A Quick Word With… is our ongoing series in which people from foundations of all sizes and types tell us about themselves, their work and where they draw their inspiration. This installment features Ray Delgado, Communications Officer, The James Irvine Foundation.
Hardest to reach target audience?
In our Youth and California Democracy programs, it is increasingly important to spotlight our initiatives with policymakers and those are relationships that take time to develop and cultivate.
What percentage of your communications is based in new media?
About 25 percent and growing. We’ve had the most success with Twitter, where we have built our network of followers considerably over the past couple of years as several Irvine staff members (including our CEO Jim Canales, @jcanales) have used Twitter to follow trends within the philanthropic world and build their own networks. My own Twitter handle is @RayDelgado1.
When you were 13 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Most memorable take-away from the 2011 Communications Network conference?
I went to a session featuring Doug Hattaway from Hattaway Communications and it prompted some good ideas about how we may need to consider some marketing support for a particular cluster of our grantees.
A recent communications success you are particularly proud of?
The roll-out of our new arts strategy. We produced a two-minute videographic that showcased our goals for the new strategy in a visually compelling way. We hosted a webinar for our Arts program grantees and other interested arts insiders to provide additional information about our strategy in a manner that encouraged a conversation. That conversation has continued on through many venues such as conferences, blogs and on Twitter.
Does Irvine do an annual communications plan?
Yes. It is rooted in our own institutional goals as laid out by our President and CEO and is closely linked to the annual plans created by our program areas. Additionally, it incorporates a number of institutional communications activities, plus new initiatives we may want to explore.
What was your undergraduate major?
I started out in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California. But then – true story – one of my professors told me that I had a face for radio. I switched to print journalism. Another big factor in that decision was the realization that I could tell better stories within the longer format that print affords. And I’m glad I made the switch.
Most interesting grantee story you’ve helped tell recently?
Last year I wrote a story about Cornerstone Theater, a theater company based in Los Angeles that picks a community and sends a playwright and others to the community to develop a play that tells the many different and culturally diverse stories of that community. The company then spends several weeks there and employs locals as actors and company laborers and stages several productions of the resulting play for the community.
Does Irvine evaluate communications?
Yes, as part of our overall Annual Performance Report for the Foundation, we include a chapter on the impact of our various communications activities.
The last big improvement to your website?
We just overhauled a portion of the site to create a new News and Insights section.
A favorite communications tool more foundation folks should be using?
Listening. We have been exploring many new ways to listen to our audiences, through social media, by encouraging program officers to participate in online discussions on blogs or others’ websites and by hosting webinars on our site and encouraging people to comment on our activities through discussion modules.
Your favorite non-professional, non-general news blog?
I’m obsessed with Zite, an app on my iPad that serves as a news aggregator based on what it thinks I’d like to read. More often than not, it’s right. It pulls content from many different websites and blogs and packages it all up for me.
Prior to joining Irvine, you were an editor for the Stanford U. News Service. What do you think of the trend of more foundations becoming news producers themselves?
I think it’s an exciting trend. As much as we can help lend our voice and spotlight important issues that are going on within the fields in which we operate, the more effective our grantees will be in doing their work.
Irvine speaks frequently about its own failures. What effect has that had?
We believe that it is equally important to share the failures as the successes so that our grantees and the broader fields may learn from our work. One example that is cited quite often is our report about a midcourse correction we did on a major initiative back in 2007, which was a very public dissection of a significant investment and was closely watched by other foundations who wanted to see how the report was received. You can read about it here.
A big event you’ve got coming up everyone should know about?
Do I have to choose just one? Our CEO Jim Canales is the chair of the upcoming Council on Foundations Annual Conference (April 29-May 1) in Los Angeles and has been hard at work designing a conference that will be anything but the norm—this is L.A. after all!
One aspect of your personal life that most impacts your professional life?
I’m a social animal. I love people, I love being around people, I love bringing people together. And I genuinely like my coworkers and want to get to know them and laugh with them around the office so that it’s a more pleasant place to be for all of us. It also makes working through the problems that pop up that much more manageable because you have a mutual respect and admiration for the other person.
The last great policy-oriented/big-picture book that made an impression on you?
It wasn’t a book, it was a presentation from a regional transportation guy that I saw just last week. He advocated for $7 per gallon gas in the United States and explained that expensive gas prices will be the only thing that jars our region, our state and our country to implement massive improvements to our transportation systems to discourage suburban blight and get people out of their cars while doing something good for the environment.
Do you have a novel deep down inside you?
Probably not, but I think I have a few screenplays inside my head. I love great writing on television and in the movies and I often find myself rewriting some of the dialogue I hear, knowing I could have done it better!
A Quick Word With… is edited by Michael Hamill Remaley, Vice President of Communications & Public Policy, Philanthropy New York, and a frequent Communications Network contributor.
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