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Why a Foundation’s Digital Strategy is So Important

Elisabeth Bradley

Vice President, Strategy, Forum One

Sara Tetreault

Brand Strategy Director, Forum One

Foundations face unique communication challenges from navigating leadership transitions to aligning projects with the priorities of a board of directors and ensuring that funding represents the most critical needs facing its focus area. To address these challenges, foundations are leaning more deliberately on digital communications to solve big policy issues.

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Five Strategic Areas for Foundations’ Digital Communications

The following areas are vital questions for foundations to ask themselves when tackling communications goals.

1. Profile

To what extent should we profile our foundation as a forward-facing resource on our key priority issues? Do grantees “do the talking” or do we?

Crafting a consistent brand is critical to ensure that users think about your foundation they way you want them to. Do you want to position your foundation as a thought leader and resource on your key issues? Or do you want to serve as a megaphone, allowing grantees to take the spotlight promoting your profile through their work?

Foundations that elevate their grantees are often able to increase their own influence. For those who seek to elevate their leadership and programmatic experts, this strategy can also give the foundation a louder voice. However, doing so requires more internal content creation resources (i.e., through blogging, op-eds, other externally-facing communications).

Quick tip: Questions about profile and positioning should not be limited to your communications staff, but extended to your leadership, board of directors, and end users. Executing your digital strategy requires a clear understanding of how much time you have to internally invest in content creation, production, and dissemination.

2. Content Strategy

How do we ensure that our content and messaging both not only attracts prospective grantees, but also other target audiences? What channels do we use?

Most foundations struggle with communicating in-depth research and offering high-level content for the general public. Knowing your audiences and having a firm grasp on how you prioritize them will help you determine what information will be the most beneficial to share on particular platforms. For example, members of the media will likely need high-level stats, quick quotes, while policy staffers, on the other hand, may need in-depth research and guidance that they can download and physically bring to relevant meetings.

Keep your internal content governance in the forefront. If you need new content, you must be able to *write* that content, and maintain it. Are you archiving or deleting outdated or poor quality content? Do you know (roughly) how many hours per week your staff can dedicate to maintaining content? Do you have, or will you need, a digital content style guide to ensure newly-created content is consistent, regardless of who authors it?

Quick tip:  Speak directly with your users! Also, take a look at the landscape of foundations that are similar to yours. What sets you apart from them, and how can you take advantage of unique qualifiers to provide novel content offerings that are distinctly yours?

3. Storytelling

How do we humanize our work to help solve complicated policy issues? How do we convey the importance of this work, why these topics matter and that why the public should care?

Typically, foundations have a relatively easier task of attracting prospective and current users because their primary function is offering funding. The challenge is determining how you can widen your reach and extend brand awareness to diversify the types of visitors looking for funding. To reach this broader class of content seekers, you should think about how to humanize the issue areas you’re tackling. One way to do this is by showcasing grantee success stories and their impact on everyday issues and people. It also means serving as a convener, connecting your stakeholders to other important players.

Quick Tip: Set up an online form for your grantees to provide success stories. Encourage them to create videos, take photos, and offer statistics and other important information about their work. This, in turn, allows you to focus on editing, polishing, and publishing their content on your site and social media channels.

4. Effective Media & Influencer Partnerships

How can we form effective partnerships with the media and other policy influencers? How can we ensure that they partner with us as an effective resource and thought leader?

Establishing trustworthy, solid relationships with the media and social media influencers is another way to ensure your profile is widely promoted. Reaching out and cultivating frequent dialogue with the media and influencers in your space will give you a leg up. Part of cultivating these relationships will be providing a compelling background on why you are an expert source. 

Quick tip: Think about how you can balance proactive communications (i.e., putting out content to inform policy debates around your issue areas) with reactive/opportunistic communications (i.e., reacting to real-world events). Repurpose content in reaction to big news events around an issue area you cover. Pull together recent videos, event recordings, blog posts, and other resources, and share it across social media channels and media contacts. It keeps content fresh without having to invest a lot of new work and gives your media and influencer partners content to use on their own channels.

5. Data & Measuring Success

How do we create goals and performance indicators that we can measure and track overtime?  How will we ensure that the plan we have in place is working and when we need to pivot?

A foundational element of our digital strategy should be ensuring there are clear processes and tools in place to track user behavior against the foundation’s goals. A website’s analytics are the best way to see a detailed story about what’s working well, and where there are opportunities for improvement. But you don’t need to limit yourself to just the analytics you can pull from your site. Your measurement strategy should include checking in with your audiences to make sure they are getting what they need and want, perhaps this is through surveying your grantees at key points in their funding cycle or conducting a yearly survey with your stakeholders. For a truly holistic view, pair these quantitative and qualitative data sources with your media and social media engagement numbers.

Quick Tip: Start with some key questions around site goals and visitor engagement within your site to familiarize yourself with them. If you are using Google Analytics, perhaps it’s time to upgrade to Universal Analytics to take full advantage of the new collection and reporting features available. Create a baseline survey that you can use once per year to see how your content is performing with your audiences. And invest in a social media measurement tool, such as Sprout Social.

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Written By

Elisabeth Bradley

Vice President, Strategy, Forum One

Sara Tetreault

Brand Strategy Director, Forum One