Case Study: Our Work for the Chorus Foundation

The Chorus Foundation had only a temporary logo and a landing page when they asked Landry Communications and PowerLabs to help them develop a comprehensive communications program.

Chorus wanted to do three things with their communications:

  1. Shift the conversation in philanthropy by offering a winning strategy on climate and by helping single-interest funders in public health, housing, economic development, democracy, labor, and environmental issues see how a just transition approach can accomplish multiple objectives.
  2. Promote the just transition narrative. 
  3. Inspire funders on the sidelines to get into the game. Offer a compelling, alternate vision for the future that inspire others to invest in the work of building a brighter future.

We felt Chorus needed three things: a strong brand identity, a plan, and the right tools. 

Brand Identity

We think of an organization's identity as being the sum of several parts:

  • the brand promise — the reason it exists;
  • rand values, which help the organization determine what it will (and will not) do, and how it will do those things; and
  • the brand personality.

Everything, from the design aesthetic to tone of voice, flows from these elements of brand, so it's important to get very clear about them. We did this work in four phases.

1. Discovery

At the beginning we want to suspend judgment and simply learn about the client from a variety of perspectives.

We worked with Chorus, MACED, and KFTC to come to a better understanding of just transition work and the best ways to talk about it. We used a lot of easel pa

We worked with Chorus, MACED, and KFTC to come to a better understanding of just transition work and the best ways to talk about it. We used a lot of easel pa

So we began by listening, a lot. We had a series of in-person and phone conversations with the Chorus board, their grantees, and other funders. These were done in confidence so grantees, especially, would feel free to speak their minds.

We then went to Kentucky with Farhad Ebrahimi and Cuong Huang of Chorus to meet with staff members from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) and the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), the two anchor organizations whose work in eastern Kentucky is being supported by Chorus. That workshop gave us very helpful insight into ways the foundation could talk about its work in ways that support the stories told by its grantees.  

This work included a focus on the key audiences Chorus needed to engage with, so we could prioritize them, articulate their needs and aspirations, and develop a strategy for engaging them in conversation.

An ice storm in eastern Kentucky couldn't keep us from brainstorming over beer and tacos at the West 6th Brewery in Lexington after a day-long meeting with about a dozen folks from Chorus, KFTC, and MACED. There's really no substitute for meeting in person early in a project like this.

An ice storm in eastern Kentucky couldn't keep us from brainstorming over beer and tacos at the West 6th Brewery in Lexington after a day-long meeting with about a dozen folks from Chorus, KFTC, and MACED. There's really no substitute for meeting in person early in a project like this.

2. Synthesis

We used what we learned during discovery to help Chorus begin the process of crafting its identity. We began by working with them on a new mission statement:

The Chorus Foundation works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States. We support communities on the front lines of the old, extractive economy to build new bases of political, economic, and cultural power for systemic change.

And a new vision statement:

We envision an economy in which everyone can find meaningful work; an environment in which everyone has access to clean air, clean water, and a stable climate; and a democracy in which everyone has a say.

This phase is a chance to play with what we're learning, and to test some ideas about what we're seeing.

3. Reporting

Finally, we took everything we had learned and collected it in a brand study that described the foundation's strategic and communications goals, a description of their identity, an analysis of their audiences, thoughts on framing, a series of top level messages, a suggested tone of voice, and implications of their identity on design and content development. 

We presented our report to the Chorus board and revised it based on that conversation. The finished report became our map and guide for the work to come.

4. Design

The next step was to develop a visual identity: a logo, color palette, typefaces, and guidelines for using them. We asked the Design Action Collective of Oakland, California to work with us on this phase.

Nadia Khastagir served as project lead for Design Action. They developed several concepts, did further development of the ones Chorus liked best, then produced a final design that became the basis for the website and other materials. 

Tools

With the identity fully developed, we turned our attention to the tools Chorus needed to tell its story.

1. Website — PowerLabs developed a custom WordPress site, but only after we had created a content plan. "Websites should be built after the content is developed, not the other way around," says Randall Smith of PowerLabs. We also created a searchable database of Chorus grants and investments. PowerLabs provides hosting and site maintenance.

2. Copy — We wrote the website copy, sourced images, and wrote case studies about the work of grantees of the foundation. Chorus is very clear that the heroes of their story are the grantees creating change on the frontlines, and the site reflects that focus. 

3. Videos — We agreed to produce a series of videos meant to help funders think about how they might use their funds to advance a just transition. The first one is an invitation to collaborate.

The second focuses on the Chorus Foundation's investment strategy, and encourages funders to use all their assets, not just their grant funds, to support a just transition to the new economy. It tells the story of New Era Windows, a worker-owned cooperative supported by The Working World, an organization that has received investment funds from Chorus.

We will complete a longer (12-15 minute) video about the work in eastern Kentucky in 2016. The videos are produced and directed by Chris Landry in collaboration with Digital Development Communications

Communications Plan

We have been working with the foundation to develop and implement a communications plan that, at the moment, focuses on social media, media relations, and capacity building for grantees.

Chorus wants to influence conversations in philanthropy about climate change and other issues. There are at least two ways to do that. The harder one, by far, is attracting an audience to one's own website. We thought that would be largely ineffective.

Instead, we are trying to help Chorus go to where the conversations are already taking place. One of the most popular places at the moment is Medium, a platform with a large audience interested in big ideas. 

We are working with Chorus to publish and promote a series of articles by founder Farhad Ebrahimi. The first one, What We’ve Learned After a Decade of Climate Funding, and What We’re Doing Instead, was well received. It's been widely read and discussed in philanthropy circles and has resulted in several interview requests from media outlets like Inside Philanthropy, which wrote this piece and this one after reading the article on Medium.

At the same time, we are looking to see how we can help the foundation's grantees tell their stories more effectively. PowerLabs is offering an email newsletter and webinars for grantees and others, Landry Communications is sharing resources and (soon) workshops, and we'll be offering more in the future. 

Cuong P. Hoang of Mott Philanthropy, which provides staffing and administrative support to Chorus, says of our work:

"Chris immediately understood the culture and values of the Foundation, which is deeply embedded in supporting and working closely with frontline communities in the United States fighting for social justice, especially at the intersection of climate justice, economic justice, racial justice, and democratic participation. His passion for and understanding of the work of the Foundation and grantees is not only reflected in our new logo and the content of our website, but also in his ongoing work with us."

About This Work

It's very satisfying to have the chance to work with a client on the whole range of services described here. Much more often, we're asked to take on a smaller piece of work. Either way, the best results come from open communication between the consultants and client, so expectations are clear and the work can adapt to new needs and opportunities.