Breakout #2: Incorporating a media strategy in your information work


Facilitator: Andrew Sherry, Vice President/Communications, Knight Foundation Scribe: Megan Brownell, Chief Communications Officer, Arizona Community Foundation

The group discussed challenges and ideas around developing rich content and moving that content out into the community, utilizing both traditional media channels and social media platforms.

Most participants work for an organization with two or fewer communications staff and also produce vast original content. Only a small minority said they use communications to advance the work of the foundation vs. to advance the foundation itself.

In an information age, the work doesn’t always speak for itself. We should see communications as twin pillars of content and outreach; yet participants tend to be heavy on either content production or outreach. But both are within our grasp.

Foundation boards tend to desire exposure for programs, often without dedicated communications staff. Idea: reach out to nonprofits to produce content, allowing the foundation to focus on dissemination (e.g., invite grantees to give presentations during public forums about how their work is impacting the community.) Content can be generated from newsletter articles and grant write-ups written by program officers; these can all be blog-ready if staff are trained to write them.

The communications director is more of a strategic thinker and should not be seen as a publicist, which is a more tactical professional whose job is to get messages placed. It takes work to convince a board that a communications practitioner is a strategic asset. One participant’s staff conducted a brief survey during their annual donor event asking people about the foundation and its mission. They then took this data to the board to illustrate how even their donors don’t understand their role and work. This led to deeper research and eventually to an organizational re-branding.

Another strategy is to “hijack” the news: attract media interest and draw attention to your work when it ties into major news. Incorporating an announcement about a new study into the foundation’s blog and driving users to read the study makes the foundation’s work relevant and positions it as a data broker.

The group shifted to discussing social media, as participants agreed that amplification can no longer be achieved through shrinking traditional media.

Most people are using Twitter incorrectly in that they’re pushing polished, public-relations content rather than communicating an evolving process. Statistics show that users are four times more likely to post, comment, share and blog when Tweets show the thread of the work rather than the whole cloth; statistics and facts also move around well on social media.

Twitter can be especially beneficial for reaching marginalized communities: the most common Twitter users are Hispanic women in their 20s with some education, and African-American males under 30. Twitter is used more in urban environments, whereas Pinterest is used more by women and in more rural areas.

When attempting to engage new Twitter followers, behave as though you’re the audience you’re trying to reach. Find thought leaders and follow them to understand what matters to them; then, develop content and strategies that intersect. The act of following on Twitter becomes an introduction.

When major news happens and correlates to your foundation’s work, solid media relationships will allow you to position foundation executives as subject-matter experts. Build relationships with the media to know what they’re looking at and writing about, then make yourself useful, responsive and helpful at the right times.

The group discussed the importance of defining your social media voice before choosing platforms. One expert advised deploying Twitter first, then Tumblr, a newsletter, a blog, and finally Web site—which is the opposite of the traditional order. Twitter helps you define what matters to the community you serve, while Facebook is useful for event photos. The struggle is switching from thinking about audience to community.

Communicators often feel behind the curve instead of in front of it when it comes to foundation staff using social media, yet the group agreed different staff Tweeting can build the foundation’s voice in various subject areas. Infrastructure/training are required for staff to do so effectively.

Best practices and advice:

·      Your social media voice needs to be personal and authentic.

·      Curate your activity in a way that’s positive for your organization and community.

·      Avoid pushing the same message/image across all social media platforms, or using one platform to drive users to another (e.g., Tweeting about a new Facebook post).

·      If you want people to follow you, follow them.

·      You don’t have to have thousands of followers to get the word out; it’s more important to have thought leaders and influential followers.

·      4-5 Tweets per day is appropriate, and not only during business hours.

·      Tweet Chats can be useful to engage users around a topic of shared interest.

·      Messages need to be tailored knowing the audiences are different across channels. 

·      Write headlines that are Tweets; develop content that works across multiple platforms.


·      SlideShare – upload PowerPoint presentations. Utilized by small-business owners.

·      “50 Social Media Tips for Nonprofits” (available on SlideShare) – takes you to many tools.

·      Klout – good site to see who are the influencers

·      Tweetdeck allows you to see all of your staff’s social media posts in one place

·      Quantcast – social media user demographic information

·      Instagram is now owned by Facebook – users tend to be younger

·      Tumblr – becoming an alternative voice on the web. Lightweight blogging platform, created mainly to share images and comments on images. Images can go viral quickly. (Examples: Mother Jones online vs. Mother Jones on Tumblr—check out to see the very different voices.)

·      Mail Chimp can deliver e-newsletters

·      Crescendo Interactive, Gift Law have automatically generated e-newsletters with content mainly for professional advisors. Another option for this is the Planned Giving Design Center, but they will only work with one organization per market.