Fall Conference Program Line-up


The 2012 Communications Network Fall Conference–co-sponsored by CommA–will feature a combination of training and small group sessions designed to boost your skills, expand your thinking and show you new ways to do your work.

Our optional pre-conference workshops on Wednesday, October 10 will be taught by communications consultants who have many years of experience working with foundations and their grantees, and will focus on skills we use in our daily jobs.

Breakout sessions, each 90-minutes long and running concurrently, will be held over the course of the first full day of the conference Thursday, October 11. We think you’ll be pleased with the offerings, selected from several dozen we received from our call for proposals and carefully vetted by a conference review committee who took special care to make sure the final line-up contains topics you said you wanted us to feature.

Descriptions of the pre-conference workshops and breakout sessions are below. The full conference schedule is here.  Please note that the workshops and breakouts will be held in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, our conference site, located at 721 Pine Street.

Pre-conference Workshops
Breakout Sessions
Main Conference Page
Conference Schedule 


2012 Pre-Conference Workshops: 1- 5pm, Wednesday, October 10

Brand Strategy: Moment of Truth — Stevens
Session leaders: Sally Bock, senior vice president, Pyramid Communications; and Ann Bradford, founder and president, Lyric, Inc.

Great brands know who they are and why they matter. Does your organization? A powerful brand strategy distills your vision, commitments and promise to your community and expresses them uniquely with emotional resonance. Getting aligned about your brand requires that leadership make strategic choices. Those choices drive how you work internally along with what and how you communicate externally.

Building brand strategies in organizations where there are many and sometimes conflicting voices and perspectives is never easy. If it were, more organizations would be doing it well. We will tackle that challenge by providing you with hands-on experience and practical advice about how to achieve a greater clarity on the thorny brand issues that many struggle to resolve. In a workshop format with engaging stimuli, we will lead you through a series of interactive exercises designed to get to the essence of what makes your organization relevant and distinctive given the needs and motivations of your most important target audiences. War stories are welcome and there will be prizes!

Are you a Social Foundation (Literally and Figuratively)? — Blewett
Session leaders: Lisa Witter, chief change officer, and Parker Blackman, chief operating officer, Fenton

Today, more people in the world have access to smart phones than clean water. Media and communications are rapidly changing with no end to the change in sight. What does this mean for how foundations communicate ideas, business, stories, successes, transparency, and failures? How is all of this changing us as people, employees, and grantmakers? What should foundations be doing or not doing to stay ahead of the trends but not be distracted by them.

This fun, practical, and interactive workshop tailored for the social media pro and the newbie will cover:

  • The Social Foundation: What specific challenges and opportunities do foundations face with social media? What are the best practices and case studies we can learn from?
  • The New Normal: What are some of driving forces in the “New Normal” of communications and how should you and your foundation adapt?
  • How to Measure the ROI of Social Media: Often organizations make investments in social media without defining the return they want. We will discuss new metrics in social media based on our new See, Say, Feel and Do guide and provide a simple framework and worksheet for planning and measurement. You will walk away with a concrete plan of action.
  • Twitter: Finally, we’ll end with an intense session—with case studies—on how to make you more effective at your job using Twitter based on our guide Short & Sweet: The Whys and Hows of Twitter.

From Motivating Messages to Meaningful Engagement — Washington
Session leaders: Doug Hattaway, president, and RJ Bee, vice president, Hattaway Communications

Do you have an ambitious goal to achieve, but wonder how to break through all the noise and clutter to motivate and mobilize your audiences to achieve it? Together we’ll explore proven methods and cutting-edge tools adapted from business, politics, social science and social media to create communications that not only raise awareness, but also change attitudes and inspire people to take action.

We’ll begin by discussing how to inspire people with a motivating message–using a powerful technique for crafting a narrative about your cause that speaks to people on multiple levels. Then we’ll explore how to mobilize people through meaningful engagement–using models that help you map out a communications plan that keeps people engaged through content, connections with others and opportunities to make a difference.

Each participant will leave with new tools and a new way of thinking about crafting messages that motivate people and strategies that that lead to meaningful engagement with their audiences. Participants will be asked to submit communications challenges in advance of the session. Participants should also come prepared to take part in group exercises.

Big Ideas to Big Change: Train the Trainers — Sherman
Session leaders: Kristen Grimm, president, Gwyn Hicks, chief operating officer, and Dennis Poplin, senior associate, Spitfire Strategies

Foundations are spending more resources on communication than ever before. However, many of these organizations are still missing a critical piece in their outreach strategy: clear and consistent communication with grantees. A foundation’s grantees can be its most valuable asset for reaching its goals – but this only works if those grantees understand what the foundation is trying to accomplish and where they fit in. Lack of clarity among grantees about a foundation’s change strategy and their role in it leads to inefficiencies and missed opportunities and can ultimately diminish a foundation’s overall impact.

