2013 Fall Conference Breakout Sessions

The following breakout sessions will be held at the Communications Network Fall Conference in New Orleans on Thursday, Oct. 3 and Friday, Oct. 4.  

(We are also offering several optional pre-conference training workshops that run from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m., Wednesday, October 2.  Click here for the list and workshop descriptions.)

Thursday, Friday Breakout Sessions:

1. From Day One: Integrating Strategic Communication Deeply and Early in a Program Initiative

Stacey Easterling, programme executive, The Atlantic Philanthropies; Diana Doyle, principal, Socius Group; and Bob Tobin, senior consultant and president, Williams Group

Session summary:
The Community Experience Partnership, a six-year initiative involving 30-plus communities nationwide, was created with an ambitious goal: To demonstrate how older adults can lead local change in all types of communities. Initiative designers understood that communication was essential to success. The Partnership was branded from the start and communication professionals helped develop terms of engagement for prospective grantees, support growth of a vibrant learning community among grantees, build grantee capacity to use marketing and storytelling, inform evaluation approaches, and promote tested strategies and lessons to target audiences. Embedding communication early helped secure the right grantees, support their high rates of achievement, and transmit new knowledge to relevant audiences in a timely manner.

This Atlantic case study provides a touchstone for session attendees to share experiences about “early integration”of communication in their own foundation initiatives. Our panel features the Partnership’s program and communication leaders. Attendees will participate through a mini self-assessment charting the extent to which communication is embedded early in their foundation practices, a facilitated full-group discussion on overcoming barriers that keep communications people away from the program table in planning and implementing initiatives, and interaction with panel members regarding approaches used in the Community Experience Partnership. Visit www.ceplearning.org.

2. DIY Communications: Build a Strategic Message Starting at Home

Regan Gruber Moffitt, senior program associate, Takema Robinson-Bradberry, senior program associate, and Andrew Ford, program associate, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

Session summary:
If you have ever watched the Property Brothers on HGTV, you know that a home improvement project can make your kitchen or bathroom feel brand new. If you’ve ever tried your own remodel, you know that that it is not always as easy as it looks. Like a “do-it-yourself” project, building a communications strategy has the potential to help foundations achieve tangible results, but presents challenges with budget and quality. Move over Property Brothers!

In this session, two program officers — the Program Sisters — will share lessons learned from two distinct homemade communications campaigns. In 2012, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation launched two major communications initiatives. In the first — the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading — the foundation customized the core messages of a national campaign for targeted audiences in the state with the goal that all students will read on grade level by 2020. In the other — the Why Arkansas? Campaign — the foundation sought to take the message of Arkansas as a state ripe for reform to national funders to encourage more investment in the state. Though the campaigns had significantly different messages and audiences, both shared common elements that made each successful.

Join us for conversation of what to “love” or “list” when creating an effective communications campaign.

3. New Media/Video to Aid in Advocacy Efforts of Underserved Communities

Cecilia Laiche, communications officer, The California Wellness Foundation; Jim Miller, executive director, Brave New Foundation; Axel Caballero, director, Cuéntame; Laurie Kappe, president, ie communications.

Session summary:
Short videos and other new media tools are powerful in amplifying voices of underserved people. They integrate well in larger efforts and with web, mobile and social media tools. Helping disenfranchised people use such tools effectively with their own advocacy efforts can effect policy changes and foster a sense of personal power within the communities.

Examples of such efforts will include working with low-wage workers at car washes and recycling plants, as well as those mobilizing around violence prevention and health. We will learn from these skillful communicators who bring their passion to work to improve people’s lives.

4. Does Your Video Content Live Up to the Power of Your Story and Deepen Audience Engagement?

Kristina Robbins, director/producer, and Marjan Safinia, director/producer, Department of Expansion; and Christa Gannon, executive director, Fresh Lifelines for Youth

Session summary:
There is natural synergy between documentary filmmaking and getting people to take action. Films like An “Inconvenient Truth” and “Food Inc.” have transformed lives and started powerful movements. Not everyone has the resources to embark on a feature documentary and luckily that’s not where the biggest audience lies. Authentic online micro-documentaries are highly shareable, change minds and compel action.

So how can you take the best of the documentary process and dovetail it with your communications goals? How is the documentary approach fundamentally different from scripted communications? And what are the advantages?

In this interactive session, we’ll show you how to work with grantees to tell powerful stories from the field. Christa Gannon from Fresh Lifelines for Youth will discuss how their investment in a micro-documentary transformed program outreach, development and communications. Together, we’ll break down how successful films must start with the end goal in mind and a clear plan for distributing films through your communications channels. We’ll reveal how strategic story development pinpoints the right story to meet both communications and program goals. The results? Measurable return on investment, increase in community eyeballs, shareable media, and a powerful on-ramp into the essence of your work.

