If you build it, they might come

August 4, 2010 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

If you’re a baseball fan (or a Kevin Costner fan) you’ve probably seen the movie “Field of Dreams.”

There’s one line in the film that has stuck with me over the years: “If you build it, they will come.” That’s what many of our nonprofit partners think when they build a great program for the community using grant dollars.  They believe that as long as they have something great to offer, people will come pouring through the doors. But, in reality, that just doesn’t happen– because people don’t always know the great program or service exists.

For the past few years, the Saint Luke’s Foundation has been working to figure out why that is and have identified one critical element that’s often missing: a strong communications program.

Our partners – and yours – have great stories to tell, but they don’t always tell them in a way that makes them “stick” in people’s minds. That’s why earlier this year we launched the “Make it Stick” program where nonprofits could apply for financial support for communication programs, projects and materials. We strongly believe communications are critical to the effectiveness of any program led by our partners and we’re putting our money where our mouth is. That is – we are willing to support communications capacity building.

To that end, from January through April, eligible organizations could submit applications to the Saint Luke’s Foundation for grants designed to cover new or existing communication programs, activities or materials. These requests could include, but were not limited to: strategic communications plan and  development consultation; research aimed at guiding the creation of messages and communications strategies; a communications assessment; media relations planning, buying, monitoring and training; websites, including design, development/programming and copywriting; annual reports; and more.

The program clearly struck a chord, as evidenced by the response:

  • We held a standing-room-only information session in February to answer nonprofits’ questions about the RFP and help them think through their responses.  More than 100 people attended the session. Because of the overwhelming response, we had to add another session – which we conducted by webinar for another 35 participants.
  • We provided scholarships to the Public Relations Society of America five-part series of nonprofit communications seminars called “BIG PR Planning on a Nonprofit Budget.”  Eleven individuals used Saint Luke’s funded scholarship for the series.
  • Taking advantage of the web and social media, the Foundation posted information about the RFP on its website as well as on Facebook and Twitter; it was subsequently shared and re-tweeted across cyberspace.
  • We received 161 responses to the RFP totaling nearly $7 million.  From that pool, we ultimately made 10 grant awards totaling $513,000. For a list of “Make it Stick” grant recipients, click here.

Some people asked us “Why do this now?”  They wanted to know why we would encourage organizations to spend their limited funds on something like communications. Some even suggested that in this economy, communications is a luxury some organizations simply cannot afford.  To that – we respectfully disagree.  Now is not the time to retreat. Just like in the child’s book “Horton Hears a Who!” when the Mayor of Who-ville tells a young boy, “We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts! So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” – these organizations need to be shouting their messages from the rooftops, and we want to help them.

Nonprofits work hard every day to make progress, create change, build alliances, engender community trust and help people help themselves. Our “Make it Stick” program is the unique funding opportunity they need to get the resources they require to tell their stories in compelling, effective ways that “stick” with their intended audiences.

If you’d like to learn more about our program and how a program similar to this might be useful in your community, feel free to contact me via email at kstjohn@saintlukesfoundation.org or at 216-431-8010. And remember, communications is NOT a luxury that nonprofits can’t afford. In fact, communications is something nonprofits can’t afford NOT to do.

Kim St. John-Stevenson
Saint Luke’s Foundation
Cleveland, Ohio

Kim St. John-Stevenson joined Saint Luke’s Foundation in 2007 in the newly-created role of Communications Officer. Prior to that she held senior level communication roles in corporate, nonprofit and consulting organizations.

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Entry filed under: Communications, Grantmaking.

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