Stories and Change


Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Communications Network and CommA Fall 2010 Conference in Los Angeles with the help of a blog team, which is part of the conference’s 2nd annual Gorilla Engagement Squad.  This is a guest post by Joan Mazzolini, Communications Officer at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

by:  Joan Mazzolini

As a newbie to both foundation communications and the Communications Network, I traveled to L.A. not sure what to expect.

Like fellow blogger Dan Brady, I too was “flying solo,” arriving thinking I would know (by e-mail) just one other person attending the conference.  (The one person was a colleague from a sister foundation to my own organization, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.)

It turned out there was a few more people I knew. And as a recovering journalist, I found many others of my breed have infiltrated foundations. I also found truly nice, friendly, interesting and smart people in the too short conference.

Unfortunately I had to leave right after the last speaker, Prof. Sendhil Mullainathan. However, his concept of “psychic resources,” stuck with me. While we want to tell our stories and those of the groups we fund who are helping people and hopefully improving lives, I think it’s easy to forget how one small adverse event – needing $500 in car repairs – can impact people living on the edge.

Recent data shows that the gap or income disparity between the richest and the poorest Americans is now greater than in any other time in U.S. history. That’s something to remember and consider.

As is Steve Lopez’s moving talk on his connection with Nathanial Ayers and the power that the printed word still has even with videos of kittens doing anything increasingly capturing our attention and taking up some of our mental space. The printed word changed Ayers’ life (and Lopez’s too)  and the foundation later established because of that is having lasting effects on others with mental illness.

While more than one cell phone rang during Lucy Bernholz’s talk, her point that most people are doing everything but talking on the phone – checking the web, checking Facebook, texting friends (and doing some actual work too) brings us back to one of Mullainathan’s points of our limited attention span and how easily it is diverted.

The theme of the conference — connections between each other but also connecting to our audiences — encourages us to tell the very best stories we can so that we have the same kind of impact on the world as “The Soloist.”

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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