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A Quick Word With…

MR Speaking Pic TN

For our latest A Quick Word With…, we talk with Michael Hamill Remaley, senior vice president, public policy & communications, Philanthropy New York, who also created this series for the Communications Network.

What is an interesting communications project you are engaged in right now or a recent communications success you are particularly proud of?

In the first half of 2014, Philanthropy New York (and 16 other regional associations) will launch new organizational websites based on a common platform. But ours will have something no other RA will have: New York PhilanthoPOST.  We will be presenting robust news aggregation, original news and provocative editorial content that focuses on the region’s immensely dynamic philanthropic community.

What are the target audiences for your communications efforts, and which have you found to be the hardest to reach?MR Speaking Pic

We need to communicate with many audiences. Primary is our membership of over 3,000 individuals within our almost 300 member organizations. With our growing public policy work, we also are having many more avenues of communication with government officials, civic leaders of all sorts, and of course, nonprofit leaders.

What percentage of your communications effort would you estimate is currently focused on reaching audiences through new media? And, which form of new media works best for your organization?

We only do a few events each year when we are trying to get traditional media coverage, like our annual meeting or our event promoting the Education Funders Research Initiative and its “Six Priorities for the Next Mayor and Chancellor.” Most of our communications are through in-person convenings, webinars, emails, newsletters (two each month), list-serves, website, our blog (which will become the editorial pages of the New York PhilanthroPost) and Twitter.  So, I guess it all depends on how you define “new” media.

Does your organization create an annual communications plan? How does it help OR why don’t you do one?

We do not.  But we are just about to enter into our 2014-2016 Strategic Plan, which has specific items related to public policy and communications. I wanted to do a specific communications plan, but we do so much planning at PNY that I just can’t do any more. I don’t want us to get bogged down in “too much planning, not enough doing.”

Does Philanthropy New York engage in evaluation of communications efforts, and if so, what methods do you use?

We’re using the same sorts of basic metrics many foundations and non-profits are using – Google analytics, clicks, follows, etc.  We also report monthly on progress toward our organizational goals on a whole host of factors. But no formal evaluation.

What is the last significant improvement you made to your website? What did it accomplish?

We are in the final stretch of a completely new website based on a Drupal platform and a new CRM based on Salesforce.  These two changes and a major redesign will allow members to register for programs faster, find information easier and share news with colleagues within the membership and beyond more effectively.

What is your favorite communications tool that you think more foundation folks should be taking advantage of?

Face time – and I don’t mean on an iPhone.  Getting together face-to-face with colleagues around an agenda that is focused on taking action is far more effective than any new app.

When was the last time you learned something important from a communications colleague?  What was it and how did you use it?

We’re looking for Drupal experts to do monthly maintenance on our new website and one of Philanthropy New York’s members made an excellent recommendation.

What is your biggest complaint about how your issues get covered in the media?

I experience spasms of anger when government officials assert that private philanthropy will step up when government disinvests in public programs and when journalists do not take the time to find a philanthropic organization who will honestly counter that philanthropy can never fill the void – and even if we could, that’s not the best use of philanthropic dollars.  Ok, getting off my soapbox now.

Does Philanthropy New York  have a blog? If so, how would you assess its place in your communications efforts? If not, why?

We have the widely-read Smart Assets blog, which we will be folding into the editorial content of the New York PhilanthroPOST in the coming year. It is an immensely important part of our communications. Pieces are written by our members and allow them to share with their colleagues what they are learning from their work.

Whose communication work you admire and why?

We have among our membership some of the most amazing foundation communicators.  I can’t name them all, but Ford, Rockefeller, Open Society, Carnegie, Commonwealth Fund and Century Foundation all do spectacular things with immensely varied budgets. When our communications group – Public Policy Communicators NYC – presents programs, I always have amazing experts in our membership to turn to.

What is a big event you’ve got coming up that you think everyone should know about?

We just had a huge multi-media event for our Education Funders Research Initiative and a series of events around the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, so I absolutely refuse to do another big event until our annual meeting in May.

When you were 13 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I said I wanted to be an actor, but I really wanted to be a back-up dancer for Madonna.

What was your undergraduate major?

I graduated from Temple University as a journalism major, concentrating in public relations.

Who is your favorite underappreciated journalist?

Andy Towle, the founder and editor of – great coverage of LGBT news and culture with an off-kilter, humorous slant. It’s like Gawker for the gays.

What’s the last policy-oriented/big-picture or other nonfiction book you read?  What was your take-away from it?

This is not a joke: I am currently reading Daniel Goleman’s “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” but I keep putting it down to read blog feeds.  The last such book I actually finished was Katie Roiphe’s “In Praise of Messy Lives”

What’s your favorite non-professional, non-general news blog?

Curbed.  Like most New Yorkers, I am completely real estate obsessed.  I read Curbed every day I eat my lunch at my desk.

What is one aspect of your personal life that has the greatest impact on your professional life?

My husband is the Bar Director for the Momofuku restaurant group, so my coworkers always look to me for bar and restaurant recommendations, and I’m generally expected to make reservations at the coolest new place if we’re celebrating a colleague’s life event.

Do you have a novel deep down inside you? 

I have started about five novels and never got past the first chapter.  I’m too busy living a semi-fictionalized fabulous life to write about one. I am, however, developing a nonfiction book.

Where are you from, and how do you identify with that place now?

A small farm near Middleburg, PA. I consider myself a refuge from Pennsyltucky’s systematic persecution of the minorities and intellectuals (not bitter at all).

What’s a skill of yours that has nothing to do with your profession, but that you’re glad you have?

At restaurants with friends, I always order the favorite meal at the table. What can I say, it’s a very special gift.

1 Comment

  1. Jenn WhinnemJenn Whinnem01-28-2014

    Michael, I never knew you were so funny. Thanks for cracking me up. And thanks for the update on PNY, I need to get re-connected.

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