Speaking of change

By Katy Penrod — Minerva Strategies

Communications is often viewed as an afterthought in the field of philanthropy. Many are of the mind that communications falls outside the real “meat” of what an organization does. We know this to be untrue. Communications is an integral part of how organizations promote positive change, and a new report proves it.

With the rise of new media and the increased opportunities and connections it creates, foundations of all kinds are capitalizing on the power of communications to affect real change.  In light of the evolving environment of philanthropic and foundation communications, Brotherton Strategies, a longtime partner of Minerva Strategies, has released an exciting new project: Speaking of Change.

Speaking of Change is an interactive website showcasing a collection of six unique case studies that demonstrate communications initiatives that advanced social change objectives or philanthropic programmatic goals. The case studies, chosen in collaboration with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, offer specific, point-in-time examinations of several noteworthy and relevant projects that helped the foundation up its game and deepen its impact.

The cases span a range of common issues in the philanthropic sector – endangered species, marine ecology, conservation, science, reproductive health services, and children’s health advocacy – and each serves as an example of what it looks like when a foundation is willing to push the boundaries of what communications can be and accomplish.

Girl Scout
Rhiannon and Madison with their poster on the importance of stopping use of palm oil in production of Girl Scout cookies

Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, for example, were only eleven years old when they set out to end the use of palm oil (the harvesting of which kills off precious rainforest habitat and releases greenhouse gas emissions) in Girl Scout cookies. With support from the Packard Foundation, Climate Works, and Climate Advisors, they capitalized on the power of communications through a national media tour to promote more sustainable food production practices at Kellogg’s (who produce Girl Scout Cookies) and beyond. The media tour was hugely successful, gaining coverage by major media outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, getting the attention of policymakers at the EPA and state senators, and leading Kellogg’s to commit to reducing their use of palm oil and only use palm oil sourced using zero-deforestation policies. Climate Advisors estimated that the tour reached some 10 million people!

Game for Change Festival 2014

By drawing on lessons from each of the case studies and surveying the cumulative wisdom of the lot, Brotherton Strategies presents specific findings for each of the philanthropic fields represented. In order to create effective social impact games, for example, Games for Change (G4C) immersed their team members in the medium they were trying to utilize: video games. This lesson applies to the field of technology in particular as developments are made at a breakneck pace, but is applicable in countless communications sectors – in order to reach a certain audience, you need to be fluent in their language.

The website is interactive and fun; full of images, videos (like this PSA calling for an end to use of fins of endangered sharks in Chinese foods), links, infographics, quotes from expert sources, and primary resources, making it a rich source for professionals in the communication sector looking for inspiration as to new ways to use communications and validation of the importance of communication to advance social change. More importantly, each case represents a story – how each experiment came to be, what happened over the course of the project, and what real-world change resulted – engaging the reader with personal accounts of real-world implementation of innovative communication strategies.

Speaking of Change was funded by a grant from the Packard Foundation. The ideas expressed reflect Brotherton Strategies’ perspective, informed by more than 20 years of working at the intersection of communications, policy, public relations, and philanthropy.