Communications boost health policy

Most grantmakers in health policy do not take full advantage of the role communications programs play in influencing public policy, a recent report says.

The report, “Communicating for Policy Change,” includes highlights from a November 2006 Grantmakers in Health dialogue with 90 health grantmakers and communications experts and seeks to orient health funders to the use of policy in affecting change.

A 1997 survey of the nation’s 95 largest foundations, conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, found that only 15 percent sought to build personal contacts with journalists and policymakers, reach audiences through electronic media, and publish the results of their work regularly.

Most surveyed, about six in 10, reported engaging only in “FYI,” — “for your information” — communications, such as annual reports, grant releases, and program brochures.

The new Grantmakers in Health report cites costs, as well as the delicate legal do’s and don’ts of foundations’ role in policy and advocacy, as two of the reasons grantmakers hesitate to develop more broad-based communications strategies.

The IRS restricts private foundations from engaging directly in, or earmarking grants, for lobbying activities.

Drawing together both theoretical and practical advice from a variety of sources, the report delineates a plan for implementing a policy-focused communications program, and identifies common problems experienced by foundations in the process.

Best practices outlined in the report include a step-by-step procedure for designing a communications campaign aimed at generating public-policy solutions, from defining goals and audiences to creating an effective message and choosing an appropriate delivery method.

The report also recommends grantmakers build their grantees’ capacity, an activity often overlooked, and highlights training and development opportunities beyond simple monetary support.

Grantmakers in Health is a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to increase the effectiveness, knowledge and skills of health funders by building partnerships and generating and disseminating knowledge.

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