Your Mission: Let Us Know What You Think


At the Communications Network’s Fall Conference in Seattle last week, we unveiled our proposed new mission statement. And, we gave you a chance to react. Do you ever disappoint us when we ask you to react? Of course not.

The revised mission, which came out of a year-long strategic review led by the Network’s board, was part of an effort to determine how our organization can help foundations and the larger field of philanthropy have greater impact.

On one hand, the changes we are proposing to our mission–detailed below–would enable us to do more of what we already do well: provide useful tools, create connections and advance the conversation about why communications needs to be a key element of effective philanthropy.

Also, as an extension of an effort we started in recent years to bring others within foundations–program staff, evaluators and leadership–into conversations about the important role of communications, we now want to bring nonprofits into the mix as well — as Network members, as advisors, as contributors to our programming and as champions, along with the rest of us, for the power of smart communications to improve lives.

As the revised mission states:

The Communications Network supports foundations and nonprofits to improve lives through the power of smart communications – offering evidence, fresh thinking, and collegial encouragement.

Many of you expressed immediate support, saying that the Network could gradually expand the circle of conversation while still keeping our special sense of camaraderie and purpose intact. Others seemed intrigued but waved a yellow flag of caution, asking us to tread carefully forward. And still others seemed mortified, almost immediately going into mourning for the Network that exists today.  It was a fascinating, fun and illuminating conversation. And it told us that we should give you more time to let this sink in. This is not a change that can or will happen overnight or it is something that will happen without more refinement and thoughtful comments from members, friends and current and potential partners to the Network. The Board has a lot more work to do on making our future real, and so do you.

So, with Seattle behind us, we’re going to continue the conversations. For example, we’re starting a fresh round of conversations on our blog. Take a moment to read and ponder the mission statement. And then let us know what you think. Also, to help put these changes in context and to see how they are an extension of the Network’s continuing evolution over the past three decades — from a volunteer group to a standalone 501(c)3 — watch the video below.

We look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to post comments here or email

Video credits:
Minna Jung-script; Eric Brown-narration; Jai Sen-direction; Bishakh Som-illustration


  1. I think opening up the network to nonprofits beyond philanthropy is an excellent idea. Foundations, service organizations, and advocacy groups have many powerful stories to tell about the way they work to increase civic engagement and foster civil society. I look forward to being part of those conversations.

  2. Debra RubinoDebra Rubino10-16-2012

    Because I had to catch a flight, I missed a lot of the discussion around this new decision. But as much as I do agree that it would be interesting to hear the stories and expertise that nonprofits bring, I am really concerned about what it will do to the nature of the conference. The value of the conference for many of us is to meet with our colleagues every year and discuss–with candor–our shared experiences and learn from one another. Once we start bringing in grantees, I believe the conversation will change–and it might lose its je ne sais quoi. That said, I do think there are ways we could consider to bring in nonprofits. One way would be to have the first–or last–day designated as a nonprofit day. There is no question that in our daily work we frequently urge nonprofits to strategically think about how they use communications–and we frequently learn from them. I know that here in Baltimore, our program staff is considering some trainings for our grantees because we know how critical this kind of thinking is. And I’m sure there are many other ways we could embrace nonprofits that would not impinge upon something that has been tested for its worth. As the old cliche goes, you don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken… I do wonder why this decision was made before there was input from the full membership. It would seem to me that it would be best if the membership bought into the concept before it was adopted as part of the mission. (But perhaps I misunderstood and that’s the case?)

  3. Stefan LanferStefan Lanfer10-17-2012

    Bruce Trachtenberg asked me to add into this mix the top ten list our small group came up with during an exercise at the last day of the Fall conference for how to plug the network to newbies in the year 2020 when its new vision is in full effect. I scrawled that list on a set of note cards I cast aside Letterman style in Seattle, but here’s something close, including new inspiration from recent shenanigans at Hofstra University.

    From the Early Bird Special (formerly Late Night, but who can stay up in 2020?) with Dave Letterman, the Top 10 reasons to get your a** into this network:

    10. If we still used them, your binders would be FULL.

    9. Why shouldn’t you too have a talking, dancing, singing 3D hologram in your annual report?

    8. Are you still wasting time on a Facebook page? That was so web 2.0, dude. Get with it.

    7. How about a hand with some communications analytics? Get out of the zone of wishful thinking and into actually understanding and improving impact.

