Communicating your work

Association of Small Foundations 2010 ConferenceThe Association of Small Foundations invited me to be a part of a panel today about “communicating your work.” This was at their annual conference, which was held here in Austin.

First — and there is no false modesty when I say this, so — first, I have to ask: Really? Uh, okay.

Second, I have to ask: Is this “communications” thing something the attendees are even interested in? Because a lot of times when I talk to people about communications in small organizations, they don’t want to know, and for good reasons:

1. Chances are there is no one on staff dedicated to communications at their foundation, so they’re the ones who have to get the work done… and they have plenty to do already, thank you Miss Panelist.

2. They feel obligated to avoid any kind of PR or marketing because they don’t want it to be about them. “Who, little old me? Why, no one cares about foundations! We want the focus to be on our grantees!” Come on.

3. Thirdly, they actually want to hide. They are overwhelmed with grant applications and have, in some cases, removed all contact information from their website so no one can write to them anymore.

So today I faced an audience of about 70 foundation founders, directors, managers and other professional roles, and to kick things off, we asked them about their current communications. Here was their breakdown (from eyeballing a show of hands):

– 0 had a staff member dedicated to communications/marketing
60 had websites
2 had blogs
12 had Facebook pages
2 had Twitter accounts
30 did annual reports

I had to ask, “How many of you have any desire to communicate what you do at all? Seriously, why are you in this room?”

Okay, I didn’t really ask that. But I don’t think it was an irrelevant question.

Instead I felt compelled to give them a pep talk. Here’s kind of what I said today:

Foundations and grantmakers have a responsibility to be an advocate for philanthropy. Do not be the anonymous donor. People need to see that a person or organization is taking responsibility for an issue so that they can envision a role for themselves. Otherwise, they’ll always believe that “someone else” is taking care of it.

Foundations and grantmakers have a responsibility to be an advocate for their field of interest. You know the field better than anyone else. You know the change that has to happen and the programs and nonprofits that are making that change. If you hide that information from the public, you are doing only half the job that you should be doing.

Foundations and grantmakers have a responsibility to be an advocate for policy change. No one wants to speak up for change lest someone call them out on it. If your foundation is helping to make that change, you have a right to speak up. In fact, you have an obligation to the community to speak up. You can be the voice for that need because you are one of the few organizations actually doing something about it.

Foundations, you are doing fantastic work. The city thanks you. But don’t leave “change” on the table. Tell people about what you do, let them know things can get done and invite them to join you. People want a reason to give big. Give it to them!

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5 Responses

  1. Very insightful observations. Tell me more … inspire me.

  2. Great messages. I am sure they appreciated the clarity and call to action. Thanks for all you do.

  3. Well said, Monica! People are constantly looking for opportunities to make a difference, to leave a legacy. Community foundations do so much and yet are often unsung heroes. Thanks for all you’re doing to advocate for philanthropy!

  4. One of the other things I suggested was that they forget all about this social media stuff – unless that’s where their audience is. They really just need to focus on their core audience, stay on message, and communicate with them the way they like to be communicated with. If they prefer a print newsletter, do that. If they like the monthly lunches, stick with that. Don’t try to drag your current audience into a platform they don’t want to use.

    And I love social media! But just because it’s a cheap and easy tool doesn’t mean it’s the best one.

  5. Great insights about social media and meeting your audience where they are. Thanks for sharing this.

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