really important project that we have at our center, and the community of practice is sort of an avenue of the choices project to reach, to reach these folks, but to say more, more broadly, to that the choices project is just one of many projects that we have at the correction Research Center. And you know, we were really looking to reach people at public health agencies, at the state, city county, and county levels, but we’re also trying to reach people at Departments of Education, local education agencies, community-based organizations, particularly ones that are providing support for children and their families. We’re even looking to reach healthcare settings that support and support children and their families. And then we also, you know, are very interested in reaching other researchers and future public health leaders as well. So we do have a very broad kind of focus with where we’re trying to get, you know, our information across our different projects, but I think you definitely touched on it for choices

Ben Freda 21:07

and the information you’re trying to give them is about the best practices for reducing childhood obesity. Is that accurate?

Molly Garrone 21:12

Yeah, yeah. And I think you know we do. You know we are concerned with childhood obesity? Absolutely, it is a problem, unfortunately, that that’s just sort of, you know, continued for many, many years. And we do want to help, really try to make population-level changes that can help reduce and slow the rise in it, so that kids have an opportunity to grow up at a healthier weight. That’s really our focus, but we are really geared towards creating healthier environments, which I think I mentioned before, too, because it’s so important. You know, weight. Weight is very important, but it is really important too that kids have an opportunity to have access to high, you know, high-quality nutrition and safe drinking water and physical activity opportunities. These are really, really important parts of growing up in a healthy way. And all of that, you know, it sets a kid up for, you know, a healthy adult life too. So, you know, childhood obesity is an important focus of ours, but also creating healthier environments is really important. And so our research, and really my colleague’s research, I should say, has focused on evaluating different programs and policies to see if they actually work. So, our evaluations have shown you that there are these different policies and programs that really do have an impact. They really can make a difference, and many of them are low-cost. Some, you know, are cost effective. Some of them even have the potential to improve health equity and kind of, you know, eliminate some of those disparities that we see across race, ethnicity groups and income groups as well. So, we’re really trying to get that information to these folks about, hey, we know of these great strategies that are effective, cost effective, you know, you may want to consider them. That’s kind of our general, general message.

Ben Freda 23:02

So, before we get into how you communicate, what is an example of a really great, cost-effective strategy, and what’s an example of a terrible strategy that’s a waste? Well,

Molly Garrone 23:10

So, for terrible strategies that are a waste, let’s start there. Actually I don’t know a ton, because our focus has been so much on effective interventions, I don’t even know if I could give you a good example of an ineffective one.

Ben Freda 23:25

Can I say? Can I say one from working on your action kit, which is great. There was a strategy, which is an online thing where different strategies are compared? I do remember seeing something like bariatric surgery. And it was, yes, it was like, kind of ridiculous. You know, it was anyway you can example.

Molly Garrone 23:43

No, that’s a great question. So we don’t actually currently have that intervention on the new iteration of our action kit, which, as you queued up, is a fantastic interactive tool that BFC Digital did an amazing job of overhauling and enhancing.

Ben Freda 23:58

Oh yeah, that’s why I brought it up. I just wanted to be showered with totally

Molly Garrone 24:02

No, and I’m here for it. But seriously, you guys did an amazing job, and have really been all you are so awesome. Thank you. But you are quite right. In the previous iteration of the kit, we had that on there, so you’re right. It’s an extremely costly intervention. On the surface, when you look at it, compared to the other ones, that’s for a very good reason. So it’s a really major surgery, but it’s also only something that’s really recommended when a child is in a position of very severe excess weight. So it wouldn’t be something that would be recommended, you know, commonly as a strategy for, you know, prevention, and at that point, it’s really more of a treatment anyway. It’s only used in some kind of extenuating circumstances. But it was something that I believe our team assessed, as you know, even though it’s costly and, you know, kind of drastic, it. Is also very cost effective in that situation. So still considered an effective intervention, but really more for sort of a smaller group

Ben Freda 25:09

a particular situation I see. So an example of a cost-effective strategy to prevent unhealthy outcomes would be what, yeah.

