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This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Change Agent.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

Change is coming.

As Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans recently observed in The Harvard Business Review, “…[an] interesting and complex transformation is just beginning, one driven by a growing tension between two distinct forces: old power and new power.

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”

As Timms and Heimans explain in the pages that follow (part of a new Network partnership with Harvard Business Review), these emerging power dynamics are complex and nuanced. There is no is no quick fix to adapt to this new reality. Nor is this an either/or proposition. Successful organizations will learn how to develop and wield old and new power to deliver change.

One thing is quite clear: old or new, this new, networked world demands that social sector organizations communicate.

So, how do social sector leaders make communications an organizational priority, integrating innovations not only into their work, but into the fabric and culture of their organizations?

Over the past year, The Communications Network has pursued a number of new initiatives to wrestle with these questions:

  • Communication Matters, a first-of-its-kind landscape survey on the practice of social sector communications. You can review and use the findings of our research and the resulting model for effective communications at
  • We partnered with the Stanford Social Innovation Review for Making Ideas Move, an online series of high-level thought pieces from sector CEOs and senior leaders on the power and potential of social sector communications. (You’ll find some of those pieces in the pages that follow.)
  • ComNetworkLOCAL, our new effort to regularly gather Network members and others in local communities, successfully launched this summer with ComNetworkDC. Local leadership groups are now forming in New York, Denver, and Los Angeles.
  • Our new monthly newsletter offering insights, inspiration, and fun has been connecting you with ideas and trends that are re-making the communications field.
  • We’ve hosted a dozen webinars aimed at helping our colleagues improve their work on topics ranging from brand to audience profiling to narrative analytics with record audiences.

And of course, there’s Change Agent, the new journal for social sector communications aimed at elevating and advancing the field, which you hold in your hands. Our inaugural issue aimed to inspire communicators big and small to do good, better.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. So we’ve done it again.

We’re honored to share ideas from the Rockefeller Foundation, NPR, The ONE Campaign, IDEO, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and others in the pages that follow.

Among the thorny questions we examine in this issue of Change Agent:

  • How do you make sense of the ever-changing digital landscape?
  • What does it take to build an in-house communications team?
  • Should you rethink your engagement strategy?
  • Can you evaluate communications?
  • Does design matter?
  • What does “brand” mean to a social sector organization?

And we left room for some fun: Network Board Vice Chair Jesse Salazar spoke with Elliott Kalan, the head writer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, on what it means to communicate through humor.

To those of you reading this at ComNet15, welcome! All of the information you need to navigate the conference can be found in the back of this book. Prefer to travel lightly? Download the ComNet15 app with the full conference schedule and remarkable tools for connecting and sharing by searching ComNet15 in the Google and Apple app stores.

As Mr. Shaw said, progress begins with change. Changing hearts, minds, policies, and ultimately, lives.

A wave is building. We intend to get wet, paddle out, and help you catch it.

A final note: this second issue of Change Agent wouldn’t have been possible without the encouragement and conviction of The Communications Network’s Board, the generous support of the Pittsburgh Foundation, and the astounding creativity of the team at Fenton Communications. To contribute to future issues, please email



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