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Communications Institute

NCG's Communications Institute provides technical skills, transformational tools, and a values-aligned peer network to harness our collective power. We offer best practices along with peer spaces to apply those practices to your real-life challenges.


Communications professionals, narrative strategists, and storytellers hold immense power and responsibility in shaping just futures.

Hosted by SoCal and Northern California Grantmakers, our 2023 Communications Institute will provide technical skills, transformational tools, and a values-aligned peer network to harness our collective power. In this five-session virtual training series program, we will offer best practices along with peer spaces to apply those practices to your real-life challenges.

We can’t do this alone. When we feel in our full agency, connected to a values-aligned network, and equipped with practical tools, we can shift the philanthropy ecosystem together.

Target Audience

We would love to invite philanthropic communicators whose values align around racial equity and justice. We specifically want to invite marginalized folks in the field who are reimagining what is possible within philanthropy. To align with our racial equity values we will be specifically curating a cohort with a majority of people of color. Wherever you are in your professional journey, we welcome you.


The Communications Institute sessions are made up of Modules led by Institute Faculty and guest speakers. The pillars of the institute that thread through eash session are: Racial Equity, Values-Driven Communications Skills, and Interpersonal Skills.


Session 1: Interdependence with Ourselves, Each Other, and Movements

Goal: Gain awareness of the needs, values, and support  you need while leading values-based communications in philanthropy. Learn self-awareness and accountability practices that lead to more interdependent relationships with ourselves, each other, and movement-builders.


How do we show up for ourselves and for the communities we aim to be accountable to in values-based communications’ work? This session will dive deeper into creating sustainable practices for ourselves in order to show up in interdependent relationships with each other in the field of philanthropy and movement-building.

As we grow in our communications careers, we increase our knowledge and experience but remain at our learning edge as we take on greater responsibilities and face increasing complexity. Being at that edge without a clear sense of our values and how to build self-accountability to those values is where we lose ourselves. This session will equip you with the resources you need to grow at your learning edge and stay connected to your values. We will explore the more vulnerable territory of judgements, assumptions, needs, values, and the various aspects of our identity. All of this exploration will help build our self-awareness and elevate our consciousness, confidence, and competencies. We will hear from movement-builders and philanthropy communications’ strategists on how to show up in deep interdependence and accountability to each other.

  • Begin building relationships with fellow institute participants
  • Greater skill in expressing your connection to the work
  • Self-assessment of how you are connected to the communities you are working with
  • Learn models of working ethically/interdependently with different communities in the field 
  • Ability to self-resource a shift into greater consciousness and agency
  • The ability to understand, articulate, express and love your needs and values

Session 2: Creating A Practice Of Reflection And Intentional Relationship Building

Goal: Deepen your self-reflection practice and relationship development skills to have greater impact, expand your influence, and harness the power of making mistakes.


We’ll get real about how we can contribute effectively as comms professionals without getting stuck in burnout or doubt. Relationships are at the core of our success – our relationships with others and with ourselves. We’ll discuss strategies to discover and exercise informal authority, keep your work purpose-driven, and give feedback to others that inspires them to contribute more.

  • Deepen your understanding of the power of relationships within your organization and with community
  • How to give feedback to people (and yourself) in productive and intentional ways
  • Exercise Informal authority in managing across and managing up
  • Curate an achievable scope to keeping your work and role purpose-driven
  • The art of saying yes while setting boundaries, proposing alternative solutions, and naming the resources needed for them
  • Build the brand and reputation for your team and yourself

Session 3: Equity, Power, and Communications

Goal: Deepen dialogue and understanding of how identity intersects with your role as a communicator, building and refining your own authentic equity lens.


As communicators at social justice-oriented organizations, we have a unique opportunity to shape an organizational presence that fosters belonging and advances equity. With this huge opportunity comes incredible responsibility. In addition to creating effective comms strategies, we have to navigate a whole host of identities and lived experiences that impact how we feel, what we believe, and how we approach our work. This session aims to demystify and dismantle the concepts that have become common language in our organizations and communications, like equity, inclusion, access, race, power, intersectionality, and white supremacy. Through defining and unpacking these concepts, we will begin to better understand our relationship to them, to prepare us to be stronger, more aware communicators. After building foundational knowledge, we will move from theory to practice, discussing the ways these concepts manifest in our day-to-day. We will contextualize this all by surfacing the tensions that often impede equitable processes and products--time, budget, and buy-in. We won’t solve every challenge that we may face on our journey toward becoming truly equitable communicators, but we will build a strong foundation that will allow participants to evolve their skills beyond the cohort.

    • Build foundational knowledge of diversity, inclusion, equity, justice, intersectionality, race, and power
    • Increase comfortability navigating the nuances of race equity in our roles and our communications
    • Exercise vulnerability and practice it as a tool for developing more authentic communications
    • Learn equity-rooted communications frameworks and strategies, including asset-based framing, ethical storytelling, radical style guides, and more
    • Build an understanding of how to adapt tools to continue developing strategies that work for your organization

    Session 4: Strategic Social Sector Communications

    Goal: Learn effective but uncomplicated goal-driven strategic communications planning and messaging anchored in your foundation or organizational values. Strengthen skills to manage and respond to crises.


    To be effective organizational communicators and move impactful messages to target audiences, we need integrated messaging and goal-oriented strategies in both strategic internal and external communications. Mid-career communications staff need strong knowledge of core strategies and tactics to help their foundations and nonprofits attain programmatic and institutional goals. A strong grasp of how values-based messaging shapes your organization’s narrative is essential.

    In this interactive session, participants will strengthen their skills in aligning organizational goals with communications planning through campaigns, messages, framing and storytelling, as well as shared lived experience on the importance and pratfalls of strategic goal-oriented communications planning and execution.

    • Working knowledge of practical strategic communications framework
    • Tools for creating strategic communications plans for your organization — including achievable goals, as well as values-centered messages
    • Customized strategic communications template and VPSA (Values/Problem/Solution/Action) message framework
    • Building on the previous session led by Sonia Guiñansaca, which focused on establishing a foundation of self-accountability by stepping into our values, this session expands values-forward communications into the realm of strategic planning and mission-aligned messaging for your organization

    Session 5: Narrative Change, Narrative Power Building

    Goal: Deepen participants’ understanding of narrative power building strategies and why organizing and power is necessary for narrative change.


      As social justice advocates, we all want to change the dominant narratives that harm our communities and block progress to racial and economic justice. But how do we change dominant narratives and what does it take? Narrative change is more than choosing the right words or telling inspiring stories - it takes power. Organizing and narrative power are interconnected and both are necessary ingredients for narrative change. Successful organizing moves people into action to change what is. Successful narratives change what people believe is possible. In this session, we will explore how to advance narratives to win systemic change, what narrative power-building is and how to support the strategies and innovations of organizers, narrative strategists, and practitioners on the ground.

      • Develop shared understanding and build foundational knowledge of key narrative concepts and terms
      • Deepen the understanding of what is narrative and how it is distinct but related to story, messaging and framing
      • Cultivate the understanding of narrative power-building and why it is essential to narrative change
      • Learn from narrative experts and strategists on the ground building power to change policies and narratives




      Kayla Ballard headshot

      Kayla Ballard, Senior Manager of Communications Northern California Grantmakers

      For more information about NCG's Communications Institute contact: