A year before the 2010 Census officially started, Ford Foundation program officer Thomasina Williams was worried.
Part of her work at Ford was to encourage a full and accurate count, particularly among groups that are traditionally undercounted such as people of color and people with low incomes.
worried that neither hard-to-reach communities nor foundations that could help support Census efforts were getting the message about the vital importance of this once-in-ten-years effort.
For help, she
turned to the communications department at the Ford Foundation
"One of the problems with the Census is that it happens only once a decade," said Williams, program officer, Democracy, Rights and Justice Program at Ford.
"There is not a ready audience for this.
We had to figure out how to make it more compelling so that people would get engaged in it.
That's a communications issue."
In the summer of 2009, Williams met with Alfred Ironside, Ford's Director of Communications, and his team.
Working together, Williams
and Ironside created an action plan, hired Hattaway Communications to develop and test messaging that would be effective with key audiences, and rolled out a messaging manual within four months.
also thought it was important to produce a tool kit to help other foundations understand the importance of the 2010 Census
wanted the tool kit to give them useful ideas for ways that they could help, including becoming vocal about the need for an accurate count and fundi
ng nonprofit organizations to work in their communities to encourage people to fill out their Census
"Surprisingly, there wasn't much documentation or best practices from the Census
a decade earlier," she
"We thought it would be helpful to have a tool kit to help others figure out how to navigate the multitude of issues now that the Census
was upon us.
Why should we all make the same mistakes?"
commissioned the tool kit, which came back at more than 100 pages.
It had useful information but it was too long and unwieldy to use without a major edit and revision.
turned to the communications department for help.
said that she
has heard from grantees and other foundations about how useful both products are in their work promoting the 2010 Census
"Having the resources of the communications department was a godsend to us," she
"The tool kit does a brilliant job in getting to the essence of the message that we wanted to communicate.
The message manual is very professional and eye catching."
added, "It's really important to involve communications on the front end of a project.