Breakout Sessions

Thank you to everyone who submitted a breakout session proposal for ComNet16. After reviewing numerous proposals representing nearly 300 foundations and nonprofits, the Communications Network Board and staff selected the 15 breakout sessions found below to be featured at this year's conference. 

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, Driving Change, these sessions share strategies, tools, research, big ideas, and fundamentals in communications to drive change. 

 

Knowing Your Digital Audience

Time

Friday, September 30 at 10:15 am ET

Session Leaders

Jessica Zetzman, Digital Marketing and Communications Manager, Case Foundation

Ariel Azoff, Head of Social Impact Outreach, Medium

Beth Diaz, VP of Audience Development and Analytics, The Washington Post

Session Description

With nonprofits and foundations feeling the pressure to be more efficient than ever, audience and stakeholder research has become critical. Today the best data-driven organizations actively generate actionable data by monitoring their social media analytics and running constant experiments and A/B testing.

Learn from three seasoned digital strategists on the best practices to refine your digital presence and measure impact. A/B testing and social monitoring doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming for your organization. Using new communications tools, optimizing for engagement and tweaking messages shared with your audiences via your digital communications are valuable ways to ensure your organization is not only talking to the right people, but that you also have clear, compelling and appropriate messages when you do. Learn how to examine the basics of A/B testing, social media monitoring and content creation in order to better engage with your online audiences and activate your community around your cause.

What are the three things you will learn from this breakout session?

  1. How to do basic A/B testing and the value in A/B testing
  2. How to make better use of social media monitoring and analytics to create relevant content and better engage with online audiences
  3. Learn about new metrics Medium is using, and how to ensure you're tracking the right metrics to rally your audience around your cause

Diversity Inside and Out: Building Inclusive Communications Strategies

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 11:00 am ET

Session Leaders

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation

Leslie Miley, Director of Engineering, Slack

Tonya Mosley, John S. Knight Stanford Journalism Fellow

Session Description

Organizations are increasingly recognizing that a diverse workplace is essential to advancing new ideas and tapping into a variety of skills, backgrounds and viewpoints. Embracing an internal culture of diversity however, does not automatically affect change in the way organizations communicate their messages externally or connect them to the groups they want to reach. That is, organizations looking to be more inclusive and engage wide audiences must also make diversity an entrenched part of their communications strategy.

This session will gather a group of influencers to discuss how communicators might help their organization's to reach, understand and integrate diversity into their strategic communications approaches. In addition to success stories, they will explore organization missteps and highlight problems that may arise when internal commitments to diversity do not resonate publicly.

What are the three things you will learn from this breakout session?

  1. Why making diversity a standard across organization communications is important
  2. How to change practices that hinder progress toward developing an internal and external culture of inclusiveness
  3. How to craft communications strategies and campaigns designed for multifaceted audiences

Hooray for Hollywood: Why and How to Work with Entertainment Media - The "16 and Pregnant" Case Study

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 3:00 pm ET

Session Leaders

Amy Kramer, Senior Director, Entertainment Media, National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Session Description

For 20 years The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has worked with content creators in entertainment media to bring stories and messages about these issues to vast audiences in a meaningful way.  With teen pregnancy rates at historic lows (since peaking in the early 1990s), two out of three people ages 12-24 say one reason for the decline is that teen pregnancy is “a more frequent topic in popular media such as TV shows, movies, magazines, and online.”  Two-thirds of 12-17 year olds say when there’s a “story about teen pregnancy I can relate to in popular media it makes me think more about my own risk.”  

Since MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” premiered in 2009, teen birth rates have declined a whopping 38%.  This session is a look at how working with Hollywood happens – do’s, don’t’s, tricks of the trade, relationship-building, and why it all matters.  We’ll also dig into the National Campaign’s partnership with the MTV shows, from greenlight to air to evaluation efforts.  

What are the three things you will learn from this breakout session?