    6. Do you really want to keep using the same lame jargon your peers rejected when they were still wearing leisure suits and lounging in bean bag chairs?

    5. Don’t you want to tap into a network of one trillion gamers to advance your cause?

    4. Does that smart chip in your nose just make you sneeze? We can help you with that.

    3. Do you really want to have the same job for the rest of your life?

    2. They had the sense to snip the “IP” off of CNIP (sounds like “snip”) because cute, forgettable acronyms weren’t even cool in the 1970s and you too may one day need brand transformation.

    (And – drumroll please – the number one reason to get you’re a** into this network…)

    1. Do you actually want to have nonprofit partners or just spin about how important they are to your foundation?

    • Jenn WhinnemJenn Whinnem10-18-2012

      Stefan I loved your creativity with delivering this!

      • Stefan LanferStefan Lanfer10-18-2012

        thanks i had fun doing it and you all gave me great material to work with. thanks for waving madly at minna to hand over the mic even as time was short

  4. Thanks Kevin. Thanks Debra. Thanks Stefan, and especially for the first comments on our blog that channel David Letterman. We hope all your comments help kick start a larger conversation.

    Toward that end, earlier this week we sent a survey to those who attended our Seattle conference, asking them to let us know what they thought about the event. We also invited them to weigh in on the mission statement. We’re getting a wide range of comments — pro, con, requesting more information or just some who say they want to wait and see what happens next.

    Here’s a sampling — and because the survey asks a range of comments about the conference and we wanted people to speak as candidly as possible — the responses are anonymous. But they are useful and well worth sharing:

    –I like the idea of hearing feedback from the non profits and working more closely together.

    –I have mixed feelings about including non-profits. I think this will dilute some of the common ground and collegiality the Communications Network now enjoys. At the same time, I recognize the nonprofits are doing more cutting-edge work in some cases, and that foundations can learn from them.

    –Glad to have nonprofits as part of the equation. You should also think about the inclusion of corporate philanthropy folks.

    –Part of the value for me in coming [to this year’s conference] was sitting at tables of grantmakers, discussing common issues that those of us “one-man communications teams” see all the time, and being able to BS about issues pertaining to foundations not non-profits. Would slightly worry about sharing some of those discussions with the grantees in the room.

    –Good to expand to include nonprofits. Bringing the communicators of the funders and the grantees is very beneficial.

    –It captures the purpose and the spirit. Nice list of products, too: information, ideas, community. Feels right.

    –I have attended Communications Network conferences 8 times or possibly more over a 15 year period during which I worked for two different foundations. While I now represent a smaller foundation that isn’t as groundbreaking/advanced in our communications strategies as some of the foundations that are frequently prominent at this conference, I would say I appreciate the opportunity to really hear from and see what other foundation colleagues are doing. For my work, I need to learn from larger/more resourced foundations and how they organize their work and think about their communications more so than I need to engage with nonprofit organizations. I work with nonprofit organizations in our region, but don’t have a large network of foundation colleagues who are doing what I would consider cutting-edge work. So, my concern is not about wantting to be exclusive of nonprofits, but what I really value in this network is the tight focus on philanthropy and pushing and learning from each other.

    –Personally I think opening the Network to nonprofits is a good thing, especially if done slowly and carefully. I understand the caution, but in general, some nonprofits are blazing important trails in communication strategies which would apply to foundations. And the line between the granting role of foundations and the operating role of nonprofits is blurring. So I’m supportive of the inclusion of the nonprofit community.

    –Part of what I love most about the network is that it is all of my peers and mentors, really in the thick of it the same way I am. allows for easy conversations and quick movement to common challenges, shared ideas. even though I am supportive of this new trajectory, I worry about losing some of that with a wider tent.

    –I tend to think more varied voices will bring a more diverse look at the changing elements of the field.

    –I have very mixed feelings about the inclusion of nonprofits in the new mission statement. I am already a member of several organizations and committees that focus on supporting communications professionals at foundations and nonprofits. By far, I have extracted the most value from the Communications Network–and that is because the group is truly made up of my peers. At the annual conference, I hear my challenges, my experiences, and my goals voiced by colleagues. I walk away from sessions with solutions to problems, ideas for strengthening my organization’s work, and contacts who prove to be valuable advisors and partners throughout the year. At times, when I attend meetings at other similar organizations which include nonprofits, the conversation does not apply to me or my work. Occasionally, the advice that applies to a typical nonprofit even completely opposes what would be good strategy for a foundation. I am also not always able to comfortably or frankly discuss communications challenges pertaining to our grantees, without fear of offending someone in the room. As a foundation, we have much in common with many nonprofits, but we also often have very different resources and challenges. I strongly value the specificity of the network’s focus and discussions that nearly always relate to my needs as a communicator at a foundation. I fear that

    –It sounds good! We’ll see if it matches reality.