To address this challenge, Spitfire Strategies introduced From Big Ideas to Big Change – a tool to help foundation staff map out a strategy for ensuring strong communication with grantees and other important stakeholders. This resource is based on insights and best practices gathered from dozens of foundations as well as Spitfire’s own lessons learned through its work to build the communication capacity of its foundation clients over the past 10 years.

Spitfire frequently trains foundation staff to use the Big Ideas tool to: Get their administrative house in order by clarifying how to describe their change strategy in a consistent manner; Identify concepts that are central to that strategy and decide what communication role the foundation wants to play; and Track progress at the foundation and grantee level – and beyond – to ensure all their hard work is creating an impact.

Communications Network conference attendees can bring Big Ideas into their own organizations. Spitfire will lead a train-the-trainers session, during which foundation communications officers will get help mastering the strategies offered in Spitfire’s Big Ideas to Big Change and learn how to train their colleagues on the program side to adopt these approaches. Participants will not only learn how to apply this tool to increase the impact of their foundations’ communications efforts, they will also complete real work to help them get started. Participants will leave the session with a plan for engaging colleagues in this effort and a series of next steps for applying the strategies presented in Big Ideas.


2012 Breakout Sessions: Thursday, October 11th

Breakout Sessions 1

When a Program/Communications Collaboration is Like a Breath of Fresh Air — Portland
Presenters: Caren Glotfelty, senior program director, Environment Program, and Doug Root, director, communications, The Heinz Endowments; and George Perlov, George Perlov Consulting 

What happens when a program director and a communications director are given equal responsibility for managing one of the most comprehensive initiatives ever undertaken by a regional foundation? The Heinz Endowments began an air quality campaign nearly two years ago, the success of which has depended on a collaboration between the Environment Program and communications staff to bring Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania from the ranks of the worst-air regions in the country to the ranks of the best. The essential factors for progress: a program director who sees the value of strategic communications, and a communications staff that understands the importance of developing multiple communications strategies to share information that leads to mass action that leads to permanent change.

In this session, panelists will discuss how the program staff’s keen understanding of communications has enhanced the foundation’s leadership role on a deadly serious public health issue that had been off the radar of the public and most community leaders. They also will show how knowledge sharing and communications training turned a diverse group of environmental program grantees into a team of powerful advocates.

News Online: Implications for Foundation and Nonprofit Communicators — Eliza Anderson Amphitheater
Moderator: Fred Mann, associate vice president, communications, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Presenters: David Boardman, executive editor and senior vice president, Seattle Times; Jim Brady, editor-in-chief, Digital First Media, and president, Online News Association; and Jane McDonnell, executive director, Online News Association

No other organization has a better handle on the future of online news reporting than The Online News Association, which was founded 13 years ago by executives and managers of print and electronic news companies who were leaders in the new online news business. The organization has grown rapidly into a leader in the changing world of journalism. It is a catalyst for innovation in story-telling across all platforms; a resource for journalists seeking guidance and growth; and a champion of best practices through training, awards and community outreach. Its nearly 2,000 members are the producers, content editors, news directors, reporters, bloggers, technologists, designers, academics and newsroom decision-makers who are creating and refining the online medium of today.

In this session, digital journalists leading and working in the trenches will help nonprofit communicators better understand where the world of online journalism is going and what communications staff at foundations need to know when it comes to pitching the online world. They’ll offer their thoughts about effective ways to translate our program experiences, research findings and compelling stories for the world of online journalism. And they’ll share mistakes to avoid in this quickly changing landscape.

Smart Tech for Smart Communicators — Discovery
Presenters: Liz Bartolomeo, communications manager, and Gabriela Schneider, communications director, Sunlight Foundation

Anyone — young or old and no matter your level of experience — can apply “start up” sensibilities to their work. It’s just a combination of attitude as well as knowing where to find the best, free online tools for nonprofit communicators.

In this session, leaders will discuss tools for rapid response communications, the importance of traditional media outreach and communications planning even in today’s digitized world, and why you shouldn’t segregate social media from your overall communications.

Analytics in a Digital Age: Using Data to Drive Strategy for Marketing and Communications — Princessa I
Presenters Anjula Carrier, vice president, marketing and communications, and Vanessa Schnaidt, director of communications, Foundation Center; Roxanne Joffe, communications lens leader, and Melissa Thompson, communications lens manager, The Patterson Foundation

Data in context is a powerful way to promote social good, philanthropic progress and promote funder collaboration. However, before a data-centered story can be told, organizations must understand the role of analytics.

