How can philanthropists use communications to shape debates, unlock resources, and change behaviours?
We have entered, as Kofi Annan writes in his foreword, “a new age of philanthropy and the sick, the poor and the vulnerable are benefitting”. It is an era defined by what Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in 2009 dubbed “philanthrocapitalists” – a new generation of high-net-worth individuals using their wealth for public good. Six years later, in the US alone, the ten largest grant-making foundations have assets valued at over 120 billion dollars.
In this publication, we look at philanthropy exclusively through the lens of communications. We look at a range of issues – from cultural attitudes to philanthropy to the power of big data. We examine how philanthropists are using communications to shape debates, unlock resources and work to change behaviours. And, in a ground-breaking study, we detail how philanthropists are harnessing social media.
“Philanthropy exclusively through the lens of communications”
In our experience, those managing communications for philanthropic ventures often face bigger demands and challenges than many of their counterparts in similar roles in business or government.
They have arguably the broadest possible range of audiences to reach – often simultaneously lobbying global leaders while at the same time harnessing the support of remote communities in the countries where they operate.
Many need to be adept at forming complex coalitions and partnerships. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work on malaria, for example, has successfully brought together an extraordinary array of faith groups, global corporations, governments, multilaterals and mass membership movements.
They often not only need to communicate to their own audiences, but also devote considerable resources to helping their grantees and partners to communicate effectively too.
Finally, many communications practitioners, particularly in those foundations set up by high-profile individuals, need to strike a delicate balance. They must somehow take full advantage of the founder’s ability to court controversy and speak truth to power, while maintaining the communications focus on their organisation’s core mandate.
Most excitingly of all, philanthropic organisations often reflect in their communications the same culture of innovation and creativity that enabled their founders to make their fortunes. Foundations, for example, are at the forefront of experimenting with new media, prompting genuine dialogue and reaching new audiences.
The result is that, through their global communications, philanthropic ventures help to challenge the negative portrayal of the developing world which can be the accidental impact of the big NGOs. Instead, their work more readily involves generating debate, showcasing new ideas and celebrating success and progress.
It is a goal we at Portland are proud to support. We work with a wide range of philanthropic organisations to help get their ambitious messages across. If we can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Measurement and evaluation