    –You’re going to have to find 20-plus really creative and innovative nonprofit leaders to jumpstart this effort and persuade the more reluctant foundations that this doesn’t dilute the Network’s impact.

    –I think this is an excellent move. People have brought up concerns, which I suppose need to be addressed, but nonprofits have a lot to teach us, especially in the areas of advocacy communications, messaging, social media and metrics, not to mention they are our partners in social change. As someone who wears multiple hats, I look forward to more integration with nonprofit partners, recognizing that there may be need for foundation-only discussions to talk about program relations, etc.

    Your turn…

    • Rick SchwartzRick Schwartz10-18-2012

      Congratulations to the Communications Network for continuing to think aggressively and imaginatively about its future. I’m sorry I couldn’t be in Seattle to hear the live conversation. As a grateful and devoted member of the original CNIP, the Network’s precursor, I note the video left out an important occurrence in its evolution: the departure of nearly all the Community Foundation members in the ’90s to form CommA. Why? Because CNIP was having a hard time wrapping its head and any activities around a whole component of foundation communications that had to do with talking with charitable individuals, something that was essential and primary to us doing communications for Community Foundations.

      Both the Communications Network and CommA ultimately found their very important ways, helping foundation people improve their communications with key constituencies.

      Though I have been thrilled to see the rapprochement with the Community Foundation sector over the last several years, understanding who and who you cannot serve well nonetheless carries a lesson and a caution for CommNet expanding to include the nonprofit sector. Now that I’m an consultant, when I talk communications and strategic planning with my Community Foundation and nonprofit clients, the conversation takes about 30 seconds to come around to development, fundraising, donor relations, and other such somewhat interchangeable terms.

      So many questions for CommNet. Are you prepared — and equipped — for the demand that not only 500 different disciplines will present, but for the extended conversation about fundraising? Can you maintain the important conversations that foundation practitioners need to have about their unique challenges if you’re serving so many masters? Was that intimate dialogue important? Can you really serve the many aspects of the nonprofit sector with quality befitting their needs? Is the Communications Network really the correct vehicle?

      I know Bruce and the other good folks who have been leading CommNet would not propose such a change without considerable thought and discussion, so I apologize if this ground has been covered or if my comments appear negative. But if the organization loses a clear constituency, a sharp raison d’etre, strong internal communication (ironically), and obvious purpose, something valuable indeed will be lost.

      Good for you for opening the dialogue.

      • Thanks Rick for adding to the conversation.

        Appreciate the additional history lesson. My first Network conference was in 1992, but until you shared this information, I had not heard the story about the origin of CommA.

        Of course, what’s especially notable about that fact is that this year, for the second time — the first was in LA in 2010 — CommA co-sponsored our conference and as a result, we had great Community Foundation participation at both events. Also, Rebecca Arno, vice president, communications for The Denver Foundation, just started her second year of a her two-year term as chair of the Network. Rebecca has had a long association with CommA, including serving on its leadership team. So we’re lucky to have the perspective she brings in her role with the Network, especially as we move forward.

        Also to your comments about mediating different types of conversations, I want to note that this year we had two panels that spotlighted nonprofits that are making exemplary use of communications to advance their work. And there wa a breakfast roundtable titled, “Community Foundations and Marketing to Potential Donors.” I think those examples show there is room for a mix of organizations and voices in the Network.

        I do take seriously — and with appreciation — your questions asking whether we are equipped to deal with what these changes could bring. We don’t have all the answers yet. But we’re more than ready to try, learn and improve.

        Thanks again.

  5. Jenn WhinnemJenn Whinnem10-18-2012

    ((please note – these are my views, and not necessarily those of my employer))

    First of all, I truly applaud the Communications Network staff for walking the talk. I’m sure all of you anticipated a mixed reaction, and that you have opened yourself up for a thorny conversation is what I personally would expect from an organization dedicated to excellent communication. I appreciate all of the encouragement for sharing across multiple channels (email, survey, passing the mic, tweetchat boldly displayed on the screen).

