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How My Program Experience Prepared Me for My Communications Job


Guest Post, Elizabeth Miller, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Several months ago, I joined the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as a Communications Associate. Although the job accompanied a move from New York to Miami, frankly I was more curious how I’d find the move from having a grantmaking responsibility at my previous job to taking on an exclusively communications-focused role.

Here at Knight Foundation, I focus on online communications, creating content for Knight’s blog, Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels. I am constantly looking for creative ways to share the stories of our grant programs’ impact, like using Storify, a new social media platform, to talk about the foundation’s latest arts grantees.

I am also focused on why @knightfdn uses social media to be a better grantmaker and how we can use it to help accomplish our programmatic goals of creating informed and engaged communities.  I spend my day doing everything from reputation monitoring online to looking at analytics to determine what our audiences care about and how we can best communicate with them.

So several months into the new job, what’s surprised me most about the transition? How seamless it has felt and how much I love it!

One of the greatest aspects of my work is getting to be involved in the wider variety of programming that matches my own personal interests, which at Knight includes journalism and media innovation, the arts and community engagement.

In my previous role as a Senior Program Associate at The Overbrook Foundation, my primary responsibilities were identifying and administering the foundation’s media-focused grants. Unfortunately, I did not always have the time to involve myself in other programmatic interests or adequately communicate to various audiences about the projects on which I worked.

Yet having had a programmatic role at Overbrook makes me more in touch with how best to promote projects and programs. For example, I am conscious of how busy program staff are and I now view myself as a resource to help them find opportunities to share what they’re doing and learning. My job is also made easier because we make a conscious effort to involve all program staff in communications. There are also constant opportunities to connect with grantees, partners and other foundations.

Working on communications isn’t brand-new to me. While at Overbrook I was able to advise grantees on media work and help the foundation increase its social media presence. At my new job, though, that’s what I get to do exclusively and I could not be happier.

My move may have been an unusual one, but I know that my true interests are in how foundations, philanthropies and non-profit organizations can use technology to further their missions.  There is no better place to do that than in this space.

As I think about what I want to accomplish moving forward, I hope to find new ways to use technology to connect and broaden our existing audiences, encourager greater participation and increase our own efficiency and that of our grantees and other foundations.

In order to accomplish that, I want to learn from you – other foundation communications professionals. Hopefully we as a collective group can continue to share resources, create stories, navigate trends and understand how we can use technology to do what we do, better.

So tell me, how is technology changing how you communicate? What new projects are exciting you? What are your biggest challenges? Where do you see the biggest opportunity to enhance your online communications efforts?

You can find me at miller@knightfoundation.org, at 305.908.2623 or on Twitter at @ElzbthMllr.

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