Eric Brown, Vice Chair of The Communications Network’s Board (and a former Board Chair), is departing his job as Communications Director at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. A version of his farewell post appeared on the Foundation’s Work in Progress blog.
Here’s what I’ve learned about foundation communications in ten years, nine months, and four days:
1. Tactics without strategy are pretty much a waste of time.
I’m about to give away the secret to the nonprofit communications strategy kingdom—start your communications plan with a goal, and make it a good one. There, I said it. Organizations are pretty good about designing strategic plans that have reasonably good goals. They want the utility to remove a dam by 2015, or they want to provide reproductive health services for 25% more women in a particular district in Tanzania by the end of the year. Things like that. When the communications plans come in, though, often the goal is do some kind of tactic. Write an op-ed. Get people to like you on Facebook. If pressed, grantees might say that the goal is to “raise awareness” about an issue. Well, I have high awareness that kale is better for me than bacon, but that doesn’t stop me from eating BLTs. You get my point. Good strategies start with good goals, not good tactics. It seems so obvious, but we all know that it doesn’t always go that way.
Guest Post: Cassandra Stalzer
For the past year, the Rasmuson Foundation has been partnering with the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) on a special project, “State of Intoxication,” a print and video series about the profound effects over-consumption has on the lives of Alaskans.
This was the first high-profile partnership between for-profit news media and philanthropy in Alaska, and as such, it raised a lot of questions and generated a lot of ideas.
Guest Post: Nolan Haims
One of the most important communication books of the last number of years was quietly released in February. It is so far flying rather under the radar, but it has significant and immediate implications nonprofits and foundations.
The book is a tactical one on how to use a piece of software, but it directly addresses a challenge that organizations face on a daily basis: how to effectively and properly create written material for stakeholders using everyone’s default tool: PowerPoint.
(A version of this post appears on the Philanthropy 411 blog.)
Guest Post: Lora Smith
At its very core, policy advocacy is an exercise in strategic communications. To succeed at influencing policy, advocacy organizations need to be able to persuade decision makers why change is in the public’s best interest.
Yet, as a new report from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation shows, many nonprofit advocacy organizations lack sufficient communications capacity to create and deliver messages that are key to successfully influencing policy changes.
Guest Post: Ryan Reynolds
Indexes are handy ways to track and report progress. You can’t beat the Dow Jones Industrial Index to follow the ups and downs of stock prices. Ditto the Consumer Price Index, which compares the cost of goods and services from year to year.
But what if you want to track progress on important social issues? Thanks to troves of data available these days, nonprofits are increasingly using indexes to communicate about their work and their underlying causes.