    That said, I will say that I am hesitant about this direction. Debra really captured my thoughts in her comment previous. What I have enjoyed about the network is the candor. I have never participated in any kind of meeting where people were so open with one another – quite the breath of fresh air from my previous life in corporate. No matter how the Network goes about including our grantees, that will change the tone, candor, etc. I am sad to let that go.

    I saw a tweet during the group discussion “C’mon people. These are your grantees.” This frustrated me. Surely we can all agree that there is very real value in coming together with like minds who share similar backgrounds and struggles.

    I am very, very supportive of my organization’s grantees and partners. I respect them for the work that they do. I can support and respect them and simultaneously want to have a conversation about job challenges without them present.

    In the past two years that I have attended the conference, I have witnessed conversations in which people griped about Program staff. Would we do the same if more Program staff attended the event? Would we use it as a bully pulpit to assimilate them? Or would that part of the conversation be taken to safer spaces?

    As Debra suggested, perhaps there is a way to include nonprofits in such a way that we still get “our” time. My sense is that that could alienate our grantees, further strengthening the power divide. It’s tough, no doubt. I’m watching and waiting, because I tend to trust the Network and their decisions…so my mind is not yet made up.

  6. John McDonaldJohn McDonald10-18-2012

    Hey Bruce, Sorry i missed the conference – wish I could have been there. I think the idea of engaging non profit leaders is a good one. From my perspective, too often, non profits hatch initiatives and Foundation’s fund them without thinking through the communication aspects. Then somebody calls me up and asks me to help, but they don’t have time or resources to do anything. Any conversation that front loads communications in the process is worthwhile. That said, there is real value in preserving and promoting an ongoing conversation among philanthropic leaders about the value of communication and smart tactics. See you sometime, John

  7. Grant OliphantGrant Oliphant10-19-2012

    As someone who chaired the Network during one of its more painful transition moments, I am so delighted to see the organization continue to evolve this way. I love the new mission statement’s emphasis on impact, evidence, and fresh thinking. I also admire the inclusion of nonprofits in the mix. Yes, it may change the “feel” of the organization to welcome grantees into the fold, but the fact is that some of the best thinking in the communications field is being done by nonprofits, not foundations. And if the real goal of philanthropic communications is ultimately to increase impact, why wouldn’t we want to include those who are actually doing the work in a robust conversation about how communications can help them succeed? Most of all, though, I admire the Network’s willingness to adapt. Membership organizations–like many national and community-based institutions–are suddenly finding themselves in a brutal race for relevance. Only the organizations that remain fluid and keep reinventing their value proposition are likely to survive. You’ve demonstrated you get that–and I suspect you’ve ensured the Network’s ongoing relevance for the foreseeable future. I’m grateful, because I believe our field needs the expertise of top-notch communications professionals now more than ever before. Thanks to all involved.

    • Thanks, Grant.

      You got it exactly right. Our focus is on using philanthropic communications to increase impact. That requires including a range of organizations doing that work well in — as you say — “a robust conversation.”

      Just think of the multiplier effect that can happen after that from all the learning and sharing.

  8. Rebecca ArnoRebecca Arno10-21-2012

    After an insanely busy week back in the office, I’m spending a beautiful Colorado Sunday afternoon catching up on the dialogue about the Network’s new mission statement.

    Thank you to Grant for his perspective as a former Board chair, to Rick for reminding me of the history I actually lived through (how short the memory is), to Stefan for making me laugh (and think), and to Debra, Jenn, Kevin, and John for your thoughtful comments.

    As chair of the Network Board, I can promise you and all of our members that the Board presented this shift in our mission after a great deal of thought, discussion, and disagreement, even among ourselves. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we are delighted at the conversation that the mission has engendered.

    I’m especially appreciative of the folks who are expressing their concerns. I hear these concerns as love…love expressed for the organization we’ve built over the years. And the Board will respect this love and care as we determine the best next steps forward for the Network.

    Please stay tuned. Over the course of the next months you’ll be hearing more from us about the future of the Network. And we hope you’ll keep sharing your reactions and advice. The fact that we can share a wide range of views and still move forward together demonstrates our collective strength.

  9. […] communications professionals. Or at least it was until their recent conference, where they announced that they planned to expand their mission, and their membership, to nonprofit communicatio…. As someone who consults with foundations, I’ve been an member of the Network for many years, […]

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