In the last few weeks, we’ve been very impressed with the Making Ideas Move blog series from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, presented in partnership with The Communications Network. Each of these posts makes powerful arguments or shares compelling examples about the importance of communication. While pretty much everyone would agree that communication is important in theory, these stories quantify just how important it is — and why organizations would be well served to invest more in communicating.
In January, a blog post entitled, “Meeting People Where They Are,” provided a profile of the activities of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a “nonpartisan educational institute” that spends 50% — that’s right, half — of its operating budget on communication. As the blog author, Daniella Gibbs Leger, senior vice president for communication at CAP explains in her post, “Our senior team has embraced and invested in communication, and everyone at CAP sees communication as part of their work. I believe this is what sets us apart from many of our peers and why CAP attracts some of the brightest policy minds. And if you look at the most successful organizations—no matter their mission—you’ll see that a strong and fully integrated communication strategy is always an important part of what they do.”
For CAP, this effort has paid off handsomely for their work in the policy arena, from shifting public conversations about the war in Iraq in 2005 to reframing the debate around the federal budget in 2013. In each case, CAP not only offered an idea, but ignited conversation and support for it by working through multiple channels — blogs, social media, events – even a film series. This single organization has been able to help drive social change by engaging in robust communication.
That’s a national example, but targeted communication is just as important at the local level. CQ Roll Call, a news and intelligence resource for advocates, recently published a case study entitled, “$12,000. 70 Volunteers. 8 Ballot Victories.” This case outlines the success of a tiny grassroots campaign to legalize marijuana use in several Michigan towns. The advocates were driven by polling results in each community, and supplemented that information with local experts who understood the nuances of the issue. “When it comes to predicting the behaviors of others, your gut isn’t good enough,” says the report. Informed with polling data and local expertise, the communication emphasis wasn’t on creating a large public debate, but in using research to craft very targeted messages and delivering them one-on-one. “… there were no email, social media or print campaigns -- and definitely no air time. Rather, the activists -- some of them local -- chatted up leaders at City Hall and then got out and knocked on doors.” As a bonus, the edginess of the topic generated earned media to supplement the advocates’ efforts. The $12,000 budget wasn’t large, but it was entirely — 100% — devoted to getting the message out there.
Nonprofits often get mired in the day-to-day challenges of service delivery. But communication can change that. What could your organization do if it upped the ante in communication? How could you change behaviors, or policy, or investment in a way that shifted the environment in which you operate? How could even a nominal communication investment help you improve the service you offer — make it better, more targeted, or more effective?
When you consider those questions, you realize that communication is much more than just a tool — it’s a means of transformation. ACS is ready and equipped to help you explore the possibilities. Let’s get in touch to discuss your organization’s communication transformation plan.