Perspective from DownUnder


Philanthropy411 is currently covering the Communications Network Fall 2013 Annual Conference conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Avalee Weir, Communications Manager at The Ian Potter Foundation.  Follow along on Twitter – @AvWeir and @IanPotterFdn.

Weir1As an Aussie attending her first international philanthropy communications conference, I arrived in New Orleans with a few extra baggage items:

– a truckload of baseball caps, Gap kids gear, Nike shoes and other assorted ‘cheaper in America’ items picked up during my stopover in LA

– jet lag (and the need to keep on top of my job back home at night while you were all asleep)

– high expectations and hopes that the long journey to get here would be worth it

– a little trepidation that the communications work we have been doing in the much smaller Australian philanthropic sector would seem a bit second rate.

Extra baggage can really weigh you down!

While I will be taking home the baseball caps for my kids and worse jet lag (as well as a cute little Halloween fascinator I picked up on Royal St), I am delightfully and liberatingly free of the other two items.

The Conference has certainly met my expectations. I expected to be inspired. I expected to meet great people who are doing smart things. I expected to be informed, entertained and engaged.  I expected relevant, forward thinking ideas and to learn new ways of tackling the old issues of audience engagement, communicating our messages, and telling our stories.  All of these were met. Hooray!

Suzanne Doig (left) and Avalee Wier on Bourbon St.
Suzanne Doig (left) and Avalee Wier on Bourbon St.

Some other things were less expected.

As I reflected on the content and topics we have covered, I was reminded afresh of the increasing diversity of skills and knowledge required to have a fully stocked communications tool box these days.  Certainly for those of us who started in PR roles in the days of faxes and stuffing envelopes, the evolution of our role as communicators has been dramatic.  Many of us at this conference need to be jacks of all trades. We are multimedia content producers, photographers, videographers, copywriters, online distribution experts, and web content managers while tweeting, texting, and reporting – all achieved in line with our thoughtful and cunning communications strategy, which will ensure our story doesn’t just add to all the noise.


It’s easy to feel overwhelmed! So many possibilities, opportunities and expectations…

So what I loved about this conference –  almost as much as the great ideas, the inspirational plenary speakers and the new insights – was the refreshing candour and honesty with which others shared their questions, doubts, queries, stuff-ups and uncertainties.  This open sharing means that in addition to taking away a treasure trove of information and some great new contacts and connections, I also leave with some reassurance.

As Junot Diaz, said in answer to a question, ‘Without your sense of community, it’s your isolation that devours you.’  So its really nice to know that despite our geographic isolation, and the fact that there’s just a small handful of communications professionals working in Australian philanthropy, we’re not alone in the challenges we face.  And now we have a whole new network of peers to call on for information and advice.

So as I put on my new storytellers hat and go home to Melbourne, I also reflect on the comments of Ken Aulette and leave [absolutely fabulous] New Orleans ‘leaning forward and looking for solutions’.

Thank you all for the warm welcome and generous hospitality you have shown me and my fellow Aussie communicator, Suzanne Doig. If you ever find yourself DownUnder we would love to return the favour.

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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