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Choosing the right messenger is a critical step in every strategic communication effort. Without the right person delivering it, your message is just a nice set of words.

Cognitive science has demonstrated time and time again that what is being said can matter far less than who is saying it. Communicating effectively thus depends on selecting the right people, and the right settings, for getting your message out.

Many foundations (and nonprofits) have learned this the hard way, through trial and error. Given the public’s relative lack of familiarity with (and in some cases outright skepticism around) the work of philanthropy, grantmakers themselves often lack the requisite credibility to move public perception on issues we care most about. But working through grantees, who are more closely connected to community, our issues can find unexpected lift and impact.

The best messenger may be a dedicated community activist who has been working on the front lines for decades. It may be a group of individuals directly impacted by the issue you are seeking to address. It may even be a celebrity. The key is to be intentional about choosing messengers who are viewed with trust, respect and the appropriate level of authority on your issue.

by the numbers


Videos created and uploaded to the It Gets Better Project.


Raised by the ALS Association in the Ice Bucket Challenge (as of September 2014).


Percentage of foundations using social media who have not developed a formal social media strategy.

tips and insights

When people’s identities are wrapped up in their beliefs, more facts and evidence won’t change their minds. Hearing from someone who they identify with might.

Effective messengers do the following: establish credibility, make it relevant, tell the truth, keep it simple, make a connection, and repeat, repeat, repeat (Progressive Majority).

For the seventh year in a row, NGOs are trusted more than governments or businesses, according to the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, an international survey of 27,000 people across 27 countries worldwide.