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New Tools, New Voices (VIDEO)


Guest Post: Susan Herr, PhilanthroMedia

When trustees of the  Mary Black Foundation decided to tackle teen pregnancy in the communities of Spartanburg County, South Carolina, they did what they usually do: make grants.

From the period between 2009-2011, the foundation committed $200,000 in multi-year grants to efforts that ensure high quality teen pregnancy prevention programs are available to the youth of Spartanburg; train parents and trusted adults to have open conversations with their children about love, sex, and relationships; and increase access to condoms and contraceptives.

But staff also saw this program area as an ideal opportunity to deepen the impact of the foundation by integrating strategic communications into its work.

Communications was still relatively new at the foundation, as Cate Ryba had only joined Mary Black as the first communications officer in 2009.

After exploring multiple options, the foundation decided early in 2011 to create a social media campaign, anchored by web videos, featuring local community advocates talking about the topic.  The resulting campaign, “Speak Out, Spartanburg,” included the usual suspects: a school board, pastor and corporate leader.

But based on a belief that messages directed to youth would be more effective if driven by youth, Ryba and the Foundation’s sole program officer, Curt McPhail, conducted a series of focus groups with youth to hone the campaign’s focus. Afterward, they recruited eight of the focus group members and charged them with the task of producing pregnancy prevention videos aimed at their peers.

The squad of students came to the foundation’s offices weekly from September and December 2011 to produce the resulting six videos.  Because they starred, participants were also motivated to tap their own networks to disseminate the videos throughout Spartanburg.

McPhail, thinks that having “these extra tools in its toolbox” better positions the foundation to create deeper relationships in the relatively small community it serves. As a result of this effort, Ryba also got the chance to hone video skills, which she intends to deploy more broadly to support the foundation’s work.

To learn more about the project, lessons both program and communications staff learned and to see samples of the teen-produced work, watch the accompanying videos.


Susan Herr, a regular Communications Network contributor, is president of PhilanthroMedia.

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