  1. Tips for how to work with entertainment media
  2. How the MTV shows about teen pregnancy became a game-changer for the issue
  3. Clear and convincing evidence that entertainment can be a force for good

Brand as a Social Impact Driver

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 11:00 am ET

Session Leaders

Holly Potter, Chief Communications Officer, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Marc Moorghen, Communications Director, The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation  

Neill Coleman, Vice President, Global Communications, The Rockefeller Foundation

Diane Fusilli, Managing Director, Fusilli Strategic Communications (FSC)

Session Description

What does it take to drive social change through one's brand? Join three leading communications experts from the philanthropic side as they offer their unique insights into the making of a brand at distinct moments in the brand awareness process. More specifically:

  • The Rockefeller Foundation will discuss: Re-energizing a 100+ year brand, building a brand endowment and deploying the CEO as brand ambassador.
  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will talk about: Deepening staff, grantee and stakeholder connections through a brand messaging platform that embraces the founders' voices and values.
  • The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation will share: Re-launching a philanthropic brand with a distinct corporate and cultural history, while preparing for a second phase of dramatic growth with a living donor.

What are the three things you will learn from this breakout session?

  1. When and how to rebrand and how to create a brand for social impact
  2. How social media has changed brand creation and expression and why it matters
  3. When and how to use the CEO as a brand ambassador and how to protect one's brand while sharing the limelight with multiple partners

From Abuelitas to Mobile Apps - The Best Strategies for Reaching the Spanish Speaking Community

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 3:00 pm ET

Session Leaders

Danielle M. Reyes, Executive Director, Crimsonbridge Foundation

Selma Caal, Research Scientist, Child Trends 

Session Description

At more than 55 million people, the United States has the second-largest community of people of Hispanic origin other than Mexico, having surpassed Argentina, Colombia, and Spain within the last decade. This figure includes 38 million Spanish-speaking Americans. Today, successfully reaching and engaging Spanish speakers of all backgrounds and generations involves knowing your audience and making investments in the most relevant communications and outreach strategies. This session will share the evidence-based findings and recommendations of a new report and handbook from Child Trends Hispanic Institute and the Crimsonbridge Foundation on effective strategies service providers and others can use to reach, inform, and engage Spanish speaking parents and their children.  

In this session, they will address the critical importance of trust and credible sources, Spanish language accessibility, and how to maximize tools such as video, translation, and texting to connect with one of the highest mobile app user populations in the U.S.  From innovative community-based engagement methods to micro-websites - nonprofit, policy, and foundation participants can expect to receive specific recommendations on the types of investments in staff, marketing, and technology that have the best potential for reaching and serving Hispanic children and families.  

What are the three things you will learn from this breakout session?

  1. Relevant factors for identifying your Spanish speaking audience (country of origin, status, length of time in US, credible sources, community and faith leaders, etc.)
  2. Recommendations on specific strategies to effectively communicate with and reach Spanish speakers  
  3. The value of strategic investments in communications and an understanding for nonprofits and funders of the costs of in investing in linguistic and culturally competent communications capacity

Lights. Camera. Action. Are You Ready to Use Imagery to Change the World?

Time

Friday, September 30 at 10:15 am ET

Session Leaders

Alex MacLennan, Editorial Director, World Wildlife Fund

Nathan Dappen, Owner/Producer, Day's Edge Productions

Carla Delgado, Designer, Pentagram

Session Description

A picture is still worth a thousand words—especially in our fast-paced world. But only if it is the right picture, used at the right time and in the right way. Ensuring that happens begins long before the video camera is turned, the illustrator’s brush hits the canvas or the photographer turns on his flash. It starts with a plan—one that spells out the top messages for the visual story, who the central character will be, what emotion the image should tap into, how the visuals connect to words, where the visuals will be used, and more. And it ends with the need to be adaptable, as all good plans can change when rain gets in the way of a photo shoot or the central character ends up getting cold feet when the producer says “action.” 

In this session, learn how a magazine editor for the world’s largest conservation organization, a designer from the world’s largest independent design consultancy and an award-winning videographer/photographer create and use visuals related to conservation and social issues without breaking their banks or losing their minds. Then take a shot at crafting your own visual story. Participants will turn to the person next to them, tell them their organization’s mission and explain the singular dream image that illustrates the mission. We’ll get back together as a group to share insights from that activity.

What are the three things you will learn from this breakout session?

  1. When to use images—photos, videos and illustrations—to tell a story that can affect change
  2. How to get the right images when in the field
  3. How to ensure you make the best use of your visuals on the web, in magazines, at events, and more

The Grantee Wants What?! Strategic Communication Support: Why? What? How?

Time

Friday, September 30 at 10:15 am ET

Session Leaders

Jennie Day-Burget, Communications Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Hope Woodhead, Assistant Vice President Communications, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Mac Prichard, President, Prichard Communications

Session Description

Grantees are one of a funder’s biggest assets but figuring out how to deploy them is tricky. Funders turn themselves in circles trying to answer questions like:

  • Am I being strategic in providing communications support?
  • When should I hire a vendor to help?
  • When does my brand help a grantee? When does it hinder?
  • How do I pay for it?

