SSIR – Express Yourself

From our perspective, there are three things every foundation can do more of, locally or globally, when it comes to strategic communications:

Steward time strategically. The Ford Foundation has a broad social justice mission and global footprint—there is no shortage of topics to which we might speak. Time is our most precious asset, and we do our best to put it to optimal use. Rather than try to speak to everything, we tie most opportunities back to the topics our leaders are passionate about and actively prioritize. By accepting more invitations than we turn away, we generate good will and more opportunities.

Be comfortable with taking risks. We deliberately have avoided leaning on talking points and traditional messaging when our leaders are out speaking. Last year, Darren helped celebrate Ballet Hispanico. In addition to sharing some more-traditional remarks about the dance company, we got creative and made a video of us doing some dancing of our own. More than anything else, the video reflected a sense of fun and authenticity that people responded to far beyond our expectations, which leads us to our final point…

Be authentic. We know from surveys like the Edelman Trust Barometer that the public, by and large, does not trust its institutions or leaders. Why? Often because the public does not believe that what institutions and leaders say is what they actually do. Their messaging often comes off as manufactured rather than meaningful, and their humanity gets lost in translation. There are so many dynamic, interesting leaders in philanthropy, but too often foundation leaders take a conservative stance, rather than speaking from candid, relatable experience. Our leaders are more effective when their communications reveal their humanity and vulnerability in the service to their missions.


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