I Need a Bigger Suitcase For All of These Takeaways

Katie Butterfield Sept 2012

Guest Post:  Katie Butterfield

At The Atlantic Philanthropies, we talk about legacy a lot. With only four more years of active grantmaking left, what we leave behind is becoming one of the biggest and most important questions we ask ourselves.

How we are remembered after we’re gone will depend a lot on how we communicate while we’re still here, and thanks to the time I spent at the Fall Communications Network conference in Seattle, I am going back to New York with lots of things to think about and incorporate into our communications strategy for our final years.

What is your brand?

Pyramid Communications’ Sally Bock and Lyric, Inc.’s Ann Bradford helped me think this through during the pre-conference breakout session Brand Strategy: Moment of Truth.

They challenged us to distinguish our brand personality from our mission, and to view it as an opportunity to reach people on an emotional and aspirational level.

Almost all foundations have a pretty inspirational story behind them – how else are you able to spend your days working to make the world a better place? But for many foundations, the aspirations undergirding everything they do are buried under dry, academic language and mission statements. If we wore our hearts on our sleeve, people would understand not only the “what” and “how” of what we do but, more importantly, the “why” – which has the most power to inspire and activate others.

Tell stories. And tell them better.

Given Atlantic’s limited life, we are committed to capturing and documenting our history, experiences and lessons learned, and we view these as a significant component of our legacy. Edith Asibey and Atlantic President and CEO, Chris Oechsli, talked about our experience with this in the session Serving, Creating and Sharing Legacy: Lessons from a Young and Time-Limited Foundation, and highlighted some of our work with Tony Proscio and Thaler Pekar to document Atlantic’s history and the achievements of our grantees.

I was really inspired (and based on the Twitter activity, so was the rest of the room) by Sherman Alexie’s keynote. If we all follow his recipe – be immediately vulnerable, use humor, and politely offend (to activate people) – we can tell better stories, that people want to re-tell, and which can bring about significant and lasting change.

Use technology to share with and engage people.

I learned an overwhelming amount in the Smart Tech for Smart Communications session facilitated by the Sunlight Foundation. I am going back to work with a huge list of resources and tools that can be used to reach people and share information in myriad ways. (Email smarttech4comms@gmail.com if you want the list.)

These tools will be invaluable since information and lessons are not one-size-fits-all, and communication needs to be tailored to the audiences we want to reach – not just in format, but also in venue.


Katie Butterfield is a communications executive at The Atlantic Philanthropies 

 

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