The Intricate Dance Between Foundations and Nonprofits
Guest Post: Joanne Edgar
The last session of the Network’s meeting in Seattle was a lively and serious discussion about who we are as an organization and what we stand for. I heard a degree of angst about the new mission, which opens our doors more widely than ever before to our nonprofit colleagues.
I am an “elder” in this ever-growing organization. I have served on both sides of the philanthropic highway, spending a decade as communication director at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and now working as a communication consultant for both nonprofits and foundations.
When I first joined the Network 23 years ago, we were a small and intimate group of foundation colleagues eager for connection and in search of knowledge to help us do our job better. We griped about skimpy communication budgets and lack of understanding from our program peers, who we believed could use our input if they only knew they needed it. We shared the best and brightest ideas about thoughtful, targeted communication efforts in an increasingly complex field. Even then, we included nonprofits in our meetings to showcase what foundations could do when they funded communication.
Over the years, our sophistication grew along with our membership. The Network became a nonprofit and we beat the drums for including communication every step of the way as an essential ingredient of effective philanthropy. We brought program and executive staff to our meetings. We welcomed nonprofits to tell their stories of communication activities that advanced foundation goals.
Soon nonprofits came as attendees, as well as presenters. It was understood that our meetings were for learning and relationship-building, not for pitching. I realize, of course, that this is a fuzzy distinction, but I believe fear of pitching is also a false fear. We should welcome communication expertise wherever we can get it. Our goal is a wider conversation, not an insular one.
Nonprofit organizations are a foundation’s constituents. Without them, foundations could not do their jobs. Thus, the more we learn about each other’s work, the better we will be able to do our jobs together. The most successful communication officers, in fact, seek out nonprofits to learn from, even those that are not grantees.
If you believe, as I do, that smart communication is fundamental to foundation success, then we all need the best minds in the room to guide us on our way. My life as a communication professional, both inside and outside the foundation world, has always been intimately connected to nonprofits. I embrace the Network’s expanded mission and look forward to the continuing dance of wisdom across philanthropic and nonprofit boundaries.
Joanne Edgar, who served as a co-president of the Communications Network from 1997-1999, helps foundations and nonprofits tell stories of social change.