Earlier this year, RWJF decided to clarify their objectives for deploying and supporting grantees, identify ways their brand, time and money could most effectively support grantees and launch a new program for providing communications support.

In this session RWJF will not only share their story, but help attendees come to conclusions of their own using “3 by 3” challenges (3 groups, 3 challenges). Once they define their problem statement, they’ll ask three groups of attendees to take on three challenges:

  • WHY should we support grantees?
  • WHAT should we do to support them?
  • HOW should we support them?

Groups will answer a given question based not only on RWJF's story but their own experiences, and each will report out to the audience. Once the questions are answered, RWJF will share how they defined their WHY, WHAT and HOW--and the outcomes to date.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. How and why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation decided to overhaul their grantee communications support program
  2. How other funders, peers and related organizations approach the challenge of grantee communications support
  3. What lessons can be shared by participants to make all of our programs/support more strategic and stronger

A Story Falls in the Online Forest...Did Anyone Hear It? How to Leverage Influencers, Creators and Platforms to Make Sure Your Story Is Heard.

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 11:00 am ET

Session Leaders

Kate Emanuel, Head of Business Operations and Strategy, Ad Council

Jennifer Lindenauer, VP Marketing, Upworthy

Cristina Cecchetti, Management Supervisor, Campbell Ewald

Tierra Filhiol, Associate Director, Social Strategy, Campbell Ewald   

Session Description

YouTube creators, gamers, content partnerships, bloggers, “influencers”. What do they all have in common? They’re a way to leverage influencers to get your message heard. What does that mean for your foundation or grantee? Let us share our lessons learned. Whether it’s creating co-branded content with a You Tube creator, working with Upworthy to tell your story, we’ve got some best practices and experts who can help you nail this. We’ll share some of the best examples of cobranded creator content and how you can apply that to your work.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. How to create your influencer strategy (whether you have big budget or shoestring budget): What you need to know to get started or take it to the next level
  2. How to work and co-produce content with influencers
  3. How nonprofits can leverage influencers for their brand and engagement

The Future of Social Impact Storytelling: Exploring the Megatrends for How Stories that Matter Will Be Told

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 3:00 pm ET

Session Leaders

John D. Trybus, Deputy Director & Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication

Denise Keyes, Executive Director, Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication

Session Description

Everywhere you turn within the social impact sector it seems that people are talking about storytelling. And for good reason. Effective organization stories create action. But we’re now entering a phase of storytelling overload. This session will share new applied research from Georgetown University into what the future of storytelling for social impact organizations will look like—think virtual reality, citizen storyteller programs, chief organizational storytellers, and more! We are headed into an entirely new stratosphere of the storytelling wars that will arguably change society—and certainly how social impact organizations communicate their missions in an emotional way. Are you ready for the future?

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. Learn what the current state of storytelling is within the social impact sector
  2. Learn more about the history of storytelling, and why this matters in order to understand what never will change about the art and science of storytelling
  3. Learn five of the most important--and interesting--storytelling megatrends within the social impact that will fundamentally change how stories are told in the future

Assessing Foundation Communications: How Loud a Voice?

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 11:00 am ET

Session Leaders

Felicia Madsen, Communications Director, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

David Devlin-Foltz, Vice President, Impact Assessment, and Executive Director, Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program, The Aspen Institute 

David Brotherton, Founder and President, Brotherton Strategies

Session Description

Evaluations of foundations’ communications, advocacy, or research grant portfolios often focus on grantees’ collective contributions to complex social or policy change processes. This session will engage you in a discussion of a project that worked at a different “meta” level. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation asked the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program to assess their own communications efforts and advise on how the Foundation might use its “voice and profile” more publicly and directly – without undermining grantees’ voices. Focusing on grantees’ perspectives, we asked: how do the Foundation’s communications contribute to – or hinder – progress in its program areas, and how might the Foundation most effectively use its voice and profile?

A survey and interviews of grantees, complemented by interviews with senior staff, yielded hundreds of thoughtful comments about the Foundation’s communications activities, voice, and profile, which informed a new communications strategy presented to the Foundation’s board in 2016.

