• “If you want to go outside, you’ve got to talk outside.” A Conversation with Tony Proscio

    Junk the jargon

    Tony Proscio is a planning, evaluation, and communications consultant to foundations and major nonprofit organizations. A long-time contributor to The Communications Network, he is the main author of the Jargon Finder, a collection of foundation and nonprofit jargon excerpted from his three essays Others Words, Bad Words for Good, and When Words Fail. Tony joined The Communications Network to discuss the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them. A lightly edited transcript follows.

    The Communications Network: Let’s talk about jargon and how you define it. What does jargon mean and how does it differ from other words?

    Tony Proscio: The technical definition of jargon, the strictest, is language that is so technical that a person outside the field, the layperson so to speak, wouldn’t understand it, but that’s not the way most people that I work with think about jargon and it’s not generally the way I use the word either. For me, the definition of jargon is language that stops the reader instead of encouraging the reader to keep going, reader or listener. It’s language that either is grating or hard to figure out or seemingly wrong in some way that makes the reader or the listener stop and, instead of paying attention to your point, pay attention to your language.

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  • Jack Bauer Can Teach The Social Sector About Storytelling

    24wallpaper1 KEY TAKEAWAYS

    • Don’t shy away from communicating the high stakes of your issue.
    • Keep your audiences in suspense to keep them engaged and willing to take action.
    • Use graphic and sound design to signal your organization’s “story brand.”

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  • Engagement: How To Create More Relevant Communications Without Data

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    KEY TAKEAWAYS:

    • Relevance is highly personal and determined by the recipient
    • Segmenting your audience allows for better, more relevant communications
    • Your organization already has the data to segment, even if you don’t know it

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  • Communication Matters: Active Listening

    asklisten

    If you want to know what people think—ask them! And then listen to what they have to say. That’s what the Communication Matters research project is all about.

    As communicators, we know how powerful listening is.

    The Communications Network and its members have a point of view about the value of communication in creating social change. But what do our colleagues think, whether they’re making decisions from the executive suite, managing a portfolio of grants, or working in the field?

    Here’s a taste of what we’re hearing.

    From a small regional foundation:

    “Our president & CEO gets it. When she was hired, she visited foundations of a similar asset size to find out, ‘If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?’ The consistent message was, ‘Get communications right from the get-go. Tell your own story lest someone else tell it for you.’”

    We’re uncovering great examples of communication being used in strategic ways.

    From a medium-sized health care foundation:

    “We fund a fair amount of policy analyses and our goal is to have impact by informing and influencing state-level decision making. We couldn’t do that without an aggressive and comprehensive approach to communications. When grantees produce analytic deliverables, we invest a lot of resources in helping them to shape the story, tease out the key take-aways, develop concrete recommendations, and express their work in a way that is both compelling and persuasive.” 

    And we’re hearing about some of the interesting challenges, twists, and turns that communication work can take.

    From a program officer at a large foundation:

    “We have found that our use of communication—particularly ‘naming’ the reform—has simultaneously advanced the measurable elements of the reform discussion and annoyed allies who use different language. It raises the larger question of whether everyone working on an issue agrees on what to call things and how to talk about them, which can be either a good discussion or a distraction from program outcome goals.”

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  • Communication Matters: Reputation, Relationships & Resources

    I had the pleasure of joining Communications Network board members Minna Jung (Packard Foundation), Alfred Ironside (Ford Foundation) and Joanne Krell (Kellogg Foundation) for a panel discussion titled “Why Strategic Communication Matters to the Causes We Care About” at the Council on Foundations conference in Washington, D.C.

    The standing-room-only session highlighted several important lessons about the work we do as communicators, and the responsibility we all bear for championing its strategic value across our organizations.

    It also gave me a chance to provide an update on “Communication Matters,” the Communications Network-sponsored research effort to gather evidence about what constitutes effective, integrated communications at foundations and nonprofits.

    Our research is now running at a full sprint… We hope to be able to show some exemplary models, relevant tools and clear evidence that can advance the field and help make the case for why Communication Matters.

    Remembering The Three R’s

    Our evidence gathering and analysis are ongoing, and will be rolled out in earnest at the Network’s annual conference this October.  But here’s one early insight we unpacked during the panel’s conversation.

    For most organizations, success (or failure) in strategic communications can be directly tied to how well they manage and leverage three primary assets. Let’s call themThe Three R’s:

    • Reputation: This is the sum of the earned and perceived credibility an organization holds around a set of issues (think of it as your brand equity and issue expertise).
    • Relationships: This is the set of affiliations and associations that give an organization “authority” and increased capacity to advance its agenda or theory of change.
    • Resources: These are what an organization invests to achieve its goals and objectives. They include both dollars (grants, PRIs) and human capital (labor, research, thought leadership, and access).

    Our research process is now running at a full sprint. We’ve been listening closely to communication practitioners from foundations and nonprofits. We’re hearing from program leaders about how they prioritize and integrate with communications. And soon we will be launching a survey to solicit the views of executive directors and CEOs on these same themes.

    effective-online-communication When all is said and done, we hope to be able to show some exemplary models, relevant tools and clear evidence that can advance the field and help make the case for why Communication Matters. Stay tuned for more in the weeks ahead.

    David Brotherton is a Seattle-based communications consultant. He and Cynthia Scheiderer previously co-authored Come On In, The Water’s Fine, an analysis of the philanthropy sector’s engagement with social media. They expect to share the results of their latest research at the Communications Network conference in Philadelphia. Follow David on Twitter  @Wordsmith68.

     

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