Global Practices

Communications Drives Social Impact for Charitable Foundations



The philanthropic arena has evolved significantly over the last few decades. As businesses have been called upon to operate as better corporate citizens, the roles and functions of charitable foundations have become less clear. Coupled with this is the emergence of new giving models, technologies and priorities driven by an influx of tech industry and foreign entrepreneurs. These shifts, which are further amplified by societal expectations around progress and philanthropy, have created an intense competition among philanthropic organizations for issue leadership, share-of-voice and supporters.

Given this context and the ever-changing media landscape, there is new urgency for charitable foundations to define their unique and critical roles in creating societal progress. To accomplish this, foundations must shift the conversation from “why now” to “we must,” to best to advance their positions, engage key stakeholders and initiate action on important issues.

By viewing communications as not only a way to share the story of a foundation’s social impact, but also as a driver of social impact, foundations can be better equipped to create the engagement initiatives necessary to realize desired social progress. Leveraging communications as a catalyst for progress requires activating three core elements:

  • Evolve: Our world is in constant flux, and as a result, our strategies, messages and activities must also evolve to ensure key audiences understand a foundation’s mission, programming, value and how they are a part of the change. Through the evolution of language and programs, foundations are better able to drive awareness of their focus and efforts as their cause becomes couched in the language and realities of today. As such, it is critical to create differentiating and engaging social and environmental programs that are measurable, high-impact, made to last and supported by robust communications, media relations and stakeholder engagement.
  • Ignite: Every movement needs a spark. For a societal change to take place, foundations must give key stakeholders a reason act now. Ignition can take many forms and is most effective when activated through high-profile, time-specific campaigns and initiatives in service of a specific foundation goal. Complementing the campaign by engaging social communities with digital storytelling and strategic community management helps ensure that ignition is not a solitary event.
  • Protect: To be a leader in change, a foundation must first be trusted. Protecting the reputation and enhancing the trust of a foundation and its leadership not only reveals greater opportunities to drive positive impact and advancement, but also protects the foundation’s license to lead on critical social issues.

By embracing the ongoing journey of evolving-igniting-and-protecting, foundations can work to ensure they remain relevant and effective in helping to advance society and overcome challenges. Never has it been more important for charitable foundations to engage on critical local, national and global issues – and never has communications been a more powerful tool in achieving the necessary engagement to drive progress and impact.

Michael Holland is an executive vice president with the Public Affairs practice in New York.

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