A Quick Word With…

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A Quick Word With… is our ongoing series in which Communications Network members from a range of organizations tell us about themselves, their work and where they draw their inspiration.  This installment features Dan Brady, Communications Manager, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.

An interesting communications project you’ve got going on right now?
That would have to be our Knowledge Management initiative, which is comprised of a common CMS and CRM shared by a dozen regional associations. We’re in the process of overhauling the whole thing. We’re essentially changing the infrastructure we use for our website and member databases, which will allow all kinds of cool new communications functionality and a cleaner, sleeker look.

Last nonfiction book you read?
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. My biggest takeaway was how to figure out when you need a big revelation/insight and when you need to just sit down and do work, and how to trick your brain into being ready to do those things.

You’ve got the Forum’s 2012 annual conference for members coming up in Pittsburg in July. What are some of impacts of that on your work?
For me the bulk of the work is getting the word out and making sure people are aware of the stellar speakers we have coming in and the value of convening the network as a whole.

What are your target audiences?
Our primary audience for all our communications is our member regional associations of grantmakers. For our public-facing outlets like our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, we’re also conscious of engaging the larger field of philanthropy.

How much of your work involves new media?
I’d say about 25%. Twitter is the most successful social media tool for us. It’s a great way to amplify the messages of our members, highlight the exciting work they’re doing, and be a part of the larger conversations going on in philanthropy.

When you were 13 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Comic book artist.

How do you describe what you do to someone who doesn’t even know what a foundation is?
I’m part of a network of organizations that help support charitable work in communities across the country. We’re the problem solvers’ problem solvers.

Do you do an annual communications plan?
We do, but we keep it pretty loose. Forum CEO Mike Litz and I get together to lay out our strategic goals for the year and try to forecast what the big issues are and when they’ll come to a head.

The last significant improvement you made to your website?
Even with our big Drupal redesign launching later this year, last spring we did a mini-redesign and information architecture overhaul. The site was just looking stale and it was notoriously difficult to navigate, so we did a lot of CSS work to pretty it up and I reorganized our content to streamline our category structure and improve usability. We moved a lot of important content to the top so it’s easier to access and increased the visibility of our high profile programs.

Your favorite underappreciated journalist?
I don’t know if you’d consider her a journalist exactly, but Rosetta Thurman does some great writing on gender, race, and especially young emerging practitioners in the non-profit arena.

The Forum and the Council and Foundations are working more closely these days. How has that affected the communications work?
The Forum and the Council work closely in areas like policy, technology, and grantmaker education. It certainly gives me a lot to communicate about. With joint efforts like Essential Skills and Strategies for New Grantmakers, LearnPhilanthropy, and Foundations on the Hill, both organizations are speaking with one voice.

What are the most interesting aspects of doing communications around Foundations on the Hill each year?
FOTH is one of the few times that the Forum does a significant push for external communications. Having all of those foundation executives descend on Capitol Hill at once to share the important role philanthropy plays in society and to stand up for the charitable sector is a news story we can actually pitch.

Your favorite communications tool you think more folks in philanthropy should using?
I think webinars are entirely underrated. As a national network, the remote nature of webinars is ideal for convening our members. But you do need to have a lively speaker sharing an interesting topic, or else it can get really boring, really fast.

The last time you learned something important from a communications colleague?
I learn all the time from our members. Nadia Lagani-Montiel at Philanthropy New York recently introduced me to Crowdbooster. It offers all kinds of stats about your Facebook and Twitter accounts, most of which you can find through other tools, such as Facebook Insights or HootSuite’s analytics, but Crowdbooster also tells you what time to schedule your updates based on when your followers are most active.

One aspect of your personal life that has the greatest impact on your professional life?
In my spare time I run a literary magazine called Barrelhouse. There’s so much non-literary work that goes into that work that often carries over to my professional life: marketing, distribution, web presences, event planning, board development, fundraising, etc. I feel like I’ve at least dipped my toe into many issues beyond communications that supply helpful experience to me when working with members.

The Forum has an immensely active, vital listserve. Any secrets or insights you can share?
The biggest key is trust. Admitting you need help with something, especially professionally, often comes with a stigma. As a listserve administrator, you need to foster a sense of openness and community, that we’re all in this together and working towards the same goals. There are no stupid questions. If you have a question, I can almost guarantee that not only is someone else in the network struggling with the same thing, but also that someone else out there has probably come up with a solution. The other key, I think, is to realize it’s not going to happen organically. As the admin, you’ve got seed the listserve with questions and announcements.

Does your organization blog?
We do. I was skeptical at first, but our director of Knowledge Services Val Rozansky convinced me we needed one. He envisioned it as a place where all our communications could come together; stories from the website, Facebook, Twitter, and our newsletter all get new life on the blog.

Do you have a novel deep down inside you?
No, but I have a manuscript of poems out with publishers now. Here’s hoping.

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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