5. A Poverty of Language: How to Change the Dialogue about Economic Inequality in America

Doug Hattaway, president, Wendy Yaross, senior vice president of research, and Tess Hart, associate, Hattaway Communications; and Alfred Ironside, director of communications, Ford Foundation

Session summary:
In a climate where it’s tough to get a majority of Americans to support government action on anything, the Ford Foundation and Hattaway Communications developed an anti-poverty narrative that persuades 7 out of 10 Americans to support an active government role in helping people enter the middle class.

During this effort, insights and ideas from two years of in-depth message research and development on this topic were shared with advocates on the frontlines of policy change, and with national decision-makers and thought leaders, who now had a powerful new way to talk about an age-old problem. Media content analysis is now measuring whether the new language is helping to change the national dialogue on poverty in America.

This session will share powerful language for fighting poverty — along with guiding principles for developing messages that build public support for government action on a wide range of issues. We’ll discuss the art and science of crafting an “aspirational narrative” to motivate and mobilize people in support of a cause. Participants will walk away with a checklist for applying these principles to their work.

6. Street Smarts: Engaging Community Voice to Advance Academic Achievement

Chana Edmond-Verley, senior program officer for community initiatives, Edwin Hernandez, senior program officer for community initiatives, Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation; John Helmholdt, communications director, Grand Rapids Public Schools; and Mary Greene, consultant, Creative Change Mission

Session summary:
Facing persistently low graduation rates in the urban core of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a concerned private foundation approached the public school district with a simple question: “What do you need?” Several years and several million dollars later, the foundation and the district have forged a cradle-to-career initiative modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone. One key ingredient in its success: an intensive set of activist, “community voice” communications based on three research-based levers: growth mindset, peer affinity, and individual behavior.

Facing persistently low graduation rates, a concerned private foundation approached a public school district with a simple question: “What do you need?” Several years and several million dollars later, the foundation and the district have forged a cradle-to-career initiative modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone. It includes an intensive set of activist, “community voice” communications strategies.

In this session, we’ll watch a short documentary film on the initiative and briefly review the successes and failures of the communications strategies.

Then we’ll spend 20 minutes on each of the following three vexing strategic questions (each 20-minute segment includes a brief introduction, 12 minutes of small-group breakouts, and 8 minutes to report back to the entire group).

Strategic mindset question: Employing the community voice, we have embedded affirming, research-based messages in a rallying cry and a powerful “why” message platform. What other communication strategies might accomplish the goal of shifting mindsets?

Strategic affinity question: We have featured real people in billboards, brochures, videos, social media and ads. What other communication strategies might accomplish the goal of building affinity and engaging participation?

Strategic behavioral question: We have published five research-based behavioral tips as a memorable acrostic (B-GRAD) on billboards, backpack tags, magnets, frames, brochures, newsletters and stickers. What other techniques (apps? games?) might accomplish the goal of driving desired individual behavior change?

7. Empowering #SocialChange: How to Use Social Media for Advocacy

Aurora Matthews, senior communications associate, and Danielle Tarr, new media associate, The Hatcher Group; Jiva Manske, field organizer, and Brendan Lyman, coordinator at Tulane University, Amnesty International; and Mona Cadena, campaign strategist, Equal Justice USA.

Session summary:
A coalition of advocacy groups took communications efforts to the next step in 2013 after efforts to repeal the death penalty in Maryland failed year after year. Seizing upon resources and ideas from each other, the coalition—including The Hatcher Group, Amnesty International, Equal Justice USA, MD CASE and the office of Governor Martin O’Malley—embarked on a social media strategy designed to reach the most influential audiences: elected officials and their constituents. Using a variety of new media platforms, the campaign got creative with Twitter chats, Thunderclaps, Facebook, memes and a powerful video highlighting murder victims’ families’ needs. In March, the campaign met its goal: Maryland became the eighteenth state to repeal the death penalty.

In this session, panelists will demonstrate creative ways to use social networks to advance social change. The buzz from a well-run campaign presents an invaluable opportunity to harness the mass dissemination potential of online-networked communications.
Activists can target key influencers in a public conversation where an unlimited number of users can listen and join in.

Participants will learn how to take their social media efforts beyond the typical day-to-day broadcast and enter a new world of targeted networked engagement that can be used to influence public opinion.