Molly Garrone 25:18

So, as you said on the action kit. There are a whole bunch of great examples. I think one really, really great one that actually, we’re just, we’re just adding to the kit now and putting together materials on and I’m going to share this as an example, because this is something that’s actually happened. It’s not even, you know, because some of our work has been kind of modeling hypothetically what would happen. This is something that’s actually occurred, is the WIC food package change. So, a little bit of context. So folks may be familiar with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program snap, so that, you know, AIDS, AIDS folks get their groceries, if they are, you know, at a below a certain income level. And the WIC program is part of that, the Women, Infants and Children program, and it’s really to help, you know, parents of really young kids who may not have the finances to access healthy food. It’s available as a government benefit for that. It’s really an amazing program. And there’s a package of food that is, you know, provided to families. And I believe it was in 2009 there, they kind of changed the food that was being offered there to make it more nutritious. And so our team took a look at that, you know, that was, you know, well, well, over a decade ago that happened. So there’s, you know, these many years of real life data to kind of take a look at and see, did it actually make any difference? And it really did. It was really effective, and it has contributed to really great health outcomes for kids who have grown up in the WIC program. So that was absolutely, you know, that’s a really population level one that kind of affects, you know, everybody, kind of nationwide, but that is a really effective and cost effective strategy too.

Ben Freda 27:06

Yeah, totally. That’s interesting, cool. And that’s one of the cool things about that action kit that you built. But you were your thing. I mean, it was your baby. It was your idea. But what’s so cool about it is that you let people compare different strategies. What if the government did this? What if the government did this? What if? What if after-school providers did this, and you can compare different strategies and compare the prices and stuff, I mean, of what it would cost and the effectiveness? It’s really cool. How does stuff like that come together? Like, how do you have that kind of idea? I want to communicate using this thing. Was it just your idea? Did other people suggest it? How does that work? You’re

Molly Garrone 27:43

kind to attribute it to me, but it absolutely was not my idea. It was my colleagues, 100% I believe, even though I think our center’s director, it might have been his idea originally. And I think he was thinking along the lines of, you know, almost like Amazon comparison shopping, kind of wanted to make it like that. And you know, everybody’s contributed in different ways with different ideas for how to make it better, but, but I certainly can’t take credit for the initial comparison tool idea, but I can say that a ton of work has gone into it, as you know, from the web development side, but from the research side, oh yeah, our team has worked, you know, just absolutely diligently on modeling these results and getting all the right data, and it’s all done at the national level. But I think one of the really cool things that we’re just so excited about is, with this new iteration, we have these strategy reports, which are kind of these PDFs that go as you know, that go with each of the different interventions, and those really provide so much more detail into what the these policies and programs actually are. And yeah, the most exciting part for me is that there’s some really practical information in there, so somebody at the state level or the local level could look at this and say, okay, cool. This is, this was modeled at the national level. You know, it looks great, but here’s some practical information, if I wanted to adapt to this or use it and try to maybe make this a thing at the state, county or city level. So that’s really where we were going with that is to have that depth of information so that it can be a little bit more practical and useful for people at the state and local levels. It makes

Ben Freda 29:24

sense. Going back to what you said before about the most important thing in communications being the audience. You understand that your audience are people that work at state and local governments or in these health departments or other places, and you know how to tailor the communications to them. I mean, that’s what this kid is for. It’s kind of, I guess the public can go there too, but it’s really for people who are choosing between policies. Yeah,

Molly Garrone 29:47

absolutely. And I think so too. You know, a key thing that we think about a lot and communications, particularly health and research communications, is jargon. And how jargon is such a problem. You know, no matter what field you’re in, jargon, do. Be such an issue. But particularly in this world, there’s so many, oh my God, so many buzzwords and things that I think, folks, there’s so many acronyms too. We always laugh in public health. I mean, there’s just acronym after acronym. So, you know, we wanted to be careful with jargon in this. But the cool thing is, people at state and local health departments are just they can maybe come, you know, into that work from all different backgrounds. Some folks have a PhD, some folks maybe, you know, just have an undergraduate degree, or maybe not, not even, but everybody that we’ve interacted with is just so smart and competent and skilled and bright, and we’re, I’m continually impressed by the folks we work with. And what’s really cool about these folks is that they actually understand a lot of that jargon. So we took it down a little bit, but we didn’t have to tailor it so much, because we know our audience will understand some of those terms. So it’s exciting to be able to, you know, adapt it in a way that hopefully folks are understanding, but also is kind of on a level with the type of language we’re using, too. So

