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Funders urged to tell better story

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PJ staff report

Foundations can do a better job telling the story of change they are trying to create a new report says.

Staff members at many foundations say their strategies for change exist only as a chart, dashboard or diagram, strategies that can lead to misunderstandings, rather than using a narrative to explain the change they are trying to accomplish, says From Big Ideas to Big Change: A Communications Guide for Grantmakers, a report by Spitfire Strategies.

Three-fourths of foundations the communications firm surveyed agree that, for a funder’s change strategy to succeed, grantees must play a critical role in communicating about the central concepts of that change, the report says.

But nearly half those foundations concerned they do not know which grantees should be communicating about which concepts.

“Today, foundations commit more resources than ever before to communicating about their work and missions,” Kristen Grimm, president and foundation of Spitfire Strategies and author of the report, says in a statement.

“But grantees continue to give funders low marks when it comes to fostering a clear understanding of what the foundation is trying to accomplish and where they fit in. ”

With many foundations “struggling with the challenge of clearly articulating” their goals and strategies for attaining their goals to grantees and the public, the report says, foundations must not only communicate their change strategy fbut also must “engage with grantees to describe where they fit it.”

To do that, it says, “everyone within the foundation needs to understand your change strategy and know how to talk about and engage people in this strategy.”

Lack of clarity among grantees about a foundation’s change strategy and the grantee’s role, it says, “leads to inefficiencies and missed opportunities.”

Program officers, for example, “spend more time reviewing grant applications that do not meet their needs,” it says.

“The overall impact of your foundation may diminish as projects fail to make progress toward the change you want to see,” it says, “or organizations that can help make the change happen do not apply for grants because they don’t know how they are a fit.”

In addition to measuring foundations’ communications success, grantees can also be “invaluable communicators of central concepts that are core to your change strategy,” the report says.

“If foundations don’t actively look for synergies among their work and their grantees’ work,” it says, “they miss important opportunities to further multiple agendas and create the very buzz they need to turn the changes they envision into reality.”

The report includes steps foundations can take to develop a communications strategy to support their strategies for change, as well as a planning tool to put that communications strategy into practice.

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