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The Communication Networks Strategic Plan 2018-2021


We are a collegial, peer-driven community of foundation and nonprofit communications professionals who share ideas, evidence, and lessons about how smart communications improve lives. Through meetings and events, publications, social outreach, and an online community, we elevate the role of communications across the social sector. We help our members build relationships, skills, and confidence to navigate a shifting information landscape and to be a voice for change that benefits both individuals and society.


Improving lives through smart communications



We are a diverse community of professionals who advance strategic communications for good through relationships built on honest and open discourse, generosity of time and talent, and high levels of collegiality and collaboration.


We foster an inclusive culture of learning and doing through bold, new approaches and proven ideas and practices in communications.


We make the power of communications manifest and accessible with humility and optimism by offering an independent perspective rooted in equity, identifying and elevating leaders, and lifting up voices of people whose lives we strive to improve.


To be the indispensable source of powerful ideas, connections, and professional development for people using communications to improve lives.


By late 2021, the Network has:

1.Elevated its ability to frame powerful ideas and practices

  • The Network’s participants reflect the nation’s racial and ethnic diversity; the Network explicitly and implicitly incorporates diverse points of view in decision-making.
  • All the Network’s programming reflects clear commitments to achieving racial, social, and economic justice.
  • The Network identifies three (3) or more issues challenging the effectiveness of social-sector organizations and then creates fundable opportunities to convene people to share experiences and research and devise solutions. At least 80 percent of participants rate these efforts as worthwhile.

2.Solidified its position as an indispensable social-sector resource

  • At least 85 percent of participants agree the Network is an essential resource for enabling them to make smart communications a core strategy within their organizations.
  • The Network has established or deepened three (3) collaborative partnerships or third-party channel relationships for content sharing that either enhance or extend the Network’s leadership.

3.Deepened Network relationship building and participation

  • At least half of the Network’s “super users” – those participants who go to the conference, are involved in a ComNetLOCAL, and join in at least one other Network activity – have become “super contributors” or are engaged in Network leadership roles.
  • At least 50 percent of ComNetLOCAL participants also are involved in one (1) or more national activities, such as the conference.
  • At least 75 percent of Network participants report seeking advice from or sharing information with three (3) or more colleagues they met through the Network for ideas, suggestions, or other support within the past 24 months.

4.Advanced Network participants’ knowledge and skills

  • At least 85 percent of Network participants agree or strongly agree their knowledge, skill, or confidence has improved because of Network participation.
  • At least 85 percent of Network participants say their career outlook improved or they advanced professionally because of Network participation.

5.Ensured the Network’s financial sustainability

  • At least 90 percent of ComNet attendees say if they could only attend one professional development conference each year, it would be ComNet.
  • ComNetLOCALs are generating increased dues, revenue, and participation at the annual conference, reflecting value worth paying for and a level of alignment with the Network’s national outreach.
  • The Network has a solid, multi-year business plan that includes the role of foundation support as well as scenarios for expansion and weathering the onset of an economic recession.



Serve as an indispensable guide for navigating critical economic, cultural, and political shifts by using processes for surfacing shared challenges that lead to opportunities for Network participants to collectively build solutions.

The tactics the Network will use to accomplish this include:

  • Creating a rigorous process or processes for identifying issues that funders and nonprofits need help figuring out. The focus should be on topics that participants can share internal research, evidence, and stories to inform thinking across the social sector. Topics could include the spread of “fake news,” how to deal with the substantial numbers of Americans who favor emotion over evidence, or isolation among people who share like news, attitudes, and political views. Through these processes, the Network can bring people together to address smart practices for addressing challenging communications topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Launching fundable, facilitated dialogues that put the Network at the forefront of surfacing and sharing ideas about how to handle the most pressing challenges in communications. These could be paid participation or grant-funded roundtables, convened because of the Network’s efforts to identify issues where its unique brand of leadership is needed.
  • Regardless of the availability of outside funding, the Network will organize dialogues around diversity, equity, and inclusion in social sector communications. The Network will explore how to improve diversity within the sector and inclusiveness in decision-making as well as how to address diversity, equity, and inclusion amid prevailing narratives that have made it more difficult to address these topics.


Identify and share ideas, practices, and tools that position foundation and nonprofit communications professionals to influence choices within their organizations in ways more likely to benefit individuals and society.

The tactics the Network will use to accomplish this include:

  • Identifying and cataloging smart practices for communications that improve lives, especially among people who have historically been subject to racial discrimination or economic injustice.
  • Developing a point-of-view about what constitutes smart communications. This POV, which could take the shape of guiding principles, a code of ethics, or a set of core competencies, will be developed through environmental scans, meetings and events, and contests.
  • Identifying leading practitioners and elevating their narrative-shaping ideas.
  • Fostering subgroups of participants oriented by roles, organization types, or issue areas, subject to member demand. Such targeted efforts could include using the Online Member’s Community to promote self-organizing opportunities such as conference meet-ups and offering programs tailored to the identified needs of these groups.


Ensure the Network aligns the activities of ComNetLOCALs with the Network’s goal and objectives, builds their capacity to support field leadership, and takes other action to distribute leadership in ways meant to ensure the Network maintains trust and intimacy.

The tactics the Network will use to accomplish this include:

  • Structure ComNetLOCALs to support the Network’s goal and objectives, foster communications leadership in metropolitan areas, spread ideas, scan for trends, and actively listen.
  • Giving people other opportunities to lead, gauging their commitment, and capitalizing on their knowledge, skills, and interest to create a more-inclusive Network. This effort includes identifying longtime participants, emerging local leaders, and “super users” who bring racial, ethnic, or gender diversity as well as new knowledge, skills, interests, and abilities.


Implement a multi-year business plan for the Network the CEO creates with support from the Board of Directors that identifies specific costs for activities, identifies diverse revenue sources, makes subsidies explicit, and includes scenarios for organic growth as well as for weathering the onset of an economic recession.

The tactics the Network will use to accomplish this include:

  • Mapping the Network’s activities to develop more explicit rationales for activities such as the ComNetLOCALs. Questions include: How does this activity reinforce a strategic goal or goals? How does this activity inform, enhance, or conflict with other activities? How much does this activity cost, in terms of money and dedicated time?  
  • Developing a business plan that outlines the benefits, costs or tradeoffs, revenue, and projections for each activity – including explicitly addressing the role of foundation support. This plan also should ensure alignment, sustainability, and the flexibility to take advantage of one (1) or two (2) opportunities that arise during the period through 2021.
  • Use the business plan as a tool for evaluating and approving annual budgets. The business plan will guide the CEO’s annual budget presentations to the Board of Directors in collaboration with the Finance Committee.


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