Ben Freda 31:14

For sure, yeah, speaking of jargon, because my world is full of jargon as well. I mean, yes, technically, and it’s so annoying for people who don’t understand. They’re like, what are you? Just treat, treat me like a regular person that you know so and one of the questions I want to talk to you about is, how did you respond? I mean, you don’t, you’re not a web developer, you’re not a coder, but now you’re responsible for pretty much, at least, as far as I can tell, the digital stuff that you guys produce. How did that come about? How do you feel about it? What are the things that are difficult, frustrating versus easier? Was it just because you were the youngest person when you started? That is awful. I

Molly Garrone 31:52

don’t even know if I was so there you go. I think because I did have a little bit of experience prior to this position that I started out in 2017 I had done an internship for a few years supporting a software company, and I had done a lot of technical stuff. And say, I really appreciate it. I had such great training there and learned how to do a lot of technical things. And actually, even then, a lot of it involved, like HTML coding, which cool, you know, even if it was kind of even outdated then, that was like 2015 you know, we were already got to start, that’s what you started then. But, you know, I kind of, you know, started from the bottom, you know, that’s what you got

Ben Freda 32:37

to do. You got to do HTML first, then you got to CSS, then you

Molly Garrone 32:40

got, yeah, and I didn’t quite get to the CSS level, but I at least enough to understand, you know, that it exists and certain things like that. But I had a great experience there with HTML and just WordPress and content management and stuff like that on a really granular level. So I already came with some of that experience, and also Google Analytics and things like that. So I kind of knew how to make some sort of data-driven decisions, you know, with websites. So the team at the Prevention Research Center did not have any communication staff when, when I was hired, so I kind of came on as an assistant to sort of help with sort of general communication needs and with the websites, and just over the years, I think as we’ve had so many great new opportunities with research, we’ve kind of had this ability to sort of let it grow. And I have to say again, I know you weren’t fishing for a compliment, but having your team, having your team involved, I think actually, really has helped hugely. Because I think one of the struggles we see a lot in communications, particularly in the public health world, and I know this is true for the nonprofit world too, is that communications is often an afterthought, and it’s often if it is thought of, it’s understaffed. And I just, you know, anybody listening, invest in communications, however much you can. Maybe you only have a bit to invest but it’s better than nothing. And, you know, to have somebody in house is really great, but to also have a really great, you know, firm, or more than one firm, that you’re working with who really understands web development is really great. So I think having the support from you guys, and we have worked with other groups as well too, but, but your support over the last several years has been really paramount. You know, as I said, I’m the only communications person.

Ben Freda 34:25

So that blows my mind that you’re the only communications person. I mean, you, yeah, you do so much, really, but

Molly Garrone 34:29

I have to say too, I’m the only person who’s, you know, technically communications, but I have the best team. I mean, it is, like, so awesome, the support that I get from colleagues, and everybody just knows and understands and appreciates how important communication is and is involved in my work. And, you know, supportive and great and awesome. So I have to say, you know, I have amazing support from from my colleagues,

Ben Freda 34:55

gotcha, gotcha. So, so you’ve kind of because you’re the communications but that makes sense, because. You’re the only communications person. Of course, you’re doing the digital stuff. Yeah, that’s part of like, your thing. Do you? What do you think in terms of the future of communications for public health are, what are you looking at for like, let’s imagine the next five years. Are you looking at, hey, we got to communicate more on social media. Hey, we got to communicate more everywhere, and use AI to help us write the communications, which a lot of people are talking about, which I don’t know is a great idea. Are you looking at, hey, we got to do more interactive stuff that has a nice design. Like, what are the PDFs? Like you said, the, you know, the action kit has a little PDFs. Is that effective? What are you thinking of in terms of the digital stuff?

