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19 posts from January 2012

These Days Everyone Can Be a Communicator...But Is That Enough?

January 06, 2012

(Bruce Trachtenberg is executive director of the Communications Network, an organization of people who work for or on behalf of the nation's grantmakers, and Michael Hamill Remaley is vice president of communications and public policy, Philanthropy New York.)

StandoutfromthecrowdorangemansqThese days, everyone is a communicator. After all, how hard is it to send a tweet, post to a blog, or even shoot and upload a video?

Many people in charge of foundation and nonprofit communications have taken advantage of this trend by encouraging others in their organizations to develop and share content through online social networks.

Indeed, as they increasingly see that their messaging can be amplified by many voices, both on staff and off, one can imagine foundations asking: Do we still need professional communicators on staff? Why can't we all just say what we have to say? In a world of decentralized distribution of news and ideas, do we even need a communications department?

That last question obscures a fundamental fact. A successful foundation communication program isn't simply the sum of its tactics, regardless of whether those tactics involve "old media" like sending out press releases or more contemporary activities such as blogging, tweeting, or posting to Facebook.

What matters most is the strategy that unites these otherwise disparate elements so that the right message is delivered to the right audience through the right channel with a clear goal in mind.

That may be why the roles and responsibilities of communications staff members are actually deepening instead of fading away. And that'll continue to be the case as digital communications evolve and the competition for the attention of policy makers, community leaders, and others grows more fierce.

The changes under way in how grantmakers get their messages out can be seen in Foundation Communications Today, a report from the Communications Network that analyzes the findings from a survey of a hundred and fifty-five communication staff members at foundations across the country.

Almost half the communicators polled for the report said the leaders of their foundations had taken steps to ensure that communications strategy was incorporated into grantmaking, advocacy, and other work undertaken to advance the foundation's mission.

Why are foundations making communications a key element of their work? Because most foundations are in the business of advancing the public good, and the changes they seek to foster require demonstrating, sharing, and, in many cases, encouraging both public and private-sector investment in new solutions to challenging problems.

To convince foundation leaders to make communications integral to their organizations' work, communications staff recognize they have an internal selling job to do. Yet, as our survey shows, they are succeeding in their efforts to make other parts of the organization see both the benefits of integrating communications into their work and sharing responsibility for its implementation. As one respondent told us: "We have endeavored to be a much more well-integrated organization. Complete integration will take time, but our program officers think about communications at the start of the grant process rather than at the end of it." Another said: "As we are doing more and more advocacy, it seems communications is taking on a greater importance and our board has allowed our budget to reflect this, despite having much less money since the market collapse."

Let's be honest: we have a ways to go. Many of the communicators we surveyed said that efforts to better integrate communications into everything their foundation does is happening slowly, and a small but significant share said communications strategy is barely considered in decisions about advancing the mission and that it tends to be addressed at the end of a big project rather than throughout. And then there was this response: "Program staff seem to be making decisions without thought to the importance of properly messaging our work. Initiatives are designed without any communications goals -- or input asked for -- and later the communications department is asked to cobble something together."

Still, our communications brethren are making progress, and the survey provides valuable insights into specific ways communications departments are successfully working with and supporting the efforts of their program colleagues to advance their organizations' missions.

Asked to choose from a list of possible activities in which they might participate, for example, providing support for program-related events -- which could mean anything from organizing a discussion of experts to arranging a movie screening showcasing a grantee's work -- was identified as the most common form of support, with some 79 percent of respondents saying they regularly do this. And more than two-thirds of communication staff members say they advise/work with their program colleagues to develop content for Web sites.

Many foundation communicators also play a critical role in helping bring the important work their organizations do to the attention of key audiences. For instance, close to half of those polled said that influencing public policy-makers was a high priority, followed by community leaders and grantees.

The survey also shows how the work of foundation communications is changing. Almost half the respondents said they work for organizations that have blogs, while three-quarters (!) said their organizations host videos on their Web sites. Survey respondents also estimated that, on average, a quarter of their communications dollars in 2011 would be spent on electronic communications, more than on any other "channel," although printed annual reports and other print publications still consume a sizeable share of the communications budget. At the same time, increased capacity for new media and related digital work was cited as a high internal priority by 60 percent of survey participants, more than any other response.

In short, the findings suggest to us that a foundation communicator these days must be adept at orchestrating a variety of communications tactics, from traditional media outreach to tweeting and blogging, if he or she hopes to reach key stakeholders in immediate and thoughtfully focused ways.

It's also quite clear that every good-sized foundation needs at least one professional communicator on staff. Simply put, the jobs we do are central to ensuring that a foundation's message is heard and actually makes a difference.

