How Funders Can Expand the Role of Communications for the Organizations They Support
Institutional funders have traditionally played into the push for exceptionally low overhead. However, there are signs that this is changing.
New Philanthropy and proponents of Effective Altruism are shaking up the philanthropy space and challenging the status quo. Modern funders interested in achieving the highest possible impact per dollar. But they recognize that this doesn’t necessarily translate to lower overhead in every instance. Funders from the tech and corporate worlds also understand firsthand the need for good marketing and communications. And they naturally extend that lesson to the world of social impact.
Regardless of their background, all funders are in a unique position to help social impact organizations beef up their communications activities and skills. The role of funders should ideally be similar to that of venture capitalists. They should nurture and advise the organizations they support. The goal, of course, is to set their recipient organizations up for success. Just as a venture capitalist would make sure their startup had a marketing team and growth plan in place, funders should proactively insist on a realistic communications budget for the organizations and programs they support.
Here’s a rundown of the ways funders can approach communications budgeting:
- Unrestricted funding at the organizational level. From the perspective of social impact organizations, this is the gold standard. In this approach, funders provide unrestricted, lump-sum, long-leash funding to effective and trusted social impact organizations with a strong theory of change. The organizations then sequester a portion of the funding as needed for communications.
- Standalone communications funding. If unrestricted funding isn't an option, the next step down would be to provide organizations with a standalone communications budget that isn’t tied to any specific program or project.
- Program-specific communications funding. If a separate communications budget isn’t possible, then funders can provide additional communications funding at the program or project level.
- Additional support. Finally, funders (especially those with expertise in communications) can offer their guidance in terms of putting together a comprehensive communications plan and finding the right people to help execute the plan.