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Getting the Communication Plan Right From Day One


Guest Post: Stacey Easterling

In 2007, The Atlantic Philanthropies began funding a national pilot in which success depended on engaging, and helping shift society’s perceptions of, people over age 60. This pilot needed to take hold in a range of settings, from Native American reservations in Minnesota to downtown Los Angeles. We knew we were approaching unfamiliar territory, loaded with messaging traps, and our grantees were going to be out front leading (in effect, finding) the way.

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They got the job done, and making communications central to their work helped in many ways—including capturing stories that emerged as the initiative unfolded.

Here are two examples:

  • In Westbrook, Maine, Kodi, an older adult who fled Sudan after being tortured and hung upside down in a tree, was put in charge of a garden project where other African immigrant and refugee families can grow their own food and become more self-sufficient, easing their transition to a very unfamiliar new home.
  • In Grand Rapids, Mich., Al Wynalda took on a social purpose connected to his 44-year career in the commercial construction industry. Al’s encore is spending three days a week at a Habitat for Humanity job site teaching building skills to other volunteers, and he’s helped house dozens of families who faced homelessness.

These are just two of the thousands of stories that came from and boosted the success of the Community Experience Partnership. The Partnership involves nine grantees across the United States. Each has built a unique approach to recruiting older adults to lead community response to an issue of local importance. A few additional examples: in Brooklyn, N.Y., the goal was to bring healthy food into low-income neighborhoods; in Rochester, N.Y., the goal was to reduce high school dropout rates; in Oregon it was to boost early childhood development statewide.

As the initiative enters its sixth and final year, virtually all grantees are exceeding their goals for older adults recruited and trained, and for community benefit generated through people over 60, who historically are a largely untapped social workforce. Equally important, all nine grantees are sustaining this work beyond the initiative’s conclusion.

The overall success of the initiative is due in large part to a decision by the design team—which included my colleagues at Atlantic and was led by initiative director Diana Doyle of Socius Group—to integrate communications into the work from day one. The approach resulted in branding the initiative before requests for proposals were issued to potential participants, thereby creating an identity that ultimately connected and permeated the disparate work of grantees. The design team also built an incredibly strong learning community. Grantees met in person multiple times each year, with every convening lasting multiple days. Through this approach, we were all able to learn together about the best ways to talk about, and with, older adults as a resource for good.

That commitment to making communications vital to our program strategy extended well beyond “day one.” Over the course of the initiative communication planning, messaging, storytelling and outreach have been vibrant ingredients in each grantee’s success.

For more on the initiative visit www.ceplearning.org or watch the video below.

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Stacey Easterling is a programme executive at The Atlantic Philanthropies. At the Communications Network 2013 Conference in New Orleans, October 2-4, she will be joined by Diana Doyle, initiative director for the Community Experience Partnership and principal at Socius Group, an organization that helps funders engage communities; and Bob Tobin, president of Williams Group, a strategic communication firm. They will present From Day One: Integrating Strategic Communication Deeply and Early in a Program Initiative.

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