Molly Garrone 35:40

Great question. Again, it all depends on the audience. So, you know, a PDF for one person might be so useful and helpful for someone else, they’re going to close out of it. They don’t want to sit and read that. So it’s all going to depend. And reminds me of that great quote, I think it was Marshall McLuhan, who said, the media is the message. It kind of resonates in my mind when I’m thinking about this question. So I think it really, really depends. But on a really broad, general level, I would say something that I really want to see is something in the social media space to emerge, to become a really great tool for public health. And I just think, unfortunately, in my opinion, I think we’re in a bit of a holding pattern right now. I think Twitter, you know, X, formerly, Twitter used to be an amazing, amazing space for so many things, news, you know, real time, information, crisis, communication. I can’t, you know, I can’t say enough about what a valuable tool it is. I think it really was, and unfortunately, it seems to be moving away from that space. So I think if there can be something, and I don’t know what that is, I don’t know something we already have, and, you know, maybe we use it in a better way, or maybe there will be a new platform that comes out. But I do think people, you know, that’s, that’s where a lot of people are across a lot of generations, not going to get everybody on social media, but you’re going to get a lot of people on social media. And so I think continuing with really good strategies on there, and understanding which demographics are on which platforms and how you can best tailor and, you know, what can you do for free versus what might you be able to do paid? You know, maybe if there’s a small budget for some paid advertising, something like that. I think it could be a really great opportunity. Yeah,

Ben Freda 37:27

Do you guys do any paid advertising or no, not, right? No,

Molly Garrone 37:31

we don’t. It’s something we’ve, we’ve, you know, thought about in the past, and may, you know, may pursue in the future. You know, particularly, we’ve had an interest with LinkedIn for reaching our audience, but no, not something we’ve done yet.

Ben Freda 37:44

And the kind of things you would share on social media, I’m trying to think would be, again, you’re targeting that audience, right? Like you’re targeting those, those governmental people thinking about policy, yeah, so maybe LinkedIn would be good for that. That’s,

Molly Garrone 37:56

That’s what we were thinking. Yeah. We think, you know, because you can really, I know I have done paid advertising on LinkedIn in the past in a different job, and, you know, I remember that there’s an ability to really target by job title and, you know, organization type. And I think that that could be very valuable for us.

Ben Freda 38:16

Yeah, that’s interesting. Cool. Yeah, I don’t want to rush you. But of course, as we do every episode, our time is running very short,

Molly Garrone 38:24

so I have time. So no, no, unfortunately, this

Ben Freda 38:27

is actually going to technically cut off in five minutes. So, but yeah, I do want to ask you just one last thing, and particularly about the community of practice, because a lot of organizations that we work with also are struggling with succeeding, with feeling their way through networks right, like having networks of practitioners, or having networks of people that are interested in a certain topic, whether it’s advocacy or or or direct services or whatever. And you, of course, manage this, this group of people who are part of this. Can you talk a little bit just quickly about the surprising difficulties of doing that, the surprising joys of doing that, strategies that work for you. How do you keep track of everyone? Do you screen people like, how are you running that note? Yeah, that’s a huge question.

Molly Garrone 39:13

That’s okay, that absolutely so I think, you know, we started out doing a lot of background research into other communities of practice and how it’s how it’s done. And communities of practice are kind of a thing in the public health world, the science world, the research world, and we did a lot of research on, you know, other ones, and how are people doing it, and all that stuff. But, and that was all extremely helpful, but I do think we really learn by doing so, I think after, you know, a few years of kind of feeling out, where do we want this to live and what sort of how do we want to best engage, you know, we really landed on providing these regular, you know, usually monthly, sometimes we take some months off, but monthly engagement opportunities we call coffee chats, as you know, an opportunity. To kind of casually bring people on and have them have the opportunity to ask questions of an expert in the field. So sometimes we bring researchers, sometimes we bring people who you know also work at state and local health agency departments, or people who work at organizations you know, NGOs, and who you know, kind of work in this space. And so we really just kind of learned by doing, I have to say, and you know, something that has been absolutely paramount to us getting, you know, this, this, you know, 2000 plus person network has been partnerships. Everything has been about partnerships. So we’ve been working with two two groups, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. And those are two phenomenal organizations that you know really work for state and local health agencies. They support them, and they have been amazing partners for us for years. And through them, they have really promoted our community of practice, our events. They’ve really, through their channels, disseminated about our work. And I know that so many people who are engaged with our work have found it because of their dissemination. So really for us, it’s been kind of a partnership and having their kind of consultation and guidance for us has just just been totally critical.

