As a sector, the foundation community must have an enormously high IQ. If you take a quick look at the vitae of staff members of just about any foundation, you’ll find degrees in multiple fields—sometimes attached to just one individual. I know at our foundation most program associates have at least one master’s degree.
But when it comes to sharing ideas and convincing others outside the field? Not so smart there.
Despite the fact that everyone thinks they “get it,” most communications efforts are tacked onto projects, midway through or toward the end when everyone’s signed off and ready to share results. And frequently because of this approach, the best opportunities are overlooked and lost. Sometimes the message that would be most meaningful to make the argument never gets discovered. Sometimes the talking points get written before we know the language the audience speaks. And sometimes we are actually not talking to the most important audience—the one that has the power to make real change happen.
That’s why I was thrilled to serve as one of the judges for this year’s Wilmer Shields Rich Award. I was eager to see if there were some foundations that actually knew how powerful an integrated communications effort could be. I was hopeful that there would be at least one example of the kind of seamless communications work that can and should be woven into a foundation’s program as early as inception.
And the good news is, there ARE foundations that work this way. In fact, the panel of judges selected four. The winners, announced this week, include The California Endowment, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
In the application from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the author wrote:
It’s not entirely accurate to say that we’ve “integrated” communications into this work. Our communications staff members were and are critical to shaping and sustaining this initiative…This is one initiative where the line between communications and programs has become completely blurred—and this blurring of boundaries has become a model for our other work.
What a joy to read and what a goal to aspire to! Here’s hoping that “the line between communications and programs has become completely blurred” will be a mantra that stirs the soul of every program officer and foundation president! Building the case begins now.
Debra Rubino is the director of strategic communications at the Open Society Institute-Baltimore.