A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Seizing the Opportunity to Tell Our Story Online

Like many private foundations, ours has historically kept a relatively low profile. That all changed a decade ago when our board and staff embarked on a strategic planning process. It became clear through its community conversations, interviews, and research that our foundation had a real opportunity to extend our impact by improving our communications.

We recognized, our president & COO often says, that we needed to tell our own story. We had an important opportunity to make our funding priorities clearer to potential grantees, to be more visible (and ensure we would continue to be invited to sit at the table during important community discussions), and to build the strong relationships with nonprofit and community leaders centered on mutual understanding and cooperation that have been at the heart of our work since 1926.

BBF has become proactive in its communications over the past decade

We created a website, began submitting regular press releases to our local newspapers, and worked with students at local Ball State University to create a series of short videos featuring our grantees and community. We’ve seized the opportunity to tell our own story.

We also jumped into the unknown-to-us world of social media. We made a conscious decision to focus our efforts only on Facebook. This was a practical decision driven by the fact that we have a small staff and we wanted to pick one thing…and do it as well as possible.

A few years in, here are a few of the benefits our family foundation sees to using Facebook:

  • Shine a light on the work of our grantees and influence community attitudes. Whereas our “financial capital”—grant dollars—can make a big difference, so too can “reputational capital” that helps grantees attract new donors and volunteers, and also shapes community perceptions.
  • Reinforce our mission, history, and grantmaking priorities. As a 90-year-old foundation with fourth-generation family members involved, an important part of our story is the ongoing commitment of the foundation—and the Ball family—to our local community. We use posts to reiterate our past, our present, and our future.
  • Eliminate barriers and reduce the power dynamic. Foundations are often viewed as mysterious and unapproachable. Social media allows opportunity for two-way communications, providing a space for the public to weigh in with comments, share links, and ask questions.
  • Keep our board (and other extended family members) informed. Like many family foundations, our board members are increasingly dispersed geographically. Facebook allows us to help board members (and other extended family members) feel more connected to the day-to-day work of the foundation and to visually see how foundation support is making an impact.

Has your foundation taken the social media plunge? I’d love to hear why or why not. If you have, what have you learned?

Jenna WachtmannJenna Wachtmann is a program officer with Ball Brothers Foundation, a family foundation based in Muncie, Indiana. She is a graduate of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

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