The Communications Network: Reinventing a strategy and business model to achieve greater impact
A network created to serve communications professionals within foundations had questions about its future.
A reimagined network with a bolder vision for advancing change that expanded opportunities for membership, programming, and revenue.
In 1979, The Communications Network was founded to provide resources and guidance to help advance strategic communications practice within philanthropy. After three decades of serving communications staff inside foundations, the network found itself at an inflection point amid a rapidly changing communications environment. In 2011-12, after gaining a solid financial footing after several years of turmoil, the network partnered with Community Wealth Partners to develop a strategic plan for its next phase of growth and impact.
Community Wealth Partners helped the network rethink its operating model and approaches to raising revenue. This involved working directly with various stakeholders, including representatives from some of the largest foundations in the nation. Going into this process, the network’s board leadership realized they wanted the network to have a bigger impact in the field, but they were unsure what this might look like. Ultimately, they decided to broaden the network’s focus beyond serving the needs of communications professionals inside philanthropy to include communicators from high-performing nonprofits, accelerating efforts to elevate the role of communications in the social sector to support local, national, and global change initiatives.
The execution of this broader vision prompted the hiring of a new leader to guide the network into this next stage after the prior leader had capably guided the network through a financial crisis several years earlier. This new leader (the sole staff member at the time) and the board worked to expand participation in the network, which created new opportunities for revenue. The network initially experienced challenges designing programming that would appeal to both groups – foundation and other nonprofit communicators. Over time, new members became more engaged and offered programming suggestions covering a wider array of new topics to advance knowledge and practice. The Communications Network now cultivates and develops future leaders through local groups in 18 cities, promotes greater social sector investment in communications, and offers an array of learning offerings for network participants through webinars, publications, and post-conference social outreach.