Is Anybody Listening?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Two years ago the Foundation embarked upon an initiative to communicate more effectively. We wanted to raise its profile so that high quality potential grantees would know about it and apply for grants. We wanted to give existing and past grantees a forum to showcase their good work. And we felt an obligation to share what we have learned.

Toward that end we redesigned the Foundation website and took to social media. Facebook is a staple for any organization with a story to tell. If you have not been to our Facebook page please check it out. Tori Lackey is the main engine behind it and has done a good job of creating and obtaining grantee and other topical content. The Foundation has also undertaken publication of a weekly blog, Giving Matters. Next month it will launch a monthly newsletter. We have published articles on various aspects of Foundation grant making and more are in the hopper. This is a concerted and expensive effort.

Is anybody listening?

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) conducted survey of 36 foundations (average size $370 million) and their grantees and published these findings:

  • - The majority of foundations use social media tools in their work.
  • - Very few grantees use social media from their foundation funders or their funders’ staff.
  • - Grantees that do use foundations’ social media find those resources less helpful than other communication resources for learning about the Foundation.

If these 36 foundations cannot get their grantees to use their social media, then it seems reasonable to suppose that nobody else is using it. And if the grantees of the surveyed foundations are not listening then why would we think that our grantees are listening to us?

The obvious answer is that we do not know.

Our blog experience has been instructive. The original idea was to edit and post my pages from past Monthly Reports. We are finding that when the subject matter is an idea or lesson about philanthropy almost nobody reads it. When we write about a grantee – or get a grantee to guest blog- readership increases accordingly.

Facebook is the same. If we are to engage with our grantees and potential grantees then we must post news of their work and success stories or items or news that will interest them. Our other communications follow this vein. Most of our articles are more about Foundation grantees than the Foundation itself. The most interesting sections of our Annual Report are those about grantees.

It seems that effective communication is not telling the world about the Foundation and what it has learned. No one seems to care. Effective communication is leading a conversation that will interest and engage our grantees, potential grantees and like-minded people and organizations. We can only hope that we are in a better position to do this than the 36 surveyed foundations. However, it is evidence and not hope, which must drive Foundation operations.

CEP has developed a Grantee Perception Survey for private foundations. It is willing to tailor the survey and include social media and communication questions for our grantees. We are on the list for early 2017 and should have a report by spring. It will be instructive, especially with regards to our communication initiative.

Is anybody listening?