Communications professionals at America’s grantmaking foundations are responding to the digital age, according to a new survey from the Communications Network.
The survey of 155 foundation communicators shows U.S. foundations are making use of all forms digital communications, especially social media, a top priority. The survey results suggest the growth of social media and other emerging digital technologies is changing the way foundations communicate with target audiences.
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Almost half of foundation communicators surveyed (47%) said they work for organizations that have blogs and three-quarters (76%) host videos on their websites. On average, respondents estimated that a quarter (24%) of their communications dollars in 2011 would be spent on electronic communications, more than any other tactic, although printed annual reports and other print publications still consume a sizeable share of the communications budget. Increasing capacity for new media and related digital work was cited as a high internal priority by 60 percent of survey participants, more than any other response.
“As philanthropic organizations continue their efforts to advance social change, they are increasingly relying on online communications to support this work,” said Bruce S. Trachtenberg, executive director of the Communications Network. “Like many other organizations dealing with leaner budgets, foundation communicators are expected to do more with less while keeping pace with the changing communications landscape. A foundation communicator these days needs to be well-versed and agile in using a variety of communications strategies – from traditional media relations to tweeting and blogging — to reach key audiences in immediate, highly targeted ways.”
The survey results show that despite the economic slowdown, budgets for foundation communications have remained stable over the last three years for nearly half of the survey respondents (49%). About a third of the respondents (34%) said their budgets declined, and 17 percent said their communications budget increased over the past three years. Online and social media projects, such as multimedia production and other interactive tools, were at the top of communicators’ wish lists, but respondents said budget allocations for these projects remain small.
“Communications staff surveyed expressed a strong desire to use innovative tools more often, but they also face tight budgets, so they will have to continue to be very creative in promoting their organization’s positions and products in economical ways,” Trachtenberg said.
The survey shows that reaching and influencing policy-makers were among the highest communications priorities cited by foundation communicators. Close to half of the respondents (47%) said that influencing public policy-makers was a high-priority objective. In fact, more respondents (55%) rated policy-makers as a “high-priority” target audience than any other group, although community leaders (53%) and current grantees (52%) followed closely.
To gauge the role of communications in the work of grantmaking foundations, the survey included questions about how senior leadership valued the contributions of their communications staff in helping to achieve the organizational mission. Nearly half of the respondents (48%) said that leadership has helped make communications central to key foundation activities, including grant making, advocacy work and other social change initiatives. About one-third (36%) said that foundation leadership is in the process of integrating communications into all aspects of the organizations’ work. Just one in six respondents (16%) said integrating communications into all aspects of the organizational mission is not happening at their organization.
“One of the main trends I’ve noticed in recent years is that foundation communications departments are playing a more central role in helping their foundations achieve their missions,” Trachtenberg said. “Increasingly, program department staff seek communications counsel on components of substantial grantmaking initiatives at their conception and as they are taking shape.”
The survey was designed and analyzed by Hamill Remaley breakthrough communications, with data collected in February 2011. Respondents included 155 foundation communications professionals from across the United States. The Communications Network conducted a previous survey of foundation communicators in 2008.
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