This session will provide research highlights, insights from one of the Foundation’s key communications strategist partners, and early lessons from application of the research. The session’s second half will be interactive and challenge participants through an activity that asks: “Are you using your resources today for the most impact?"

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. How foundations can benefit – a lot – by listening to what grantees have to say about a funder’s voice
  2. Funders can say things that grantees can’t, but that doesn’t mean they should
  3. Tips on how technical assistance providers can support alignment of grantee and foundation voices

Internal Communications: Strategies for an Overlooked - but Critical - Communications Channel

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 11:00 am ET

Session Leaders

Mike Smith, Director of Communications, The James Irvine Foundation

Rodney Jordan, Director of Employee & Community Engagement, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Session Description

Sometimes the most important communication strategies are right under our nose. Our colleagues are vital yet often overlooked messengers about our organizations’ missions, work, and brands. Whether at the water cooler, a work meeting, a dinner party, or on social media, employees leave a lasting impression when talking about their work and employer. This makes it critical for them to understand their organization’s work, value it, and be able to communicate it effectively themselves. Internal communications takes on even greater importance for foundations and other institutions that do less external communication (e.g., media relations, digital activities, marketing, events, etc.), as well as with any organization going through change or challenges. In this session, speakers will discuss the goals and value of internal communications, effective strategies, dos and don’ts, and how to imbed this practice into an organization’s culture and operations.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. Overview of how internal communications can achieve three strategic goals (organization alignment, employee engagement, and ambassadorship)
  2. How the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Ambassador” program empowers employees to be more effective, passionate messengers about their organization’s work
  3. Things to consider – and avoid – when pursuing internal communications strategies

TED Meet FRED: Listening to Understand vs. Listening to Respond

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 3:00 pm ET

Session Lessons

Michael D. Murphy, Chief Marketing Officer, Cleveland Foundation

Stephanie Hicks Thompson, Marketing and Communications Officer, Cleveland Foundation

Noelle Celeste, Consultant

Session Description

We all talk about the importance of listening to our stakeholders, but do we really want to hear what they have to say or are we just listening to validate our own conclusions? What if you could make active listening part of your communications and community engagement strategy? At the start of its centennial year, the Cleveland Foundation - the world's first community foundation and one of the largest today - rolled out a new community engagement initiative called "Fred Talks." Fred Talks build on Cleveland Foundation founder Frederick Harris Goff’s legacy of innovative thinking by inviting community members to learn, engage with one another, and champion new ideas in conversations with local and national thought leaders. Each event features a thought-provoking conversation, public Q&A session, and facilitated brainstorming roundtables that challenge attendees to become Greater Cleveland’s next champions for change. The quarterly series has informed grantmaking strategies and opened up new audiences to the role of a community foundation as facilitator and convener. Come learn from our wins, celebrate our mistakes along the way, and think about how you can listen to understand vs. listen to respond.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. Designing interactive community engagement sessions
  2. Using community input to drive grantmaking
  3. Diversifying audience reach

Unbranding: How to Drive an Issue by Dropping Your Logo

Time

Friday, September 30 at 10:15 am ET

Session Leader

Bob Deans, Director of Strategic Engagement, NRDC

Session Description

In December, 2015, 190 countries and thousands of activists converged in Paris to hammer out a world-changing agreement to stop global climate change. In the run-up to that event, NRDC made a radical decision about what the organization would do there, and what it would take to win: We ditched our brand in order to build it -- creating unbranded, shareable content built on the core issues that needed to be addressed, and offering partners (and competitors) collateral that they could put their own logos on -- without ours.

Our generosity paid off: We got almost 300K signatures on our NRDC petition calling for climate action from world leaders. We raised $125K on digital channels in a month -- disproving the long-held myth that people won't give money online for climate action. We generated 5K news stories that mentioned NRDC, our staff, or our partners during the talks, and we got 1.2M views on more than 20 videos posted to Facebook and YouTube. Our content and messaging was shared by the UN, by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation (14M Twitter followers, 14M Facebook fans, and 2.7M Instagram followers), by UNESCO, UNICEF, 350.org, EcoAmerica and others. Everybody wins.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. The value of driving message outside your brand
  2. The value of visuals to build a link back to your brand without using your name or logo
  3. The increasing need to win audiences based on issue rather than brand loyalty.

