At the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF), we aspire to “go viral.” Whether this sounds good to you may depend on your generation—or how recently you have battled a cold. I will put your mind at ease by saying that we aim to share messages rather than multiply germs. Similar to powerful examples such as the Arab Spring, and less powerful but more fun examples, like the video of a kid in a car seat dancing, we strive to engage people through communications. By doing so, we believe we can help our foundation fulfill its value around transparency and reach its mission. We believe that communications of any kind—from convenings, newletters, and annual reports, to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—can help philanthropy achieve the outcomes it seeks.
So why should foundations communicate? Below are three reasons that drive WRF and that we believe should drive philanthropy to prioritize communications as a strategy to effect change.
BIG MISSION, SMALL STAFF: Communication is Engagement
WRF has a big mission—to improve the lives of Arkansans—and a small staff. That said, there are dozens of foundation grantees, hundreds of state policymakers, thousands of community and business leaders, and three million Arkansas residents. If we are to achieve our mission, we must reach beyond the doors of the foundation, and with a clear vision, engage others in taking the actions necessary to improve Arkansas for all of its residents.
CHOIR IS STRONGER THAN A SOLO: Communication is Common Language
Like a soprano sings best from the high end of the scale, WRF speaks most authentically from the foundation perspective. A soprano solo is lovely, but to add richness, depth, and volume to the music, a choir adds the voices of altos, tenors, and basses. When adding new voices, the notes are not uniform for all singers, but the chorus is the same. For WRF, adding new voices can provide new perspectives and amplify our messages around what it takes to move the needle in Arkansas.
LIVE AND LEARN: Communication is Dialogue
It is easy to approach communications as a one-way street, with a foundation developing a message and hoping that those we communicate with will receive it. It is far more effective, however, to undertake two-way communications. WRF approaches communications as a dialogue, and therefore has the opportunity to learn and grow based on what its partners and the public communicate back.
We invite other foundations to join us in “going viral.” And of course, we should take this opportunity to encourage you to help us become a little more viral ourselves. You can find us at www.wrfoundation.org, and we encourage you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Regan Gruber Moffitt is senior associate for public policy at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The organization is one of four recipients of the 2013 Wilmer Shields Rich Awards for Excellence in Communications—a partnership of the Council on Foundations and The Communications Network.