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Wednesday, June 15, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lisa Pool
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Analysis finds communications becoming more central to foundation strategy

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New York, NY –Communications professionals at America's grantmaking foundations are responding to the digital age, according to a new survey from the Communications Network. The survey of 155 foundation communicators shows U.S. foundations are making use of all forms digital communications, especially social media, a toppriority. The survey results suggest the growth of social media and other emerging digital technologies is changing the way foundations communicate with target audiences.

Almost half of foundation communicators surveyed (47%) said they work for organizations that have blogs and over three-quarters (76%) host videos on their websites. On average, respondents estimated that nearly a quarter (24%) of their communications dollars in 2011 would be spent on electronic communications, more than any other tactic, although printed annual reports and other print publications still consume a sizeable share of the communications budget. Increasing capacity for new media and related digital work was cited as a high internal priority by 60 percent of survey participants, more than any other response.

"As philanthropic organizations continue their efforts to advance social change, they are increasingly relying on online communications to support this work,” said Bruce S. Trachtenberg, executive director of the Communications Network. "Like many other organizations dealing with leaner budgets, foundation communicators are expected to do more with less while keeping pace with the changing communications landscape. A foundation communicator these days needs to be well-versed and agile in using a variety of communications strategies – from traditional media relations to tweeting and blogging – to reach key audiences in immediate, highly targeted ways.”

The survey results show that despite the economic slowdown, budgets for foundation communications have remained stable over the last three years for nearly half of the survey respondents (49%). Over a third of the respondents (34%) said their budgets declined, and 17 percent said their communications budget increased over the past three years. Online and social media projects, such as multimedia production and other interactive tools, were at the top of communicators' wish lists, but respondents said budget allocations for these projects remain small.

"Communications staff surveyed expressed a strong desire to use innovative tools more often, but they also face tight budgets, so they will have to continue to be very creative in promoting their organization's positions and products in economical ways,” Trachtenberg said.

The survey shows that reaching and influencing policy-makers were among the highest communications priorities cited by foundation communicators. Close to half of the respondents (47%) said that influencing public policy-makers was a high-priority objective. In fact, more respondents (55%) rated policy-makers as a "high-priority” target audience than any other group, although community leaders (53%) and current grantees (52%) followed closely.

To gauge the role of communications in the work of grantmaking foundations, the survey included questions about how senior leadership valued the contributions of their communications staff in helping to achieve the organizational mission. Nearly half of the respondents (48%) said that leadership has helped make communications central to key foundation activities, including grantmaking, advocacy work and other social change initiatives. Over one-third (36%) said that foundation leadership is in the process of integrating communications into all aspects of the organization's work. Just one in six respondents (16%) said integrating communications into all aspects of the organizational mission is not happening at their organization.

"One of the main trends I've noticed in recent years is that foundation communications departments are playing a more central role in helping their foundations achieve their missions,” Trachtenberg said. "Increasingly, program department staff seek communications counsel on components of substantial grantmaking initiatives at their conception and as they are taking shape.”

The survey was designed and analyzed by Hamill Remaley breakthrough communications, with data collected in February 2011. Respondents included 155 foundation communications professionals from across the United States. The Communications Network conducted a previous survey of foundation communicators in 2008.


Formed nearly 20 years ago as a membership association, the Communications Network today is a stand-alone nonprofit organization that promotes the use of consistent, strategic communications as an integral part of effective philanthropy. The Network connects communications professionals working in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to each other for guidance and mentoring and regularly sponsors learning and networking opportunities through webinars and the annual conference. Today, the Network's membership represents a wide range of foundation communications leaders and consultants who work to advance communications strategies and practices in all mediums.

The Technology Affinity Group (TAG) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization that promotes the power of technology to advance the goals of the philanthropic sector.