I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Communications Network Conference in New Orleans last week, an annual gathering of communications professionals from nonprofits, foundations and industry consultants like Prichard Communications.

Not only was I able to catch up with friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a client with whom our roots run deep, but I came across colleagues from many of our partner agencies like Paul Knipe of Vermilion and Eric Antebi of Fenton.

I was also fortunate to make new acquaintances with representatives of organizations across the US, like Heidi Holtz of The Gifford Foundation which works with refugee and immigrant communities in Central New York. I met Ida Ortegon of Paso del Norte Health Foundation that promotes health and prevents disease across three southern states and two countries—Mexico and the US. And I was introduced to the funny and dynamic Mark Dessauer of BlueCross BlueShield North Carolina Foundation who is working on transformative capacity building for his grantees who work to improve outcomes for vulnerable populations and communities across North Carolina.

In short, I sat alongside a group of some of the smartest cookies I’ve ever met, and for two days was inspired by the following lessons learned (and so much more):

  1. Radio, newspaper, video or online—storytelling is ‘in’ in a big way. We were treated to several story themed breakout sessions and truly inspiring speeches from David Simon, producer of “The Wire,“ “Latino USA’s” Maria Hinojosa, and award-winning author, Junot Diaz. These sessions and speeches reminded us of the importance and power of the story for social change. RWJF social media manager, Erin Kelly, summed it up best in this great blog post: Are the fault lines…for storytelling the battle lines for philanthropy?” It’s food for thought.
  2. Social media is no longer a fad for foundations and nonprofits; it’s a staple. Social media is here to stay, and isn’t just for the communications department—opportunities abound for program officers, field staff and upper management to integrate social media into their workflow. But, any real investment should be driven by a clear strategy with buy-in from stakeholders.
  3. An investment in communications is a good one—and an even better one if you start early. Communications support can and should be carefully woven into each and every level of an organization’s growth or individual project for maximum impact. The Atlantic Philanthropies, for example, shared with us the story of the Community Experience Partnership, a project that integrated communications from the beginning point–the RFP—and had successful outcomes as a result.
  4. Communications people like to tweet! Master Tweeters like Emily Culbertson took it online and among our humble conference of a couple hundred people, the tweets buzzed so loud and so frequently that rumor has it, our hashtag #comnetwork13, trended!

Did you attend the conference? What did you learn? Who did you meet that inspired you? Here is a photo of a dinner group I was lucky enough to be part of—all smarty pants-es who inspired me!

Courtesy of Denise Graveline

Courtesy of Denise Graveline