Using a “Communications Lens”

If communications is strategy, why is it so often squeezed in at the very end? A consultant who frequently advises foundations and nonprofits on communications described a typical scenario: “We’ll get a call from an organization saying, ‘We have a report with some really interesting findings on education in California, and we want to release it in three weeks. Will you help us?’

So they’ve waited until three weeks before the report is released to get help with outreach, rather than thinking about it much further upstream” — what the report is about, who they want to reach, how to get those people involved from the start, and how to frame the report in language that target audiences can understand and use. Treating communications as an add-on to the “real” work, like tacking on evaluation at the end of a project, means missing out on the full value of the activities and investments.

A communications lens can also remind everyone to ask who else owns the agenda the grantee is pursuing. A funder of think tanks observed, “When funders talk about communications for think tanks, they usually mean that every grant should have a dissemination strategy, or that you should earmark 10 percent of your funding to do communications around the research: the policy briefs and press release and public meetings.” All of that is important, she said, but the bigger challenge is to keep in mind that there are people out there who actually want answers to the questions the researchers are investigating. “We ask them up front, ‘Why are you asking this question? Who is the audience?’” When the answers to those questions are clear at the beginning, the final product is far more likely to connect with the information needs of people working in the field. The result is outcomes, rather than just outputs.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Communicating For Impact.