8. Impact Litigation as a Tool for Social Change: Perry v. Hollingsworth and the National Conversation about Marriage Equality

Felix Schein, principal, Griffin Schein; and Adam Umhoefer, executive director, American Foundation for Equal Rights

Session summary:
When supported by a robust communications campaign, impact litigation is an effective platform to fight imbalances of power and influence public opinion.

For nonprofit organizations fighting for civil rights, there are a variety of tools to influence public policy and mobilize local communities. Many organizations conduct research, engage with elected officials, or launch public awareness campaigns. Yet one of the most powerful tools is also one of the most underutilized: impact litigation.

In response to passage California’s Proposition 8, we created the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) with the goal of fighting for full federal marriage equality. AFER is the sole sponsor of Perry v. Hollingsworth, the federal case heard before the Supreme Court in March 2013.

In this session, we will cover the development of AFER, the process of building the legal case and the critical role of the communications campaign aimed at changing the public conversation about marriage equality. The session will examine in detail the role litigation can play in bringing about real social change and look at the application of impact litigation to other social issues, such as environmental sustainability and education reform.

9. Short Films, Big Impact

Natasha Deganello Giraudie, CEO, Micro-Documentaries; and Mabinty A. Koroma, communications officer, Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) at the United Nations Foundation

Session summary:
Advancing your mission by producing bite-size, poignant, inspiring video content
The presenters will discuss how, in parallel to your day job as a social and environmental innovator, you are being called upon to step into the role of “publisher”—a publisher of regular content that speaks to your supporters in a way that they care deeply about, that will entice them to watch everything you publish and that will invite them to become a part of your envisioned future.

In this session, we’ll discuss how short films, if done right, are the most engaging media on the web. Learn how to use them as a powerful way to captivate your audience and increase your influence on their actions. Watch a number of exemplary 1-2 minute films. Hear how organizations have used short films to expand their impact. Understand common pitfalls you can avoid in film production and distribution. Walk away with a good understanding of how you can regularly produce short films for your audience that are authentic, affordable and actionable.

10. Bigger than You: Branding Social Movements

Emily Brew, former brand creative director, Nike Foundation; Will Novy-Hildesley, founder and CEO, Quicksilver Foundry; Vikki Spruill, president and CEO, Council on Foundations; and Jeremy Heimans, co-founder & CEO, Purpose; and Julia Plowman, managing director, Context Partners

Session summary:
“The 99%,” “The Arab Spring,” “The Tea Party” — three brand identities that accelerated their respective movements’ reach and impact. How? By doing what brands have always done: helping create communities of shared purpose. Today, with social media, such tribes form at astonishing speed and scale.

For change-makers in the public and private sectors, using technology and brand marketing to drive social movements looks like a no-brainer. But in reality, we’re challenged to deliver on this promise.

Among nonprofits, the norm is for like-minded organizations to run parallel campaigns, which means they’re competing for the very energy, eyeballs and dollars they should be concentrating. And for-profits largely confine their efforts to putting logos on charitable events, when their role in creating social impact via brand expertise could be so much greater. The result is that institutional brand identity routinely trumps impact.

Recently, however, “bigger-than-you” brand concepts are charting a new course, with approaches that outgrow their parents to align tribes into fully-fledged movements. These brands are breaking out of institutions.

In this session, a panel of pioneers will explore practical insights and potential pitfalls in trading impact for identity, and engagement for control. We’ll provide frameworks, tools and inspiration to apply this emerging brand thinking to your issue.

11. Helping Great Ideas Go Big: The Role of Communications in Scaling What Works

Susan Promislo, senior communications officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Eric Antebi, senior vice president, Fenton; and Jill Vialet, founder and CEO, Playworks

Session summary:
Foundations play a vital role in supporting innovative solutions and scaling what works to reach more people and communities. How can communications help great ideas go big? Why should foundations invest in communications for organizations on the path to scale? And what needs are most essential to address at each stage of an organization’s growth?

Ten years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) decided that the best way to improve the health of America’s most vulnerable populations was to identify promising models, see if they could be replicated and help the strongest ones spread. RWJF doesn’t just give grants; a key part of its strategy has also been to provide significant communications support to grantees, from branding and messaging, to public affairs and media relations, to social media.

In this session, RWJF and its partners will share insights about how communications can foster “smooth scaling” and what constitutes the right support at the right time.