-- Bruce Trachtenberg and Michael Hamill Remaley

3 Ways Your 'T-Shape' Helps You Collaborate

January 04, 2012

(Thaler Pekar recently collaborated with Jay Rhoderick of BizProv to deliver the opening plenary at the 2011 New Jersey Non-Profit Conference. This is an excerpt from that plenary, "Productive Partnerships: Building Trust and Creating Collaborations." In her last post, Thaler offered seven tips for sharing stories in your organization.)

T-shapedThe metaphor of the "T-shaped person" is often used by human resource professionals to describe people who possess both deep expertise and broad knowledge of other disciplines.

Tim Brown, CEO and president of Ideo, explains how his product design firm applies the concept when hiring:

"We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they're willing to try to do what you do. We call them 'T-shaped'. They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T.... But they are so empathetic they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well [the horizontal line]. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need."

Let's consider the metaphor in more detail, focusing on how important your T-shape is to your ability to collaborate....

Continue reading »

2011 Year in Review: What to Expect in 2012

January 02, 2012

If you have a 401(k), you know that past performance is no guarantee of future results. As we look ahead to 2012, however, we can't help but think the next twelve months are going to look a lot like the last twelve.

As was the case in the latter part of 2011, uncertainty around the eurozone debt crisis and slowing economic growth globally will contribute to volatility in the markets, which is likely to keep a lid on charitable giving here at home. Although a majority of large nonprofits surveyed at different times during 2011 reported that gifts and donations were up, expect total giving for the year, as reported by Giving USA, to barely top the $290 billion registered in 2010. And in a "muddle through" economy like this one, don't expect the figure for 2012 (when it's reported in the summer of 2013) to show anything but modest growth.

In the category of known knowns, the political gridlock that characterized 2011 will be with us through Election Day, at least. That means no major changes to marginal tax rates or the deduction for charitable giving. The payroll tax holiday is likely to be extended through the end of the year, but there's little chance of additional stimulus spending, which means the unemployment rate will remain stuck north of 8 percent, while foreclosures will continue to weigh on home prices. As a result, nonprofits that deliver frontline services can expect more of the same: growing demand for their services with little or no increase in their revenues. Nonprofits of every kind will be pressed by their funders to work smarter, to collaborate more, and to devote more time and resources to measuring their performance and results.

Political gridlock also will ensure that American society continues to be organized for the benefit of the 1 percent. Emerging from its winter hibernation with renewed energy, the Occupy Wall Street movement is likely to add corruption and self-dealing in Washington to its list of grievances. But as income inequality in the U.S. grows, don't be surprised if the movement focuses its attention on philanthropy as well. In fact, we'd be surprised if there isn't at least one OSW-related protest at a high-profile philanthropic conference or event in 2012. (And the folks in Davos can pretty much count on it.)

Practitioners working in the field will continue to push for change in the year ahead. Open data, performance measurement, impact and mission-related investing, social impact bonds -- all will be debated, pushed, promoted. As Antony Bugg-Levine, recently named CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, told the New York Times in November: "[Philanthropy boasts large pools] of money that have traditionally been invested solely to achieve a financial return. If just a fraction of those assets gets invested in this way, it can make a significant difference."

We don't disagree, though we wonder how big the difference is likely to be. Some of the most difficult problems we face -- climate change, growing inequality, the technology-driven loss of jobs -- are, like philanthropy itself, byproducts of a distinctly Anglo-American form of capitalism. But just as we're skeptical that more debt is the solution for too much debt, we doubt that any of these problems will be solved by philanthropy becoming more like business.

Instead, expect to see calls for greater accountability in philanthropy emerge as a movement in its own right in 2012. Adopting the slogan "private dollars for public good," a social media-empowered generation of young Americans will use the cheap and ubiquitous tools at their disposal to push for more diversity on foundation boards, more transparency in foundation decision-making, and more democracy in the allocation of tax-advantaged philanthropic resources.

We live, as the Chinese proverb would have it, in interesting times. The next twelve months are unlikely to disappoint.

