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Communication Matters: Active Listening


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.”

We’re asking two simple questions:

  • How does communication help your organization accomplish its mission?
  • What examples have you seen of communication making a difference?

[pullquote1 align=”center” variation=”deepblue”]We’re open to hearing whatever colleagues in our sector think about these questions—including the possibility that sometimes communication isn’t high on their list of priorities. We want to learn more about their experience and understand what would need to be different for them to see more value in communication.[/pullquote1]

What do you think?

How do you talk about the value of communication?

What enthusiasm—or skepticism—do you encounter from your colleagues and decision-makers?

Please drop us a line at – or weigh in with a comment.

We’d love to hear what you think.

Cynthia Scheiderer is a Seattle-based communication and research consultant. She frequently collaborates with David Brotherton of Brotherton Strategies and they are looking forward to sharing the results of their latest research at the Communications Network conference in Philadelphia. Follow Cynthia on Twitter @cscheiderer and David @wordsmith68


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