Ben Freda 41:25

Yeah, that makes sense. And the last thing I want to ask you, too, is we talked quickly off topic, I mean, off camera, about the digital tools you use for LH o n the Libra hereditary optic neuropathy project. Yeah, I know I’m rushing you on all these questions, but can you just talk for a second about, first, about what that organization does, but also, yeah, what tools do you think work? What tools don’t you think you’ve had experience with that haven’t worked?

Molly Garrone 41:51

Yeah, absolutely. So it’s a volunteer role, very, very different from my day to day position at Harvard. So this is kind of a very grassroots community that really, it’s, you know, a little over a decade old, I would say, and a couple, like, just a few fast facts about LH on. So it’s extremely rare. About 100 people in the US will lose their vision from LH O N each year, and that joins about 4000 or so people in the US who are already blind from LH o n. And it’s about, you know, there’s about maybe 35,000 people roughly worldwide with this Lhn vision. So, you know, it, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s tough. It’s a rare disease. So it can be, you know, tough to get, you know, attention and get people linked into it, because it often takes people a really long time to even find out that they have it. It’s a really difficult diagnosis to track down, unless you know it’s something in your family. So it does, it does run in families,

Ben Freda 42:47

and it’s uncured, incurable. If

Molly Garrone 42:49

it happens at this point in time, we don’t, we don’t have a cure, treatment. There have been a lot of really great clinical trials that have been done, a lot of different types of drugs, actually trials, which has been really exciting, considering how rare this disease is, so you know, but we’re not, we’re not there yet. We’re still, still looking towards that. But in terms of digital tools, I mean, we couldn’t, we could not sustain this community, the support community, without digital tools, things like social media, zoom, support group calls and going back to PDFs, I actually create a lot of educational materials for patients in the community, you know, in in PDF, that seems to be the best format for for both cited and, you know, folks with using screen reading technology. And,

Ben Freda 43:35

oh, right, because you’re right, you’re disseminating information to people who can’t actually visually see it on the screen Exactly? Yeah, so. So how do PDFs work with screen readers? So

Molly Garrone 43:44

you need to build a lot of components in the back end for that. So it all kind of depends on the program that you’re creating, the source document. And so Word does a really nice job of that. If you use headings and things like that, and paragraph styles, It’ll kind of be preserved when you export to PDF. But if you want to create something a little more visually appealing, I often use Adobe InDesign, but it can be a little bit challenging to get the reading order correct, and you have to kind of do all these components that are virtually invisible, but a screen reader will be able to tell. So it’ll have to figure out, you know, which text box do I read first? And it’ll need to, you know, if it needs to put emphasis on something that’s bolded or italicized or what have you. So there is a lot of kind of back end, I would say, work that needs to be done before it’s PDF. Yeah. So

Ben Freda 44:33

One of the concerns that we have, that we see a lot of nonprofits doing, is creating annual reports or or impact reports every year and sending it out to their audience in PDF. And a lot of times we find that they’re not accessible, that people can’t with screeners. Can’t read them, but you’re but what it sounds like you’re saying is, if you do it carefully in a program like InDesign or word you can have, is it possible to have both a nice looking PDF with like. Like visual dynamic designs that will appeal to, like the sighted people, and also be fully accessible and readable. It’s totally

Molly Garrone 45:07

possible, okay, but it is challenging. It is very challenging. And if you’re strapped for, you know, for funding or time or, you know, it can be really, really difficult to learn. But I would say, you know, doing this kind of just on my own, I learned so much from YouTube. It really never ceases to amaze me. What you want for free on YouTube. So

Ben Freda 45:29

It’s incredible. I learned how to program for free.

