Foundations face unique communications challenges—from amplifying the voices and work of their grantees, to advancing their overall mission and goals. To effectively address these challenges, the following five areas are essential components of a foundation’s digital strategy.
To address the biggest challenges that arise within each component, we’ve provided five questions for foundations to ask themselves when developing and/or optimizing their digital strategy.
1. Your digital profile
“To what extent should we profile our foundation as a forward-facing resource on our key priority issues? Do our grantees ‘do the talking’ or do we?”
Crafting a consistent brand is critical to ensuring that users think about your foundation the 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 cheerleader, giving grantees the ability to directly voice the work that you are supporting?
Foundations that elevate their grantees are often able to increase their own influence. For those that seek to elevate their leadership and programmatic experts—through blogging, op-eds, speaking opportunities, etc.—this strategy is an excellent way to extend the foundation’s voice and reach.
Addressing your foundation’s profile and positioning should not be limited to your communications staff but extended to your leadership, board of directors, and end-users. Ensure you have a clear understanding of the time and resources needed to effectively create, produce, and disseminate key messages.
2. Your digital content strategy
“How do we ensure that our content and messaging not only attract prospective grantees but also other target audiences? What channels do we need to 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 statistics and quotes, while policy staffers may prefer in-depth research and insights that they can then dig into further.
No matter your approach, always keep internal content governance at the forefront. If you need new content, you must be able to produce that content and maintain it. Are you archiving or deleting outdated or underperforming content? How many hours per week can your staff dedicate to maintaining content? Do you have a style guide to ensure newly-created content is consistent, regardless of who authors it?
Take a look at your foundation peers. What sets you apart from them, and how can you take advantage of your audience feedback to provide novel content offerings that are distinctly yours?
3. Your storytelling strategy
“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 why the public should care?”
Typically, foundations have a relatively easier task of attracting prospective and current users because their primary function is to provide grants. The challenge is determining how you can widen your reach and extend your brand awareness to diversify the types of visitors you are getting, beyond those looking for funding. To reach a broader audience, 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.
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 content on your various digital channels.
4. Your 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? How do we maintain the relationships we have?”
Establishing trustworthy, solid relationships with the media and social 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 is by providing a compelling story as to why you are an expert source and continually communicating that story to maintain those relationships.
Repurpose content such as videos, event recordings, blog posts, and other resources, and share them across social media channels and with media contacts. This allows you to keep content fresh without having to invest a lot of new work and gives your media and influencer partners the content they need to extend your message.
5. Your data & how you measure success
“How do we create goals and performance indicators that we can measure and track over time? How will we ensure that the plan we have in place is working and to know if/when we need to pivot?”
A foundational element of your digital strategy is to establish clear processes and tools to track user behavior against organizational goals. A website’s data analytics tells you what’s working well on your website, and where there are opportunities for improvement. Tracking KPIs on your social channels, ads, email automation platform, and CRM allows you to make sure you are delivering the right content, at the right time, to the right people.
Invest in a data visualization or business intelligence tool, such as Tableau or Power BI, to aggregate all your data sources into a single tool so that you’re able to glean actionable insights at a more global level.
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