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Using Communications to Strengthen Philanthropy

Updated: Jun 4

A person writing in a notebook with a laptop in front of them

By Abby Rolland

Sometimes, philanthropy can be perceived as being only about giving grants, or grantmaking. While grantmaking is at the heart of what funders do, there are a number of tools they can use to amplify their impact and highlight the vital work of their grantee partners.

One tool to use is communications. By using a variety of communications platforms and tools, funders can increase transparency, amplify partners’ efforts, draw attention to important issues, and conduct outreach to potential partners. Funders can also strengthen relationships with their partners and can incorporate communications into their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) efforts (while also using a DEIA lens to design their communications content).

In my role as the Grants & Communications Manager for The Presser Foundation, one of harp-weaver’s clients, I have visibly seen the power of communications and how it can do all of the above. See this blog post to learn more about why the Foundation has invested in its communications.

And while The Presser Foundation has demonstrated the many benefits of communicating thoughtfully and regularly, it isn’t the first time that I’ve seen the role that communications can play. From starting my career as an AmeriCorps volunteer at a public charity in its marketing and development department; to creating and managing a blog and other communications projects for a school within a larger university; to seeing how a private funder in Florida used its communications to share about its work, I’ve witnessed throughout my professional experience the value that utilizing different communications tools can bring to an organization’s work.

On that, there are multiple tools that can be used to increase a funder’s communications and outreach efforts. Each funder needs to first determine the level of transparency and then what tools work the best for them to fulfill their mission. See some examples below (this is not an exhaustive list).

  • Email

  • Website

    • Blog

  • Social Media

  • Newsletter

  • Press Releases

  • Presentations at conferences, events, etc.

  • External Platforms (publishing on other news sources, blogs, articles, etc.)

For The Presser Foundation, it views its communications as a way to spotlight its grantee partners’ efforts. For example, an organization (for a general operating support grant) or an organization’s project (for a project grant) could be written about for the Foundation’s blog, which is published on its website. The Foundation then shares the blog post on its social media, tagging the partner in it for increased reach. The story could be incorporated into the Foundation’s newsletter and/or shared with a local news source where the grantee partner is based. In this way, the communications platforms are integrated so that each supports one another, and awareness of the partner or partner’s project is maximized.

Not only do communications amplify a grantee partner with the Foundation’s wider audience (thus, hopefully strengthening the relationship between funder and partner), using these tools can increase a funder’s transparency.

There’s a growing trend in philanthropy for increased transparency. In the past, many “traditional” funders closed the door to sharing information about themselves or their grants. While there are still funders who operate in this way (particularly smaller funders without the capacity to implement communications tools), the increased focus on transparency can improve the effectiveness of funder giving, reduce the burden on nonprofits for finding out information about funders, potentially increase collaboration with other funders, and more.

Funders can also use their communications platforms to draw attention to critical issues facing their funding areas. While there are limits to foundation lobbying, there are no legal limitations on funders using their platforms to call attention to broad social and economic issues, share a nonpartisan analysis, study, or research, or engage in regulatory affairs. The Presser Foundation, has used its platform to call for increased funding to the arts in Philadelphia.

Another way to learn more through communications is to conduct outreach to potential partners. With an active social media presence and updated website, it’s easier for organizations to 1) Find a funder 2) See if that funder is a match and 3) Learn about other nonprofits that the funder gives to. For smaller and community-based organizations, a greater online presence from a foundation can help those organizations connect more easily to a potential funding source.

There are many ways to leverage a funder’s communications to strengthen their own work and raise awareness about an issue. Nonprofits, whether current or potential grant recipients, can also benefit from increased funder communications as their efforts can be amplified to a wider audience.

And there are a variety of ways to practically incorporate writing within a funder’s work. A funder could hire an internal communications manager/director, outsource their communications needs to a firm, and/or hire a contract writer to create several posts. The amount of focus and capacity necessary for a funder’s communications efforts will help guide them on which method to employ e.g., if a funder is fully committed to continuously updating its website, publishing a blog post once a week, crafting a newsletter, updating social media platforms and engaging with partners on it, an internal communications person would make the most financial sense.

As I’ve seen throughout my career, by using communications, funders can be more transparent and can develop deeper relationships with their grantee partners and their communities. It’s another way in which funders can advance the work that they care about and that they’re dedicated to funding.

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