Last month, Media Impact Funders (MIF) made its annual trek to the Sundance Film Festival, where we released our latest report—Decoding Media Impact: Insights, Advice and Recommendations—to a room of about 80 funders from some of the country’s leading foundations.

Katie Donnelly, MIF research consultant and the report’s lead author, presented on the top takeaways of our impact report, which represents a synthesis of what we’ve learned about media impact assessment over the past seven years.

Katie was joined in conversation with Holly Gordon, chief impact officer at Participant Media, and Sonya Childress, impact fellow at Perspective Fund (and formerly director of partnerships and engagement for Firelight Media). Holly and Sonya shared their reactions to the report and how the impact conversation is playing out in the field.

The insight from the report that seemed to resonate most was that funders should be mindful of power dynamics, and thoughtful in determining appropriate impact strategies with their grantees. Sonya pointed to the Trust-Based Philanthropy movement, which is reimagining power dynamics in philanthropy. Adopting trust-based principles could help funders and grantees be more transparent and responsive, which is key when experimenting with new ways of measuring impact in a rapidly-changing media landscape.

This conversation about impact actually started months earlier, in August 2019 at Participant Media in Los Angeles, where we held a special meeting to help chart a course for the field of media impact assessment. We convened leading practitioners to identify best practices, assess the state of practice more broadly, and explore new ways of doing media impact assessment. Feedback from the attendees of that meeting helped inform our new report.

We gathered many of those same attendees at Sundance in a smaller, more intimate meeting with leading media practitioners and impact experts to discuss the final impact report and possible next steps. Participants suggested ways to further tailor our impact resources to different funder audiences. One interesting question that came up: Are funders in need of more case studies of high-impact media projects to make the case for investing in media impact? Or do we need funders to look at the rich libraries of case studies of individual projects we already have, and move toward looking at social impact media projects more collectively? 

Other impact news from our funder meeting at Sundance

Funders in the room shared their 2020 priorities, beginning with a content-sharing partnership between World Channel and Link TV. Other highlights:

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Media Impact Funders

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Media Impact Funders traces its roots back to the Council on Foundations, a longtime philanthropy-serving organization. Formerly Grantmakers in Film, Video & Television, MIF began on a volunteer basis in 1984 as an affinity group for funders interested in the power of film to highlight social issues. Reflecting changes in technology and media behavior over the past decade, it was renamed Grantmakers in Film & Electronic Media (GFEM) and formally incorporated in 2008 to advance the field of media arts and public interest media funding. It had 45 members and was headed by former MacArthur Foundation Program Officer Alyce Myatt. GFEM was renamed Media Impact Funders in 2012 and has since expanded its strategy to include a broad range media funding interests such as journalism, immersive technologies, media policy and more. Since that time, MIF has grown to more than 80 organizational members representing some of the largest foundations, and holds more than 40 in-person and online events yearly.