This is a story about how foundations can use communications to up their game and achieve greater programmatic impact.


The field of philanthropy has come a very long way in the last 15 years or so—especially where communications is concerned.

As recently as the year 2000 many foundations routinely avoided attention in any form, preferring instead to make grants quietly and steer clear of the limelight. Foundation communication directors were few and far between. Websites, where they existed, were little more than brochure-ware. And annual reports were printed grants lists that provided about as much context as a phone book.

In fact, until the past decade or so there was an overriding sense that grantmakers should avoid being talked about at all. The funder’s job was primarily to invest in good work, but from a polite and respectful arm’s distance.

Fortunately times are changing.

Today foundations of every stripe are embracing the power of communications in new and critically important ways. Grantmakers large and small, especially private family foundations, are recognizing the power not just of their checkbooks, but of their own voices and brands as well.

"Speaking of Change" presents six unique examples of what it looks like when a foundation is willing to experiment with strategic communications and push the boundaries a little bit. All six case studies are drawn from the work of a single funder—the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. But six different institutions could easily have underwritten them.

At the end of the day, who supported this work matters less than why they did it, and what they learned along the way. The six case studies detailed in this site all took place between 2000 and 2015 (some are still ongoing). A few commonalities worth noting:

Each case study illustrates a different type of creative experiment.

They were calculated risks in communications as a strategy for effecting change.

They involved relatively modest financial investments—at least in comparison to more traditional programmatic grants.

And they were virtually without precedent for the organizations and people involved.

Philanthropy has shown a lot can be learned in 15 years time—and a lot can change, too.


Breaking the Back of the Shark Fin Trade

How celebrity PSAs reduced demand for an ancient dietary tradition in the most populated country on earth—and helped save threatened shark populations READ

A Flock of Nerds Saving Seabirds

How experimentation broke the hamster wheel of conventional thinking READ

Protecting Rainforests, One Thin Mint at a Time

How two Girl Scouts fought the dirty palm oil industry and won READ

Helping Scientists Tell Better Stories

How good storytelling helps turn research into action READ

Gaming the System, Changing the World

How social impact gaming can help nonprofits reach higher levels READ

How to Succeed in Networking While Really Trying

How children’s health advocates are using social media to share ideas and advance policy goals READ

The stories cut across all program areas of the Packard Foundation, supporting our theory that communications—wherever you are, whatever you are working on—can make a difference.

This website wants to make a difference. Will you help us get the word out?