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What Happens When Grantees Have Their Say

A few years ago, when people were still using the term “Web 2.0” to describe interactive and user-generated online content, the Communications Network produced a report encouraging foundations to take the plunge. Come On In the Water’s Fine said that there was far more to be gained than what some feared would result from not being able to completely control the message.

If anyone took that finding to heart, it has to be the Heinz Endowments, which opened up a section of its Web site, In the Spotlight, over a year ago to allow grantees to post their own content, for two weeks at a time, and without advance permission from the foundation.

Linda Braund, communications manager, who oversees the effort for the Heinz Endowments, says since the project’s launch, some 40 grantee organizations have produced and posted wide-ranging multimedia content to the Heinz site.  Then, as now, the purpose of setting aside the section of the web site for grantees to tell their own stories, and as they know best, was to help them make beneficial connections that might support their growth.

In this brief video interview, Doug Root, Heinz’ director of communications, recalls his initial concerns — which at the time he described as “definitely a scary move for us because it meant giving up a lot of control — and how since the has project unfolded, as well as how it has been received by board and staff.  If there is a down side to the effort, Root’s not saying.

In addition to capturing Root’s impressions, we asked Braund if she had any advice for other foundations willing to share their website with grantees. She said:

Don’t be discouraged by internal resistance to opening up your site and letting grantees post directly. Some people at the Endowments were genuinely worried that we could run into trouble with inappropriate content, and that was the biggest obstacle that I faced in getting the Spotlight online. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be aware of what’s being posted — I get an email with a link every time anything is posted to our site so that I can check it out. But, don’t let fear of what your grantees are going to say stop you from allowing them to post directly without waiting for approval from you. We have gained a lot of rich, authentic content on our site about the work our grantees are doing in the community  — without a lot of work and time on our part.

Dare we say it again?  Come in, the water’s fine!

–Susan Herr


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