Takeaways from NEO’s Communications Capacity Building Convening

By Robert Bray

NEO Philanthropy’s Four Freedoms Fund (FFF) has proudly supported the SPIN Academy communications training experience for social justice advocates for several years. This year at the SPIN Academy in Marin, California, SPIN celebrated its 20th anniversary of helping develop communications skills and leadership. SPIN has trained well over 500 activists from a cross-section of issues, including immigration, LGBTQ, environmental justice and conservation, racial justice, economic justice, reproductive freedom, gender equity and many more.  Participants comment on the supportive networking and enduring skills building of the experience:  “I was new to communications,” said one alum, “and SPIN gave me all the basics I need for a foundation to build on.  Years later, it’s about mastering those same basic skills.” A recent attendee added, “I love the sense of camaraderie that SPIN fosters – it makes me think about my own organization’s positioning in the broader social justice ecosystem.”

Joining in this year’s learning and the 20th anniversary celebration were grantees from NEOs Four Freedoms Fund, including American Friends Service Community, Nebraska Appleseed, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, African Communities Together, National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and CASA, among others.  The SPIN Academy Marin comes on the heels of another communications capacity building resource supported by FFF, the Texas Immigration Communications Convening, held outside Houston, TX in July.

Robert Bray, NEO/Four Freedoms Fund communications director, founded the SPIN Project and co-founded the Academy to teach activists the basics of strategic communications, including messaging, framing, planning and tactics. Over the years, the curriculum evolved to include new communications tools, such as social media, podcasting and digital media.  An important part of the SPIN Academy experience is convening activists in bucolic, rustic and restorative natural settings, far from the daily pressures of being on the front lines of the fight for social justice.  When not engaging in peer learning and skills building sessions on topics such as values-based messaging, pitching reporters or digital infographics, participants could be seen restoring their energy and relaxing their minds on nature trails through oak forests at Walker Creek Ranch, site of this year’s and past several Academies.

NEO is committed to the capacity building of our grantees and partners. In the past five years, NEO has strategically awarded more than $130 million in some 1,400 grants to almost 500 organizations and projects working to strengthen the social justice infrastructure across the country.

Watch the 20th Anniversary SPIN Academy video here.


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