Understanding the Millennial Mindset: How to Turn Interest into Action

Time

Thursday, September 29 at 3:00 pm ET

Session Leaders

Emily Yu, VP Marketing and Partnerships, The Case Foundation

Derrick Feldmann, President, Achieve 

Megan Sigesmund, VP, Campaign Management & External Affairs, Ad Council

Session Description

The Millennial generation is a tech savvy, entrepreneurial, educated and independent-minded cohort that is driven to “do good.” Embark on the Millennial impact journey with the Case Foundation and Achieve as they unlock the best ways to turn next gen interest in a social issue into action. You'll learn how global brands and leading organizations are engaging, communicating and collaborating with this younger generation – 80 million strong -- and changing the world at the same time.

Together they have spearheaded the Millennial Impact Project, collecting data from nearly 35,000 Millennials over the course of five years to explore how this generation connects, gives and gets involved with the issues they care about. Learn how your organization can better understand the best approaches to cultivate interest and involvement with this generation driven by movements. From what motivates them to give and volunteer; to corporate responsibility and what Millennial employees look for in company cause work. Take a deep dive into the minds of this often-misunderstood group of next-gen donors.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. The best proven ways to engage with Millennials around social causes
  2. What communication strategies Millennials respond to most in various situations
  3. What your organization can learn from the next generation to help you stay ahead of the curve with this influential demographic

Talking in Circles: How Strategic Framing Can Break the Cycle, Create Clear Messages and Improve Impact

Time

Friday, September 30 at 10:15 am ET

Session Leaders

Shaun Adamec, Director of Strategic Communications, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO, FrameWorks Institute

Session Description

The first step to getting the public to act differently is getting them to think differently. This is difficult to do when public dialogue is dominated by frames that reinforce cultural mindsets that get in the way of engaging with new ideas. What is even more concerning? Sometimes the language we use to counter these mindsets actually reinforces them—making it more difficult to communicate our ideas, solutions and goals. This session will highlight an innovative form of research and practice that can help identify the patterns of thinking—both productive and unproductive—that drive the public dialogue around societal issues, explore the ways that framing can help engage the public in new ways of thinking about social issues, and identify the ways in which experts and advocates have unwittingly strengthened the harmful narratives that now constrain public understanding on some of the most important issues of our times.

What are the three things conference attendees will learn from your breakout session?

  1. Identify ways in which current language and frames are reinforcing unproductive cultural narratives and making change more difficult
  2. Learn new, positive frames and strategies to employ when communicating about difficult issues
  3. Apply these learnings to think about different ways to engage the public and be more effective in shifting the conversation on an issue

FAQs

Each year, our conference brings together senior nonprofit and foundation professionals from across the social sector for 3 days of learning, networking, and idea sharing related to strategic communications.

Breakout sessions are a highlight of the conference. Presenters showcase their talents and share their insights into the world of communications. Attendees have the chance to learn new communication strategies and skills and provide valuable insight to expand the conversation.

Do I need to sign up for breakout sessions in order to attend?

Nope! As long as you are registered for ComNet16, breakout sessions are first-come, first-serve. Each breakout room will have a limited capacity, so if there's a session you can't miss, make sure you arrive early. 

How do you become a breakout session presenter?

Breakout sessions are chosen through a submissions process that starts in the months prior to the conference. Anyone can submit a breakout session, as long as it is sponsored by a nonprofit or foundation. Sessions are then selected by the Network board and staff. 

What do presenters receive for presenting a breakout session at ComNet16?

The reputation of The Communications Network Conference ensures that presenters benefit as much as their audience. Presenters receive the following benefits for taking part in ComNet16:

  • Contribute to the field of communications and the social sector
  • Receive professional recognition as an official conference presenter on ComNet16.org and in the ComNet16 conference program
  • Highlight their institution's accomplishments
  • Obtain valuable feedback from colleagues

Do presenters have to register for the conference?

Yes. If selected, all presenters are required to register for the conference, pay the conference registration fee, and secure and pay for travel and lodging. This is a requirement for all accepted sessions being listed in the program. Presenters can register for the conference at the reduced presenter rate. Details about the discounted presenter fee will be e-mailed with acceptance letters. Please plan and budget accordingly before submitting.

Additional questions?

Please e-mail us at info@comnetwork.org.


The Communications Network reserves the right to make adjustments to session proposals, including panel make-up, format, and description. The Communications Network reserves the right to decline or accept any proposal in full or in part to provide a balanced program or due to limitations in space. The Communications Network does not accept sessions geared toward promoting any one institution or program.