Related Links:

Social Impact Investing in Small and Growing Businesses on the Rise, Report Finds (4/04/11)

IRS Reverses Course on Audits of Donors to Politically Active Nonprofits (7/11/11)

Charity Fundraising Saw No Change During First Half of 2011, Report Finds (9/29/11)

Donations to Largest Charities Still Below Pre-Recession Levels (10/18/11)

Nonprofits Optimistic Heading Into 2012, Survey Finds (10/24/11)

Foundations Increasingly Use Investment Assets to Achieve Their Missions, Report Finds (10/26/11)

SSIR@PND: Social Impact Markets (12/08/11)

Donations Are Up for 2011 Giving Season, Survey Finds (12/25/11)

 

2011 Year in Review: People in the News

January 01, 2012

The twelve months that ended on December 31 were noteworthy for the large number of foundation executives who stepped down from their positions or announced their decision to retire in the coming year. They included Greg Chaillé (Oregon Community Foundation), Feather Houstoun (William Penn Foundation), Margaret McKenna (Walmart Foundation), Aryeh Neier (Open Society Foundations), Gara LaMarche (Atlantic Philanthropies), Richard C. Leone (Century Foundation), Paul Brest (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation), Thomas Aschenbrener (Northwest Health Foundation), Karen Davis (Commonwealth Fund), Lance Lindblom (Nathan Cummings Foundation), and Gary Yates (California Wellness Foundation).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy, saw two significant departures in 2011: In February, Tachi Yamada, president of the foundation's global health program for the past five years, announced his decision to step down in June along with an interest in doing something "substantial" in his native Japan; and in October, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, founding president of the foundation's global development program, announced her decision to join the Walmart Foundation as president, effective at the beginning of the year.

The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation also saw significant changes at the leadership level. In March, Knight announced the appointment of Eric Newton, head of the foundation's journalism program for the past ten years, as senior adviser to president Alberto Ibargüen, and of Michael Maness, most recently vice president of innovation and design for Gannett, as vice president of its restructured journalism and media innovation program. It also promoted Mayur Patel to the position of vice president of strategy and assessment, reporting directly to Ibargüen. In mid-July, the foundation named veteran journalist Michael A. Silver as director of Northwestern University's Knight News Innovation Laboratory. And in December the foundation named Andrew Sherry as vice president of communications, effective January 9.

And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation caused some excitement at the end of the year with the announcement that Daniel Socolow, who has directed the MacArthur Fellows (a/k/a "genius grants") program for fifteen of its thirty years, plans to step down next July.

PND also noted the passing of several major philanthropists and philanthropic leaders in 2011. In March, Brian O'Connell, founding president of Independent Sector, passed away at the age of 81. Another giant in the field, Robert Payton, co-founder of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and the first full-time professor of philanthropic studies in the country, died in May.

In August, Ruth Caplan Perelman, a trustee of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Education Foundation as well as several other cultural and educational institutions, passed away at the age of 90, just months after she and her husband announced a gift of $225 million to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Also in August, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation paid its final respects to Creed Black, who served as president and CEO of the foundation from 1988 to 1999 and oversaw its development into a major philanthropic enterprise.

November saw the deaths of John Randolph Hearst, Jr., grandson of media titan William Randolph Hearst and a director of the Hearst Foundations; Evelyn Lauder, daughter-in-law of cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder, founder and chair of the the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and one of the recipients of this year's Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy; and larger-than-life financier and philanthropist Theodore J. "Ted" Forstmann, who helped pioneer leveraged buyouts in the 1980s and coined the phrase "barbarians at the gate" during the buyout craze of the 1990s.

The year ended on a sad note with the passing of Margaret Mahoney, a luminary in the world of health philanthropy, on December 22. President of the Commonwealth Fund from 1980 until 1995, Mahoney was the first woman to head a major U.S. foundation. "The models she conceived for the role of foundations in effecting change continue to influence grant making around the U.S. today," said current Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. "It was inspiring to follow in her footsteps, and to build on the wonderful foundation she constructed at the Commonwealth Fund. She will be missed."

Related Links:

Community Foundation Update (1/22/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (2/06/11)

Gates Foundation Head of Global Health to Retire in June (2/16/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (2/13/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (2/20/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (3/13/11)

Brian O'Connell, Founding President of Independent Sector, Dies at 81 (3/23/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (3/27/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (4/24/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (5/15/11)

Robert Payton, Co-Founder of Center on Philanthropy, Dies (5/26/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (6/12/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (6/19/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (7/03/11)

Steve Gunderson to Leave Council on Foundations (7/07/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (7/10/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (7/24/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (8/07/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (8/14/11)

People in the News: Appointments, Promotions, and Obituaries (8/21/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (8/28/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (9/18/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (10/02/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (10/09/11)

Walmart Foundation Announces New President (10/15/11)

People in the News: Appointments, Promotions, and Obituaries (11/06/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (11/13/11)

People in the News: Appointments, Promotions, and Obituaries (11/20/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (12/18/11)

People in the News: Appointments and Promotions (12/25/11)

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  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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