Translating the Philanthropy and Social Capital Market Sectors – a ComNet010 and SOCAP10 Cross-post

Over the next week I’ll be attending and blogging two very different conferences: the Fall 2010 Communications Network Conference (ComNet010) and the 2010 Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP10). ComNet010, a partnership between the Communications Network and CommA, attracts an audience primarily of foundation communication personnel. SOCAP10 attracts an audience of investors, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, philanthropies, and donors.

One could presume that these conferences have nothing to do with each other. And, for the most part, that’s probably accurate. ComNet010 will have sessions focused on the power of stories to change lives, using crowdsourcing to find better answers and solutions from groups, and using entertainment to advance social change. SOCAP10 will have sessions focused on impact investments, alternative and innovative social financing, harnessing mobile technology for social enterprise, and value-driven allocation of philanthropic resources will have sessions on accessing social investment markets. Interestingly, both will have sessions focused on how to inspire and engage individuals to give or invest more.

However, the two conferences do share some common challenges: how to best communicate your work to an uninformed audience and how to explain complex technical approaches simply without getting sucked into a vortex of jargon. I wrote a while back on the importance of philanthropy embracing transparency. In my opinion, an adherence to transparency and simplified communication needs to apply to the social capital markets and philanthropy sectors as well in order to make the sectors easier to understand and access for a lay audience.

This opinion was reinforced when I read a playful tweet by Kevin Jones yesterday saying that he and Sean Stannard-Stockton would be busy translating between the nonprofit and social market sectors at SOCAP10. In a subsequent tweet Kevin wrote yesterday, he noted the difficulty in making sense of how to partner giving with social investing as we attempt to mix cultural norms, and changing thinking and attitudes. I would add that clarity of message and transparency are critical elements in making the process easier to understand.

Many communication personnel at foundations have worked hard to simply their messages and use communication tools such as stories to convey important lessons. There also has been a lot of effort to avoid using jargon, none withstanding the ComNet010 session on “building philanthropic capital markets through networks for change” (sorry Lucy ).

These approaches to simplified language and elimination of jargon can certainly be applied to the social capital market sector. As many of us have noted in reflecting on the “Money for Good” report (PDF) by Hope Consulting, a tremendous opportunity exists to educate individual investors both about additional giving opportunities as well as the nascent social impact capital market now developing. But we also need a way to establish shared vocabulary and definitions between the philanthropic and social capital market sectors.

Terms such as “double- and triple-bottom lines”, “blended value”, “social returns”, the distinction between donors and investors, even “capital investments” need better communication and clarity in order to make sense to a broader uninformed audience. For example, Good Capital’s launch of the Social Enterprise Expansion Fund, which involves a hands-on management approach to invest dollars in effective and promising social enterprises, offers a really interesting option for socially-conscience investors. But, the fund’s purpose to “fill the risk-taking expansion capital gap for social enterprises” represents a translation challenge. I have a hard enough time explaining my philanthropic work to my friends in my fantasy baseball league; explaining the fund’s purpose might be even more challenging.

We make assumptions that the general audience understands terms such as double- and triple-bottom lines. And yet, if we don’t purposely try to explain these terms in simpler language, I suspect we’ll just end up attracting only those already comfortable and familiar with these terms while failing to expand the circle to attract new audiences, investors, donors, supporters, and advocates.

We need adopt approaches like the stories and uncomplicated messages on exhibit at ComNet010 to further educate the philanthropic and social capital market sectors converging at SOCAP10. As I participate in these two very different conferences, I’ll certainly be looking at how we can better translate and communicate the important developments and trends in the sectors. I hope you’ll help me in doing the same.


Disclaimer: This post is part of a series of posts on the SOCAP10 conference. As part of the blogging coverage for the conference, I was able to register to attend at a discounted rate. A version of this post appears on the SOCAP10 blog. I also cross-posted this with the ComNet010 blog coverage.

Tags: , , , ,