The Foundation Center, a leader in data analysis, in partnership with The Patterson Foundation, will share how organizations can use data to drive strategy in communications. During this session, panelists will discuss tools to create an action plan to instantly evaluate and improve their communications goals through analytics.

The Fast Pitch Competition — Princessa II
Presenters: Andy Goodman, director, The Goodman Center; Rona Pryor, program director, Social Venture Partners International; Ethan Schaffer, executive director, Grow Foods; and Terri Wogan, executive director, SVP Arizona 

Fast Pitch is an annual contest in which nonprofits tell their stories in three minutes to win cash prizes. The competition, which has already spread to nine cities, is more than a “game show.” Instead, the competition–which was developed by Social Venture Partners–showcases the work of high-performing organizations, connects them with potential funders and celebrates the nonprofit sector in each community where it is staged. There are no losers; everyone who goes through the process emerges a more effective communicator because the competition is also the culmination of several months of training.

During this session, presenters will explain how the competition was created and how it has evolved (in slightly different forms) from city to city. To give the audience a real taste of the process, the session will feature “fast pitches” from three finalists in the 2011 Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch Competition. A full debrief will follow.

Breakout Sessions 2

Social Media and Social Innovation: They Both Have the Same First Name — Portland
Presenters: Perla Ni, founder and chief executive officer, GreatNonprofits; and Christopher Whitlach, manager of marketing and communications, The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Social media and social innovation are intrinsically linked. Using the tools of social media and principles of social innovation, a special website, ALS Connections was created to tackle the issue of awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In the 70 years since Lou Gehrig made his famous speech, development has been limited and resources remain splintered. ALS Connections uses a simple equation, developed in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon’s Institute of Social Innovation, of aggregating information from a variety of sources and then motivating the use of this information. The site captures and organizes video, news, social media and more from around the world. In May, a competition was launched to use that information to envision innovative ideas to share this information across key audiences.

Panelists will share the results of that competition, ideas generated, lessons learned and how the public became integral to its success as a model. They’ll also share why and how The Pittsburgh Foundation experimented with the concept to show how nonprofits can use their social media platforms to find innovative solutions to community issues.

Seeing is Believing: Data Visualization for Philanthropy — Princessa I
Presenters: Diane DiGiacomo, director of communications, The Piton Foundation; William Hanson, director of communications and technology, The Skillman Foundation; Christine Haran, assistant vice president, online information, The Commonwealth Fund; and Lisa Philp, vice president for strategic philanthropy and director of GrantCraft, Foundation Center

Chances are good that your foundation is sitting on a pile of data. You are charged with strategic communications, yet countless vital nuggets are trapped behind your four walls. How can you shape this underutilized information in ways that are useful for your key constituents? How might you mash it up with other data to create new knowledge? And how can you bring all of this to life through data visualization?

Join us for a session with colleagues who use mapping tools to support the work of their grantees, journalists, and policymakers; incorporate infographics into their standard publication process; and create web portals filled with data visualization, knowledge centers and social media. Get a sneak peek at brand new visualization tools that can unleash powerful ways of communicating your work.

Serving, Creating and Sharing Legacy: Lessons from a Young and Time-Limited Foundation — Eliza Anderson Amphitheater
Presenters: Edith Asibey, chief communications officer, and Christopher G. Oechsli, president and chief executive officer, The Atlantic Philanthropies; Thaler Pekar, chief executive officer, Thaler Pekar & Partners; and Tony Proscio, consultant

By the time The Atlantic Philanthropies spends itself out of existence in 2020, it will be the largest foundation in history to do so. To ensure that the work it has been supporting continues for years into the future, the foundation is committed to documenting its history, including the story of its founder Chuck Feeney, who remains highly engaged with Atlantic. It is also collecting lessons learned over the course of its limited life and sharing this information before and after it closes its doors.

A panel featuring members of Atlantic’s leadership, including Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO, and consultants with whom the foundation is working, will describe the storytelling projects and what they hope to achieve.

Working together: Overcoming the Program/Communications Divide — Discovery
Presenters: Alexis Levy communications officer, Quality/Equality Team, Fred Mann, associate vice president, communications, and Anne Weiss, senior program officer & Quality/Equality Team director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Take one smart, communications-savvy senior program officer and pair with a smart program-savvy communications officer. What you get is two people who work together beautifully. Anne Weiss is a senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is also the team director of the Quality/Equality Team which works to improve the quality of health care in the United States. Alexis Levy is the communications officer on the Quality/Equality Team and she oversees all communications efforts, sets communications strategy and manages multiple communications firms for the team. Anne and Alexis work very closely together on a daily basis, steering what is one of RWJF’s most complex areas of work.

In this session, they’ll discuss the central role communications plays in the foundation’s program development and execution, and talk about how communications and program people can make each other better at what they do.