Molly Garrone 45:32

Exactly Where you go. I mean, that doesn’t get much better than that. So I learned so much from YouTube, and honestly, just Googling, you know, knowledge base, things for different programs are extremely helpful. I think, you know, if you really, really are strapped, because Adobe InDesign is, is kind of a sophisticated program. It does require a subscription, so there is a cost associated with it. But, you know, Word, Word is not, not so terrible. You might not be able to have as many visual elements as you like, but you will be able to get that accessibility component as long as you use the styles really. And I would also, you know, say you always want to test. So you can, if you have Adobe Acrobat Reader, even the free version, you can always test. There’s an option to read aloud your document, so you can find out, is this reading this in the right way? You know, is it reading the title and then the last paragraph and missing everything in between? And you can kind of go back to the source file and maybe figure out, Oh, I didn’t, I didn’t have this in a certain style, so it didn’t know how to read it. So got you, yeah, yeah.

Ben Freda 46:33

And so that’s how you like, how you personally, when, when you’re testing something for accessibility, you will use that Adobe Acrobat, read it out loud, yeah,

Molly Garrone 46:41

That’s the best feature I have at this point. I wish I could use the technology that I know folks in our community are using. One of them is called JAWS. That’s all like an acronym. There you go. More acronyms. People will use that. And I, you know, that’s a really costly tool, so I wouldn’t necessarily pay for it, just for testing purposes, but, but another great piece of it too is there are so many amazing people in our community who use screen reading technology who have, you know, offered to test it for me. So I might send it to them and say, Hey, is this reading properly? And if so great, if not, tell me where it’s not. You know where it’s messing up. So, you know, I do have great, you know, colleagues in our community who can help with the testing. Got,

Ben Freda 47:22

you know, this is, this is a hugely important thing that is so little known how to and then among sort of regular, you know, people who maybe are not super steeped in it. Yeah, it’s super important, though, because it’s a huge percentage of the population, the digital population now, I mean, it’s like, I don’t know, four or 5% or something, some estimates say which is, I mean, that’s just crazy. How big it is and how important that population is to make sure they’re able to consume what you’re exactly.

Molly Garrone 47:51

And, you know, I always think too. You know, no matter what you’re doing, you can all like it, whatever your goal is, whether you’re kind of more mission driven, or you’re selling a product, or your support community, whatever it is, you’re always going to reach a broader audience. If you include folks who require, you know, accessibility, you know, modifications, you’re always going to reach a broader audience. And why would you not want to do that? You know, I always think that, like, why would you not want to reach more people? Why would you not want to include more people? We absolutely need to be doing that more. And I know that’s something at the end. You know, the Prevention Research Center, we’ve been trying to do a lot more as well, and your team has been really helpful with us implementing some of that, that stuff, because it can be really, you know, it’s so important, but it can just be very challenging and very technical. So it’s important not to get not to get too overwhelmed. No, know that it’s a challenge. It’s not easy you know, it’s not like it’s this really easy thing to do. It is challenging, but it’s so worth it. It’s so worth it. And so it’s

Ben Freda 48:49

one of those things that, from the web development side, I feel like should be easier than it is. It’s still very particular things you have to do to your markup to make it happen. And if you’ve set up a website already, there’s no simple way of doing it. You have to go into the templates and change all of the templates. It’s not easy. Unfortunately, there are certain tools, like, there’s this accessible tool, yes, yeah, which is like, maybe you have a different experience with it, but as far as you know, from our experience with it, it’s fine. It puts it, you know, it puts another layer on top of your thing. It’s rewriting your content based on AI and doing its best to choose what’s important. Again, it doesn’t really know, you know. So it makes some choices that are right and some choices that are wrong. It also is an external JavaScript which has impact on performance and is not, you know, is something you want to avoid. So anyway, yeah, it’s one of the things should be easier than it is,

Molly Garrone 49:39

exactly. And I think to your earlier question about, like, what do I want to see happening, you know, in the digital space for nonprofit, you know, the nonprofit world, the public health world, I would definitely say something better for accessibility. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know if it’s a suite of tools or. You know something, but, but some sort of innovations and breakthroughs in making it easier for communications folks to not have to think twice about accessibility, I think, because that would be, that would just be such a game changer, really. And I think it would also help to have people adopt it more, because a lot of people just don’t go there. And it’s not because they don’t want to, or don’t care. They just don’t have the capacity, or they don’t have the knowledge.

