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Communications Institute

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Are you a mid-career communications professional in philanthropy, eager to build professional knowledge, skills, and networks? Are you looking to foster peer support, share best practices, and create a long-lasting peer community? If you answered yes to these questions, the 2020 Communications Institute offers you in-depth professional development and an opportunity to engage with your peers. 

In a survey of mid-career communications staff and their supervisors, we discovered that many feel isolation inside their organizations and in philanthropy. In response, we are offering a first-of-its-kind, intensive training for a small cohort of applicants.

Stay tuned for information on the 2021 Cohort. 

Three Curriculum Threads 

  • Racial and Social Equity: Identifying and navigating obstacles in bringing your full and authentic self to work, addressing equity from a communications perspective
  • "Hard" Communications Skills Development: strategic communications, crisis communications, storytelling
  • "Soft" Skills Development: Emotional intelligence and leadership development, managing yourself and navigating the workplace

The Institute will Feature: 

  • Six-monthly trainings, held once a month, for six hours (plus a bonus welcome and orientation with Institute peers and faculty)
  • Approximately 15 Institute participants
  • Expert faculty
  • Group coaching offered each month
  • Access to tools, templates, and shared learning
  • A through-line to equity and social justice
  • Custom curriculum 

Robert Bray, Director of Communications, NEO Philanthropy

Robert’s career spans more than two decades in the field of strategic communications and social justice. As Director of NEO Philanthropy’s Four Freedoms FundTM Strategic Communications Initiative, Robert helps create and fund strategies designed to shape the immigration debate locally and nationally. Prior to joining NEO Philanthropy, he was Director of Communications for the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco. In 1997, Robert founded the SPIN Project, a media training, coaching and strategizing non-profit for social change organizations. In the late 80s and 90s, he played a central role in increasing the media visibility of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, serving as the first Director of Communications for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and later as Director of Communications for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Robert is the author of several publications on communications including “SPIN Works” and “Winning Wages: A Guide to Living Wage Communications Campaigns.” Prior to his social justice career, he was a public relations executive for the IBM Corporation. Robert graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism and public relations.

Headshot of Vanice DunnVanice Dunn, Director of Equity, Provoc

Vanice hails from years of experience working directly with members of various non-profits, so she’s all about participation and collaboration. Vanice began to hone her skills in social justice advocacy in an organic way — as a young girl of color in a small southern town, her existence itself became a political statement.  Those experiences gave Vanice practice in being critical of assumptions, dissecting polarizing arguments, and ultimately standing strong in her convictions. Her passion led her to the Provoc team, where she strives to make an impact by building partnerships with visionary clients and serving as lead strategist for brand and communications projects. By rooting her work in a womanist lens, Vanice has a particular passion for projects that combat the ‘isms’ — including racism, classism, and sexism.

Emily Katz, Vice President of Public Affairs, Northern California Grantmakers

In her role as Vice President of Public Affairs, Emily directs communications and supervises policy advocacy and disaster resilience which means she’s one of those people who tries not to let a crisis go to waste. She believes in the power of people to do more together than they can do alone. In her bones, she craves collective action and builds it wherever she can. She’s a sucker for great stories, and isn’t shy about learning from failure.

Emily is energized by bringing people together to tackle tough problems, which makes Northern California Grantmakers’ network of 200 members with $3 billion in grants her happy place.

At NCG, Emily has built a cohort-based communications training program for mid-career professionals weaving emotional intelligence through strategic communications and racial equity. She takes satisfaction supporting the brilliance of others and her team has grown from two to five in her three years at the organization.

Emily landed her first job out of college at a non-profit start-up where she started as a telemarketer and, in six years, became a senior vice president. In her time there, she quintupled the organization’s budget and helped them grow from 20,000 to a half-million square feet of warehousing.

At the Women’s Funding Network, Emily developed and implemented a four-year, multimillion-dollar budget helping members get the right message to the right people on every continent.

Emily is also the lucky mother of overly intelligent twin teens, and enjoys the moments when she takes off her parenting hat and gets to be a real person with them.

Headshot of Chris MurchisonChris Murchison, Workplace Connection and Community Consultant

Chris Marcell Murchison is a passionate advocate for positive workplace culture. In his broad career spanning the higher education, for-profit, not-for-profit, and foundation sectors he has focused his energy on developing creative means to build community at work and practices that support an employee experience of respect, connection, joy, and generative learning.

In 2014, Chris was named the first Visiting Leader at the Center for Positive Organizations in the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where he advises, connects and convenes faculty and students to explore practical applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship. In January of 2018 Chris was additionally appointed to the Advisory Board of the International Positive Psychology Association’s Work & Organizations Division.

Chris currently works as an independent creative thought-partner, experience designer, and advisor to organizations ready to re-imagine the possibilities of their cultures.

Sande Smith, Director of Communications, California Wellness Foundation

Sande Smith is a communicator who combines words and images to tell stories and convey messages that move hearts and minds. During the day she leads communications for The California Wellness Foundation, and has held leadership roles at the Women’s Foundation of California and the Global Fund for Women. As communications director at the Women’s Foundation of California, she designed and led strategic communications efforts and cultivated advocates to take online actions on behalf of low-income women and families. Prior to that, Sande worked at the Global Fund for Women where she developed award-winning publications and generated coverage on issues such as the role of philanthropy in making social change and the disproportionate effect of natural disasters on women. A long-time writer, a few years ago Sande started learning to draw. She is now an avid draw-er who brings art, drawing and visual thinking to everything that she does. 

Last year, she began developing a coaching practice and expects to be a certified coach by April 2020. Sande is past president of the San Francisco chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and  holds a bachelor’s degree in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies from Brown University.

Alum Advisor

Carlos Aguilar, Chief Content Director, California Changelawyers Foundation

What should a leader look like? How can we restore power and wealth to our communities? These are the questions that motivate Carlos's work.

He imagines a future where leadership is Brown, Black, Queer, Non Binary, and Undocumented; a future where communities have the power to determine their own lives.

At ChangeLawyers℠, Carlos serves as the foundation's primary designer, curates the popular weekly newsletter NEWS BRIEF, and ghostwrites the foundation's opinion essays. In 2019, he co-created the inaugural Leaders Summit, a sold out, day long gathering of over 200 social justice lawyers. In 2018, he co-develop the organization’s new name, brand, and visual identity with Mission Minded.

Carlos is also involved in efforts to redefine what a philanthropist looks like. He's a member of Latino Community Foundation's LGBTQ Giving Circle, where he and his fellow queer philanthropists have funded organizations like Oasis Legal Services, El/La Para TransLatinas, and Somos Familia. He's currently developing a series of panel discussions with Northern California Grantmakers about how to liberate philanthropy. 

Besides liberating wealth and power, his obsessions include baking layer cakes, Mexico City, and the color yellow.

Target Audience

The Institute is best suited for communications professionals who have advanced into positions of some authority, but who are not yet the ultimate decision-makers in their department. The titles of people in this mid-career role often include such descriptors as director, officer, manager, and associate. The Institute is open to members and nonmembers.