DIY Communications: When is It Time to Pull Out the Toolbox?
Guest Post: Regan Gruber Moffitt
After many months of talking about a major home remodel, my husband announced one April morning, “We’re starting today!” Those words still ring in my ears more than a year later. You see, I was eight months pregnant. The next five weeks would be some of the most memorable – and miserable – I’ve had. The story has a happy ending of completed tile, cabinets and paint at least a few days before the baby arrived, but its twists and turns brought on by the bad timing are a cautionary tale for those taking on do-it-yourself (DIY) projects of any kind.
Though 2012 was the wrong year for my DIY project at home, it was the right time for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) to launch two major DIY communications initiatives. In the first – the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading – the foundation customized the core messages of a national campaign for targeted audiences in the state with the goal that all students will read on grade level by 2020. In the other – the Why Arkansas? Campaign – the foundation sought to take the message of Arkansas as a state ripe for reform to national funders to encourage more investment in the state.
Why was the time right for these communications campaigns? When is the time wrong? For those considering a foundation-led, do-it-yourself communications campaign, below are a few questions to ask before pulling out the communications toolbox.
Why this? Before launching a communications campaign, consider what impact you desire to have and whether communications can achieve that. If you want more after school programs in your state, is a communications campaign what you need? Or is it more effective to use grants to support programs that work? Answer the question of whether communications can bring about the desired outcome.
Why now? Even if your foundation has something to say now, audiences may not be ready to listen. Think about what else your foundation is currently saying and about competing messages in the external environment. As Common Cores State Standards are in the national spotlight, is now the time to start a communications campaign about the importance of the arts in schools? Make sure that your message has the opportunity to be heard.
Why not? Are there reasons not to do it now? This is the question that would have stopped my home remodel. It is relevant for messaging campaigns as well. Foundations should consider the full breadth of what the proposed initiative will entail. Good ideas sometimes need to wait. Staffing, funding, partners, tools and other internal and external variables should be considered.
Why us? Do you really have the basic skills set to make the campaign successful? DIY, really is about DOING IT YOURSELF. If you don’t know a drywall nail from a thumbnail, then you really need to think twice.
Already WRF’s DIY communications approach is paying off. Our campaigns have yielded new champions for grade-level reading in Arkansas and new funders for Arkansas organizations. At the same time, the work has brought important visibility to the foundation as well as special acknowledgement from the Communications Network and Council on Foundations, which named us one of the four winners of this year’s Wilmer Shields Rich Awards that honor excellence in foundation communications. We haven’t put our tools away yet though. Both our campaigns continue on.
Regan Gruber Moffitt is senior program associate at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. She, along with colleagues Takema Robinson-Bradberry, senior program associate, and Andrew Ford, program associate, will present DIY Communications: Build a Strategic Message Starting at Home at this 2013 Communications Network Conference, Oct. 2-4 in New Orleans.