“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”—George Bernard Shaw
Entering 2012, the LGBT movement in the United States had a miserable 0-32 record at the ballot box. By the end of the year, that history was history. In the interim, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state voted in favor of marriage equality. Today, 59 percent of Americans support marriage for gay and lesbian couples. That strong majority includes the President of the United States, scores of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and now, 36 states. This did not happen by accident. Advocates in the LGBT movement, armed with new data-driven communication strategies, recalibrated the national conversation. The results were stunning.
You’ve heard it before—communication matters. Social sector organizations that communicate well are stronger, smarter, and significantly more effective at creating social change.
At the Communications Network, we have one goal: to help those who do good do better. We believe smart communication has the power to improve lives. This belief is rooted in the many success stories of organizations from across the social sector that have taken big ideas and made them move. Over the last 10 years, we’ve achieved a reduction in poverty, increased literacy, witnessed a healthier population, and seen greater support for the arts and a cleaner environment, to name just a few accomplishments.
But there is much more to do.
The Communications Network, working with our research partners David Brotherton and Cynthia Scheiderer, recently launched Communication Matters, an ambitious project aimed at learning what distinguishes social sector organizations that communicate well. We spoke to communications professionals, CEOs, executive directors, trustees, and program leaders from nonprofits and foundations alike to collect ideas and opinions, data and evidence, case studies, and models that have led to great communications.
From there, we distilled all we heard and learned into a succinct model: Communication helps drive social change when an organization’s brand, culture, strategy, and action are aligned.
The average American is exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day. 3,000! That’s a lot of soda, sneakers, and cars. But as science has explained and Madison Avenue has long understood, every one of us needs to hear one message at least 20 times before it sticks. Investing in communication—whether you’re selling soda or social change—yields results. As our recent research confirmed, we all get that communication matters. The question is, how do we do it well in service of the greater good?
We’ve invited some of the brightest minds in the sector to help us answer this question. It is the Communications Network’s honor and privilege to partner with the Stanford Social Innovation Review to bring you a series of provocative thought pieces from leaders whose organizations excel at making their ideas move.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Freedom to Marry, the Next Generation, Barr Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and others will join us to begin to answer a number of big, thorny questions facing the social sector and its communicators.
Through this series, we hope to explain why investments in communications pay enormous dividends, to demonstrate the purpose and impact of strategic communications, to examine how an idea moves, understand the power of a nonprofit brand, and more.
We live in an astounding era, where powerful new tools and approaches can foster conversations, spark debates, launch ideas across the globe, and deliver change. As agents for social change, we have covered remarkable distances, but we have further yet to travel.
With a nod to Mr. Shaw, we hope this series will upset the illusion of communication, and prompt an important and timely conversation within the sector about the value and impact of smart, strategic communications, and how to make it happen.