Going one step further than even the typical nonprofit or foundation-run contest, the Case Foundation (as in Steve Case, founder of AOL, and his wife Jean) is asking the public for guidance in making its grants with its new Make it Your Own Awards program.
As reported in yesterday’s New York Times, the foundation is the first ever to share its grants decision-making with the public. The program is “a direct response to research showing that many people feel disconnected from public leaders and institutions and don’t believe they have the power to make a lasting difference in their community,” says a foundation spokesperson.
What’s unique here is that the Case Foundation is putting its research findings into practice, and reaching beyond its own staff and board to do so. Most importantly, its demonstrating a great deal of respect for grassroots ideas. Here’s how it works:
- The foundation is asking individuals and small, community-based nonprofits to submit ideas for strengthening their communities.
- A group of judges will select 100 finalists to query for a more formal proposal.
- Another panel will review these proposals to select 20 finalists, who will receive $10,000 each.
- In November, the public will vote to select the “final four” from these finalists, who will each receive an additional $25,000.
“We are excited about the potential for change when citizens are placed at the center of deciding what issues to address and how,” said Case Foundation CEO Jean Case. “As citizens, we need to ‘own’ the challenges and opportunities in our communities — not leave them for someone else to tackle.”
Of course, program success is dependent on strategic communications being put into play pronto. The broader community (and believe me, “individuals” are incredibly hard to reach as you have no idea where they are in terms of other communications channels through which you can reach them, or where they aren’t) has to know about this program, and be engaged enough to participate, to have it work.
The Case Foundation has made a great start with the communications agenda —
- Engaging audiences via broadcast communications — namely significant media coverage
- Providing a thorough sub-site for the program, with comprehensive information on all its aspects
- Soliciting contact information (emails) for those interested in keeping tabs on the program as it evolves via a Make it Your Own e-newsletter (promoted on every page in the mini-site)
- Continuing to engage audiences via this e-newsletter as the program evolves over the balance of 2007.
Great idea, Case Foundation, and a strong model of strategic communications which is guaranteed to ensure program success.
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