Communications Strategies that Fast Track Policy Change

Partnering with Media Impact Funders for Communications Strategies that Fast Track Policy Change, The California Endowment aims to identify and share examples that use media and communications grantmaking to create a more receptive environment for dialogue about potential solutions, build public momentum and generate political will for policy change.

The boldest funders are willing to use their brands, their power and their political capital in support of the issues they believe in. To help spread the word about strategies and lessons learned, The California Endowment asked Hershey Cause Communications to document case studies, below, that are examples of real policy outcomes for social issues that had largely been overlooked by the public, thought leaders and lawmakers. In these cases, results were achieved in time frames that can be counted in months or years rather than decades.


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Case studies:


ACEs Too High


Issue: Millions of Americans are struggling with a lifetime of mental and physical health problems that have their roots in childhood trauma, such as violence, physical and sexual abuse, and growing up in dysfunctional homes. Despite a growing body of research on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), this issue is largely unrecognized by policymakers and the public.

Strategy: An issue-based news website for the public, legislators and other stakeholders, combined with a new social network of community practitioners that showcases successful place-based interventions.

Who: The California Endowment and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

How Much: $104,000 from TCE for a journalistic series; $395,000 from RWJF for creation of a national summit on the topic of ACEs and a second convening of the National Collaborative on Adversity and Resilience.

Biggest Result: ACEs are beginning to appear on local and national agendas. A new social movement has been created around building resiliency in young people and creating trauma-informed environments in communities.

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Fix School Discipline


Issue: Harsh school disciplinary practices such as the overuse of expulsions and suspensions were derailing the futures of hundreds of thousands of California’s youth, with disproportionately high impact in communities of color.

Strategy: Coordinated communications and policy advocacy strategy that reframed the issue from a local concern to a statewide education reform opportunity.

Who: The California Endowment.

How Much: Statewide public opinion polling: approximately $45,000. Framing research and messaging: approximately $100,000. Targeted paid media: approximately $100,000 in select communities, Sacramento and Fresno. Promotion of research media relations and design: approximately $15,000.

Biggest Result: Four school discipline reform bills were signed into law, including provisions that required school administrators to use alternative disciplinary practices before suspending students, changed truancy rules to reduce fines, and gave administrators more options for keeping students in school. School suspensions have dropped 27% in California in three years.

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#Health4All campaign


Issue: Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions of Californians gain health insurance, over 1.4 million undocumented Californians remained uninsured. Given the combination of two controversial issues – immigration and healthcare – a shift in public perception is prerequisite for policy change.

Strategy: A foundation-branded advertising campaign demonstrating the contributions undocumented Californians make to their communities and the economy – #Health4All – supported by local organizing and media relations.

Who: The California Endowment.

How much: $35 million over four years including targeted local advertising spending of $5 million in year one.

Biggest Result: Preserved county healthcare safety net in state budget and paved the way for namesake “Health for All” legislation that fills the gaps between immigration status and ACA eligibility in California.

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The Invisible War


Issue: Sexual assault in the military goes under reported and under prosecuted as a crime. Women assaulted during service have a higher PTSD rate than men in combat.

Strategy: Focused communications strategy for policymaker education integrated into the production process for documentary film.

Who: Fledgling Fund and others including the Women’s Donor Network, Sundance Institute and several private donors.

How much: $25,000 for pre-Sundance outreach; an additional $35,000 for post-festival outreach, $5,000 for social media from the Fledgling Fund plus $20,000 in pass-through funding from a private partner donor. Also $100,000 and $50,000 for outreach and social media, respectively, from other funders.

Biggest Result: Prompted Department of Defense policy change, the writing and passing of 35 reforms in Congress. Additional legislation pending.

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The National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems


Issue: During the late 1990s, 47 states passed laws that put more juveniles in adult criminal court, instituted harsher sanctions and allowed adults and youths to be imprisoned in the same facilities. Each year, 2,000,000 juveniles enter the system.

Strategy: A national five-year campaign providing strategic, legislative, policy and communications support to enhance state-based juvenile justice reforms.

Who: The Juvenile Justice Funders’ Collaborative, includes The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, George Gund Foundation, Interact for Health, the New York Community Trust, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Sapelo Foundation.

How Much: The MacArthur Foundation provides $3.5 million a year for 5 years for a national campaign. Other investments vary by state; in Georgia, The Sapelo Foundation supports the campaign with $40,000 – $60,000 in partner grants annually.

Biggest Result: In the 30 states where the Campaign has been active, more than 75 policy reforms have successfully shifted state juvenile justice systems away from the reliance on harsh, punitive responses to delinquency, and toward more rehabilitative and restorative approaches that reduce crime, save money and help youth successfully transition to adulthood.

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RE-AMP and Midwest Energy News

Issue: Coal-fired power plant emissions in the Midwest negatively impact the health and economic well-being of its communities and contribute to climate change. Policies encouraging clean energy were not prioritized and a systems approach toward the complex issues was lacking.

Strategy: A network of issue-driven nonprofits and foundations across eight states coordinated their communications strategy with audience and messaging research and created a new media outlet to comprehensively cover energy issues in the region.

Who: Garfield Foundation, Joyce Foundation, George Gund Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and other private foundations.

How Much: Approximately $120,000 for messaging research and polling: Joyce Foundation provides approximately $125,000 dedicated to core support for Midwest Energy News annually; Charles Stuart Mott Foundation provides $50,000 for support of reporting on Michigan; George Gund Foundation provides $40,000 for reporting in Ohio.

Biggest Result: Halted the development of 28 new coal plants and enabled passage of energy efficiency policies in six states.

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Reporting on Health Collaborative


Issue: Valley fever, a disease caused by inhaling fungal spores found in the soil, infects more than 150,000 people each year, primarily in rural agricultural communities. Valley fever kills more people annually than hantavirus, whooping cough and salmonella poisoning combined, but there has been little interest in new treatments or a cure.

Strategy: Leverage the combined power of individual newsrooms by building a community media collaborative— integrated with community and policymaker outreach.

Who: The California Endowment.

How Much: $85,000 for project editor, project management, community engagement editor and valley fever blogging over 18 months, $30,000 for microsite development, plus additional multi-year, in-house investment in journalism training and journalism networking and in-house investment for editorial leadership and content coordination.

Biggest Result: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) committed to dedicate millions in funding to launch a major new study on treatment protocols.

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USC Health Journalism Fellowships


Issue: Childhood and adult obesity in West Virginia has reached epidemic proportions, and the state consistently ranks among the worst in every obesity-linked chronic disease. Annual associated health costs are projected to exceed $20 billion by 2018.

Strategy: Training, project support and peer exchange for journalists supports quality, in-depth reporting for a newspaper series titled “The Shape We’re In” and community outreach on the issue to key stakeholders and policymakers.

Who: The Dennis A. Hunt Family, The California Endowment (TCE), California Healthcare Foundation, Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.

How Much: A Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism individual reporting grant of $7,000 for one year + a portion of ongoing USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowships program infrastructure, programming, mentoring and administrative funding from TCE.

Biggest Result: Childhood obesity became an important issue for all stakeholders, and the West Virginia State School Board adopted a policy requiring an additional half hour of daily physical activity for every child.

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