collaboration with program staff
Guest Post: Susan Promislo and Eric Antebi
The year was 1995. Jill Vialet was sitting outside the principal’s office at Santa Fe Elementary School in Oakland, Calif. Vialet, then head of the local children’s museum, had come to talk about arts in school. The principal wanted to talk about something else.
Outside the door was a line of kids who had gotten in trouble on the playground at recess. “Can you help me with THAT?” the principal asked Vialet.
Debra Rubino, director of strategic communications at the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, served as one of the judges for this year’s Wilmer Shields Rich Awards, a partnership between the Communications Network and the Council on Foundations. In the following post, which originally appeared on the Council’s Re: Philanthropy blog, Rubino comments on the importance of integrating program and communications, as this year’s Wilmer Shields Rich winners are doing–and why more foundations need to do the same too.
Guest Post: Debra Rubino
As a sector, the foundation community must have an enormously high IQ. If you take a quick look at the vitae of staff members of just about any foundation, you’ll find degrees in multiple fields—sometimes attached to just one individual. I know at our foundation most program associates have at least one master’s degree.
But when it comes to sharing ideas and convincing others outside the field? Not so smart there.
Guest Post: Suzanne Samuel
When Kaiser Permanente Northern California created its In-Kind Communications Program, the intention was clear. By providing communications consulting, communications products (like videos, brochures, and websites) and capacity-building training to our grantees from within our own offices, we would contribute to the success and long-term stability of our grantees. The pleasant surprise was how the In-Kind Program improved our own communications practice, often in striking ways.
A More Strategic Approach
Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit Program is a direct extension of our organization’s 65-year-old mission: to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Because we are both a health plan and a care provider, we are able to go beyond traditional corporate philanthropy to pair grant funding with shared expertise: medical research, clinical best practices—and communications products and consulting.
For many years we had offered communications support to a handful of Northern California community organizations each year, using an ad hoc approach. Grantees would inquire about Kaiser Permanente’s ability to provide a specific product (like a brochure or video), and the requests were handled on a case-by-case basis.
Today, there are a lot of communications people wringing their hands about the dearth of traditional media outlets and trying to find new ways to reach out to journalists who are interested in their organizations’ work and mission. Tried-and-true distribution channels are being replaced by a bewildering multiplicity of Internet outlets. Editors and press contacts are now bloggers and Twitter feeds. Press releases can seem like ticker tape floating over a digital parade. The challenge of placing well-edited, well-researched, in-depth material in front of the right audience can feel like trying to outpace an iPad with a manual typewriter.
These changes also provide opportunities for new approaches. Take The Commonwealth Fund, which is investing in several new — what might be called — “media relations 2.0″ strategies. In one case, it is piloting a program to provide content for small-town newspapers. In another effort, it is complementing pitching new journalists with educating them. As a third way, the Fund is partnering with a venerable journalism institution to provide cutting-edge health care reporting online. In each case, the focus is on cultivating and maintaining cadres of professional, trained health care journalists and relationships with traditional, trusted publications. As part of The Commonwealth Fund’s mission to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency for all, these programs are designed to put well-researched information about health care issues in front of a broad audience.
(Special webcast January 15th at 3 pm ET. Details below.)
In a recent opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Vince Stehle, executive director of Media Impact Funders, asked why so few foundations had “made any notable calls for action” on gun control or gun violence in the wake of the “horrific bloodbath” at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Stehle argued that instead of sitting on the sidelines and letting others shape the debate and discussion, “foundations need to pay attention to the high cost of gun violence to our nation.”
Is — as Stehle suggests — philanthropy missing an opportunity to contribute to the gun violence debate similar to the ways it has addressed other major social issues, ranging from health care to immigration reform to climate change to education reform? Should — and can — foundations, in particular, do more?
That question will be explored during a special event — to be webcast nationally on January 15, beginning at 3 pm ET.