Guest Post: Suzanne Samuel
When Kaiser Permanente Northern California created its In-Kind Communications Program, the intention was clear. By providing communications consulting, communications products (like videos, brochures, and websites) and capacity-building training to our grantees from within our own offices, we would contribute to the success and long-term stability of our grantees. The pleasant surprise was how the In-Kind Program improved our own communications practice, often in striking ways.
A More Strategic Approach
Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit Program is a direct extension of our organization’s 65-year-old mission: to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Because we are both a health plan and a care provider, we are able to go beyond traditional corporate philanthropy to pair grant funding with shared expertise: medical research, clinical best practices—and communications products and consulting.
For many years we had offered communications support to a handful of Northern California community organizations each year, using an ad hoc approach. Grantees would inquire about Kaiser Permanente’s ability to provide a specific product (like a brochure or video), and the requests were handled on a case-by-case basis.
That changed when Denice Alexander, our External & Community Affairs communications manager, began to work with our colleagues in Community Benefit and our in-house creative department, called Multimedia, to make the In-Kind Program more strategic.
She solicited involvement from program staff in nominating grantees, instituted a more rigorous application process and selection criteria, and added a consulting component to ensure that the product created for the grantee best fulfilled their organization’s larger needs.
For example, one organization asked for a training video. But after multiple consulting sessions, Kaiser Permanente came to the conclusion that what would be most effective in helping them reach their goal was a public service campaign. Kaiser Permanente then created a series of three Public Service Announcements for them—and even ended up winning industry awards for these pieces.
Two for the Price of One
The videos, photo essays, web content and other material that our Multimedia department created for grantees in many cases turned out to be material we could use for our own message making, too.
For example, in the process of producing a photo essay for a community clinic’s fundraising efforts, we added a few interview questions about Kaiser Permanente as a partner—and struck gold. The clinic director articulated the value of our support better than anything we could have scripted. So a second version was born: one for Kaiser Permanente to describe the work we do, with the powerful example of the people that the clinic helps. The process was wonderfully efficient. We were already in the editing room; we just made two different cuts.
Telling Stickier Stories
Interestingly, working with grantees in this way helped us revitalize our own practice. It reminded us that one powerful example is better than a list. As we all know (but sometimes forget), if you can pull at someone’s heartstrings, you’ll find your way into their memory.
Alexander put our new thinking best in describing how our internal and external communications now tell a more comprehensive “Kaiser Permanente in the Community” story: “It features specific examples from real people who are touched by our longstanding commitment to community involvement.”
We also used the stories we were helping our grantees to tell to engage our own internal audiences. Sharing our grantees’ stories back to Kaiser Permanente’s own employees and physicians helped inspire a new, more personal understanding of the organization’s mission.The stories—which have been shared on our employee portal, used in presentations, and are the foundation of our annual report—have become our calling card in describing the work we do in the community. And we can’t help but think that those stories were a key factor in consistently increasing scores on our annual survey measuring employee awareness about Kaiser Permanente’s work in the community.
Adding Training to the Mix
Through the consultations, as well as working with other grantees, we saw the need for communications tools and training. Enlisting the expertise of communications colleagues across Kaiser Permanente, we designed a webinar-based training program as another component of the In-Kind Program.
The curriculum offers basic building blocks of strategic communications—communications planning, brand, messaging, storytelling, and social media. The trainings are targeted to nonprofits—especially the smaller organizations, which often have the least capacity, in terms of tools, staff and strategies, for getting out their messages and sharing their stories. The goal was for participants to be able to implement what they learned right away, so all the trainings include an emphasis on the practical and the immediate.
Finally, we were able to use the webinar content to build a comprehensive and content-rich grantee resource page on our website. Webinar recordings, exercises and resource sheets from the trainings, and examples of products telling grantee stories are available for our grantees—and yours.
You Can Do This Too—Really
Having an in-house creative department is a tremendous advantage to Kaiser Permanente’s In-Kind Program, but it’s by no means essential. The consulting has proved to be one of the most valuable pieces—and almost anyone reading this post has expertise that would be of great value to grantees.
The same is true of the training curriculum. Having so many in-house experts helped a great deal, but some of the best return on investment came from simple “coaching calls,” in which grantees “workshopped” a story or message, with input from peers and an expert, usually me.
It gave participants the chance, and prompting, to start crafting their message or story, which became even stronger through input from other grantees and an expert, all in the space of an hour. It’s a piece we are building on for this year’s In-Kind Program—and the kind of grantee support that any communicator would be well positioned to offer.
“The In-Kind Communication program is a shining example of how Kaiser Permanente works on so many levels toward the same ultimate goal,” explained Jean Nudelman, director, Community Benefit Programs, Kaiser Permanente Northern California, “which is using the many unique assets of our organization to help our grantees achieve long-term sustainability.”
Suzanne Samuel is senior communications consultant, External & Community Affairs, Kaiser Permanente Northern California