Ben Freda 50:24

And, you know, it costs time and effort, which means money. You know, when you’re doing it, it’s hard. I wonder if there is, you know, again, I’m always on, because everyone talks about AI all the time, and I’m always on the lookout for things that are not non BS, you know, advantages of AI speakers, terrible to say it, but I wonder if there is a better way. Maybe that is an application, because rather than a screen, a screen reader is basically grabbing the code behind the web page, or, in this case, PDF, and using tags to indicate what’s what. But it’s not using the visual look and feel. And as humans were sighted, humans were using the visual look and feel. Something’s bolder. We know it’s more important. You know what I mean? If it’s a Texas and it’s the original screeners, just know from the tag. But maybe there is sort of an AI ability to sort of view it as with sort of fake computer eyes, and be able to

Molly Garrone 51:19

interpret it that way? Yeah, I think that’s an I think that’s an amazing application for that. That would be really cool. And that kind of reminds me of audio descriptions for film and TV. So that’s a really great thing that folks in our community use a lot. And I think some are better than others, kind of like audiobooks, you know, and things, some can be better than others. I know that with screen reading technology, too, there are a lot of giggles in our community because sometimes the voices are just so terrible. So,

Ben Freda 51:47

you know, so inappropriate for the topic, so

Molly Garrone 51:49

terrible. Yeah, it’s such a shame. So it would be really cool with AI to do something like that. I totally agree, where it could be interpreted as if it was just simply, you know, consuming it as a sighted individual. And you know, if there could also be a component of improved voice as well, because I know that that is that really jarring and very off-putting for folks who are trying to read something, if sometimes to the point where they can’t even understand the voice. So that totally defeats the purpose. So, yes, I think that AI, you know, the application, certainly in the accessibility space, can be an amazing area, even,

Ben Freda 52:27

Even just that part, you talked about changing the tone of voice to be appropriate to the content, because, like, for instance, I’m a bad example. But let’s say you get, let’s say you get a report back from your doctor that has some really negative health information, like, oh my gosh, they’ve detected this terrible stuff. You probably don’t want that cherry, I mean, that weird, cheery Australian voice that’s on my phone, exactly, saying, I mean, it just is really bad anyway, and not an empathetic person would be going through, yeah, exactly.

Molly Garrone 52:56

And wouldn’t that be an amazing application for AI? I mean, it seems like it’s certainly possible for, you know, AI technology, to be able to, you know, read the content of something real quick and make, you know, some sort of determination about, okay, this is, you know, these are serious medical results. You know, this isn’t just like a fire for a summer camp. You know, I need to use a different, totally different vibe here,

Ben Freda 53:21

totally okay, well, we got it. We nailed it. We got a really great application of AI, okay, that was good. If we get nothing else out of this interview,

Molly Garrone 53:28

we solved everything,

Ben Freda 53:29

nailed it. Listen, I’m actually shocked that the interview didn’t automatically cut off 10 minutes ago because I thought that’s how it was supposed to work. It didn’t, though. So I’m, obviously, an interviewer, so I don’t really know how this works, but that’s really awesome. But listen, this has been, like, so fun and so interesting. Can you just quickly tell people where they can learn more about you, the CHOICES Project, etc? If they’ve heard all this and they’re like, oh my gosh, I need to ask her a question. Or,

Molly Garrone 53:58

yeah, absolutely, I would love for anyone to reach out to me personally at any time. You can find me on LinkedIn. I’m just Molly Garrone. I think I’m the only one. So you are free to. I don’t know many people with that last name, so feel free to DM me or connect with me on there. I’m thrilled to chat with anybody. You can learn more about the CHOICES Project at and you can also learn about our research center, the Prevention Research Center on nutrition and physical activity if you go to, and you can learn more about the LHON project at the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation at

Ben Freda 54:36

Thank you so much. It was a real pleasure.

Molly Garrone 54:39

Thank you so much for having me Ben, this was great.

Outro 54:43

Thanks for listening to the Nonprofit Thrive podcast. We’ll see you next time. Be sure to subscribe to receive future episodes.

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