12. Transformative Capacity Building Models: Strengthening Grantee Communications Skills Beyond Funding

Michael Hoffman, CEO, See3; Beth Kanter, author and master trainer; Eva Penar, director of marketing and communications, The Chicago Community Trust; and Farra Trompeter, vice president, Big Duck

Session summary:
As nonprofits of all sizes struggle to keep up with social media, video and other communications strategies, foundations are looking for ways to transform the nonprofits they support and build the skills of staff to bolster the fields they serve. Through management assistance programs, peer-learning cohorts, train-the-trainers and grant-supported training there are a variety of options out there.

In a lively discussion of pros and cons of different models and examples, we’ll examine how you can structure (or restructure) your capacity-building programs, evaluate if grantees are ready and measure progress along the way. We’ll even share some of the moments of failure — and what we learned as a result.

13. Trendsetter, Go-getter: Staying Ahead of the Curve 

Edith Asibey, principal, Asibey Consulting; Lucy Bernholz, blogger, author and visiting scholar, Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society; and Jen Bokoff, director of GrantCraft, The Foundation Center

Session summary:
In our industry, it’s not just about mastering the “now,” it’s about knowing what’s “next.” But how do you keep up, filter out, and move forward when we’re faced with information overload on a daily basis? And even more importantly, how do you turn the knowledge and trends worth holding onto into meaningful action at your organization?

Join us for a fast-paced session that will take you from external trends to internal communications:

  1. First, hear from leading philanthropy scholar Lucy Bernholz to see where the industry stands on innovations she predicted would transform the social economy in 2013. Plus, get a sneak preview of Blueprint 2014 and what we can expect next.
  2. Second, learn from foundations that are embracing change and effectively integrating what’s trending into mission-aligned activities. In the process, we’ll also discuss tips for how to scan the landscape in a digital age and pick out what new ideas are right for your organization.
  3. Third, participate in a hands-on discussion about how to share your ideas, knowledge, and enthusiasm with program officers and other internal stakeholders.

With these new tools in hand, you’ll quickly make best practices your practices.

14. Hitting Your Stride on Social Media 

Adrienne Faraci, communications coordinator, Carnegie Corporation of New York; Erin Kelly, social media manager, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Elizabeth Miller, communications associate, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Marc Moorghen, senior communications manager, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; and Jenn Whinnem, communications officer, Connecticut Health Foundation

Session summary:
Are you sold on social yet? After this session, social engagement may become the new norm throughout your organization. Hear from staffers at five foundations who will speak candidly about how and why they have embraced social media in an effort to advance their respective philanthropic objectives.

Social media isn’t just for the communications department anymore. Opportunities are ripe for presidents, vice presidents, and program officers and associates to use it meaningfully and effectively. When you embed the strategic use of social media across your organization, it becomes another pathway to achieving your mission.

This session will highlight various campaign approaches and lessons learned as a result of recent experimentation. Points covered will include the ROI (return on investment) of storytelling, cultivating strong networks ready for activation and the secret sauce (and slipups) to staff groundswell. Session organizers will solicit “on-the-spot” rapid-fire case studies from attendees.

Our ambitious goal for this session is to render the “communications vs. program” conversation obsolete. Are you on board?

15.  Make Me Care: Storytelling to Effect Change 

Michele Norris, correspondent, NPR; David Modigliani, creative director, Flow Nonfiction; Susan Feeney, partner, Joel Johnson, senior planner, and Chapin Springer, GMMB (moderator)

Session summary:
It takes more than a PR strategy and a Facebook following to move hearts, change minds, and impact behavior.

This session will explore how to effect change by evolving the art of digital storytelling to create and sustain emotional connections. Reprising the panel that captivated a standing-room-only audience at SXSW Interactive, this session will use compelling examples to ignite a conversation about theory, practice and engagement techniques.

NPR’s Michele Norris created The Race Card Project, asking people to share views on race in America in just six words. Brevity and candor from people of all races make for powerful storytelling. More than 30,000 people have shared their stories through digital channels, sparking a national conversation that continues to touch lives and open eyes.

When the Wounded Warrior Project wanted to commemorate its 10th anniversary to reach a new and broader audience, they turned to the filmmakers at Flow Nonfiction to create the risky, groundbreaking project, Ten For Ten — an original documentary series and interactive campaign. From the films to the :30 spots and digital experience, the project has fueled advocacy, earned broadcast media partnerships and spurred fundraising alike.

NARAL asked GMMB to engage millennials for choice, something many young women take for granted. A simple photo shoot concept exploded into an international phenom when 40 noted photographers from news, fashion and advertising donated their work for 40 Faces as part of Choice Out Loud.

1 Comment

  1. […] the question I addressed in a recent blog post for Philanthropy411. I drew from a conference session I attended on “impact litigation” — court cases where the rulings will affect a […]

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