The Art and Science of Strategic Storytelling: Disrupting Stereotypes of American Muslims — Princessa II
Presenters: Alexandra Christy, executive director, Woodcock Foundation;  Alex Cole, vice president, Hattaway CommunicationsHeather Hurlburt, executive director, National Security Network; and Farhana Khera, executive director, Muslim Advocates

Psychologists tell us that narrative is a powerful form of communication, but how do you harness that power to move people in support of your organization’s goals? Telling a story the right way can inspire and instruct. Telling it the wrong way can backfire.

This session will explore best practices in message research and development, psychology and marketing that help communicators craft stories strategically. We’ll discuss how to use research to determine the “best” stories to tell in order to change attitudes and inspire action on a topic of interest to you.

To guide the conversation, we’ll examine a case study of a communications effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. A group of foundations and leading advocacy organizations came together to conduct groundbreaking message R&D to craft a strategic narrative—including characters, themes and values—to counter fear-mongering and improve perceptions of American Muslims. And as you’ll hear from advocates on the frontlines, that narrative was then put into real-world use in high-level meetings with policymakers and in a landmark lawsuit.

Breakout Sessions 3

Bedsider: Sharing is Caring — Portland
Presenters: Jenn Maer, storyteller, IDEO; Bob Morehouse, chief executive officer, Vermilion Design+Interactive; and Lawrence Swiader, senior director, digital media, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Seven in 10 pregnancies to single women aged 18 to 29 in the United States are unplanned. Research shows a significant gap between intentions and outcomes related to pregnancy: young adults say overwhelmingly they don’t want to get pregnant right now but they also are not fully protecting themselves through the careful, consistent use of contraception.

Bedsider launched in November 2011 to achieve a 20 percent reduction by 2020 in unplanned pregnancies among single women under 30. To reach that goal, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is working with many local partners around the country to help young adults learn about their birth control options, better manage their birth control and in the process avoid getting pregnant until they’re ready. In this session, panelists will showcase an example of how the initiative is being implemented locally by focusing on Colorado’s Beforeplay campaign, a statewide effort that is seeking to “normalize” conversation around sexual health and well being.

Can Foundations Train Their Grantees to Be Effective Communicators? — Princessa I
Presenters: Eric Brown, communications director, and Julie Fry, performing arts program officer, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

 Q: What do you get when you cross a great communications strategy training program for grantees with a very useful evaluation? A: An amazingly useful tool program staff can use to help their grantees succeed!

The Hewlett Foundation has been conducting communications strategy training programs for grantees for years. The problem is the foundation didn’t know if the programs did any good. In 2010, it released an evaluation that demonstrated how to improve the training. The following year, the foundation put the knowledge gained into practice. In this session, panelists will discuss how a simple set of tools has provided Hewlett Foundation with extremely useful data for program officers to monitor and evaluate their grantees’ strategies. The session also will feature a case study of a program officer, a grantee and a methodology that demonstrates how to integrate communications into program evaluation.

Media in the Community: How Philanthropy Has Changed the News Landscape — Eliza Anderson Amphitheater
Presenters: Dan Green, deputy director, strategic partnerships, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Roberta F. King, vice president, public relations and marketing, Grand Rapids Community Foundation; LuAnn Lovlin, director of communications, Winnipeg Foundation; and Andrew Sherry, vice president communication, Knight Foundation

News and information are essential to a democracy, and philanthropy is stepping in to ensure that information, from cutting edge to traditional, continues to be available and accessible to all. Leading this effort on a national level is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with its Community Information Challenge and the Knight News Challenge programs. During the past five years, Knight has invested more than $100 million in community information projects throughout North America, many as partnerships with Community Foundations, who are playing a major role making matching grants and executing news and information start-ups. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a deep portfolio of media and journalism grants. The funding includes commercial, nonprofit, social, and public media outlets, as well as communications schools, journalism training organizations, and research institutions.

In this session participants will learn why philanthropy believes it has a role to play in nurturing informed and engaged communities, hear highlights of the breadth and scope of successful projects, and hear how four foundations view their participation. Ideas regarding how and why other foundations might play similar leadership roles in the future will also be discussed.

We’re from the Program Department: We’re busy “doing” the work. Why should we care about “talking” about it? — Discovery
Presenters: Kevin Corcoran, program director, Lumina Foundation; and Suzanne Walsh, senior program officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What frustrates you about working with program officers? What do they not get about the awesome power of communication? How can you turn them into allies and advocates? This session will feature a guided discussion led by two senior sympathetic program officers hard-wired to appreciate the amazing ways in which communications can enhance the power and effectiveness of grantmaking.

This will be a chance to join with your peers and talk about specific communications struggles in your respective organizations and ways to make the best case to your program colleagues for the value of a strong communications plan.

Leave a Reply