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Foundations Put New Emphasis on Communications, Report Says

Resource type: News

The Chronicle of Philanthropy | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Grant Williams.  More and more foundations are paying increasing attention to the role of communications in furthering their public-policy work “in ways that go far beyond the annual reports, press releases, and grant lists of yesteryear,” according to a new study of 18 foundations published by the Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy at the University of Southern California.

“Communications, far from being an afterthought or occasional add-on, is at the very center of successful policy engagement for these foundations,” says the report, “How Foundations Use Communications to Advance Their Public Policy Work.”

Foundations use 10 distinctly different strategies to increase their engagement in public policy through communications, the report says, five of which are “within the grants program.”

For example, 12 of the 18 foundations provide grantees with access to communications support, which “includes expertise provided by consultants or networks or directly through foundation staff to further an organization’s skills and expertise in policy development, messaging, social media, polling, and other general communications tools,” the report says.

One particularly interesting dimension of this approach “is consulting support that provides common strategy and message development to a cluster of grantees working on a single foundation initiative,” the report says.

“The California Endowment requires that all of its grantees in children’s health coverage work with a consortium of communications firms that it has created as a way to establish a common communications framework, language, and narrative—and thus enable the grantees to speak with one voice,” the report says.

Five strategies that are “beyond the grants program” include doing “direct media outreach” in the foundations’ own names, according to an accompanying discussion paper, “The Communications Supercharge: How Foundations Are Using Communications to Boost Policy Engagement.”

“Almost all the foundations support efforts where the grantees speak, but the distinction here is the foundation name on the release, report, op-ed, or other form of outreach,” the paper says.

In another approach, foundation chief executives often use the “bully pulpit” on policy issues, depending on their temperament and inclination, the paper says.

For example, the paper says, “Gara LaMarche (Atlantic Philanthropies) speaks and writes on social justice issues. Paul Brest (The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) and Bob Ross (The California Endowment) blog on a variety of philanthropic and policy issues. Grant Oliphant (The Pittsburgh Foundation) tweets to point people toward important conversations. Vartan Gregorian (Carnegie Corporation, of New York) quickly assembled a group of higher education representatives in an effort to ensure that the stimulus funding did not bypass higher education and later signed on, as an individual, to a New York Times advertisement making that same case.”


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