Small Foundations Can Have a Big Impact with Effective Communications
Hiring communications staff is usually not at the top of mind for small foundations. Administrative and grant-focused staff usually take priority, and while those positions are necessary, having a communications-focused staff member can also be beneficial to smaller foundations.
As a small health legacy foundation with five staff, we understand the need for efficient use of resources. We want to remain lean and nimble, but we also want to have a big impact. We have seen how focusing on communications can help a foundation meet our missions and advance our causes.
In 2013, our board adopted a new strategic plan which included "promoting our work" as one of the key objectives of the plan. Prior to this time, we typically used only our website and targeted emails to communicate about the work of the foundation. With this new strategic objective, it became clear that we were going to need to focus more of our resources into communicating not only with our grantees but also within the wider community.
Pragmatically, we shifted some of the grant responsibility from our program officer and promoted her to communications officer. We also hired a part-time program assistant to help with administrative functions of the grants program. Our program and communications officer developed the first communications plan for the foundation.
A communications plan should be in line with the organization's strategic plan. The plan doesn't have to be complicated or require specific software, but it should include some basic features: 2 or 3 key messages for the year, measurable and meaningful goals, and an evaluation plan. The purpose of The Healing Trust's communications plan is to provide more education to the community about issues that The Trust finds to be significant and to highlight the work of it grantees. The communications plan supports The Healing Trust's visions of being known for:
- Fostering an environment where collaborations and partnerships flourish
- Championing healing and wholeness
- Being a catalyst for compassionate caregiving
- Being zealous for just health policies and practices
Communications can be a part of what everyone does – even if you don't have a staff person dedicated to it. In our office, each staff member contributes to the communications plan by witting blogs or articles for the website and some staff also choose to share posts from our social media channels to their personal pages. Our senior program officer recently wrote a blog post that tapped into our goal of being zealous for just health policies and practices. In the blog, she shared a personal story and illustrated how an employer's policies can have a significant impact on the employee during life-changing events. Our staff also considers how external materials like our website, presentations, social media channels, and grant announcements can help us meet the goals of our communications plan and our strategic plan.
Having a small team doesn't have to be a barrier to focusing on communications. While it can be helpful to have a staff person solely devoted to communications, focusing on communications can be the shared responsibility of the whole staff with intentional planning and evaluation.
How will your staff integrate a communications focus into its work?
Kristen Keely-Dinger is the president and CEO of The Healing Trust; Jennifer Oldham is the Trust's program and communications officer.
The Healing Trust recently received three Parthenon Awards from the Nashville chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for its communications work. The awards are given to honor strategic and creative excellence by Middle Tennessee public relations and communications professionals. The Healing Trust is located in Nashville, Tennessee, and received awards for its newsletter, a blog post written by its CEO about beliefs that lead to burnout, and for a news release that announces its grantees. It has received a total of four Parthenon Awards, including a previous one for a case study on its re-branding process.