Making the Invisible, Visible

Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Communications Network Fall 2013 Annual Conference conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by  Maryland M. Grier, Senior Communications Officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation.  Follow Maryland on Twitter – @marylandgrier.

Grier1When plenary speaker Maria Hinojosa said, “make the invisible visible,” in talking about underserved communities, I heard the word, “aha!” in my head. For me, a lifelong priority has been to support folks who are often referred to as ‘the underdog.’ Often, we in foundations identify the exemplary or popular grantees for media interviews, videos, or features, when in fact, we have hidden jewels whose stories will resonate as more human, real stories for reporters as well as their audiences.

Our new strategic focus at the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) is to help more people of color gain access to better health care. (See our pretty cool infographic).  In Connecticut, 65 percent of the people who do not have health coverage are people of color – many invisible to the general public. These are immigrants, working poor, or people whose primary language is not English. Maria’s comment made me realize the importance of humility and a sincerity when listening to ‘invisible’ people – also leaders in their own rights– for their perspectives. I have been inspired to work in partnership with grantees, Navigators and in-person assisters and other partners to ‘make the invisible visible’ so that they too will have a say in the health care system and how it’s working for them.

Communications professionals, especially in philanthropy, tend to like to stay behind-the-scenes, making things happen – or be invisible themselves.  Conferences force ‘invisibles’ to be ‘visible.’ That is… if you want to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from your peers.  For me, that meant I had to do more than sit in a room taking notes.

So, aside from Maria and the other presenters, I actually learned the most from my fellow invisibles – over lunch or dinner, walking to a session, or getting a cab with members of the Network who were very generous and intelligent about various aspects of our work as strategic communicators. What I found most helpful were conversations with peers, questions raised by attendees, and presenter responses.  In light of Maria’s comment, the theme that emerged and resonated for me was ‘storytelling.’ Some of my conversations with peers from other foundations opened my eyes about how else I can use stories or parts of stories.

  • For example, one foundation uses stories to share with board members to give them a real sense of the impact of the investment.
  • Another extrapolates quotes or talking points from stories to use in speeches, videos, reports and other presentations. Just as Maria told the parts of stories during her keynote, I will weave in quotes for use in media interviews or speeches.
  • Another idea shared was to build in time during a board meeting to invite in grantees and clients, not to report on findings from a policy brief, but to share success stories with a human face. It is important to build in time for program to connect the story to the mission and program strategy—building in time for questions and answers.

How have you made the ‘invisible, visible’ in your work as a communicator?

I welcome your comments on the impact of storytelling in accomplishing your mission and goals.

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