Trends in Health Philanthropy with Jeff Barrus of Grantmakers In Health (GIH)

Join us in this episode of Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing as host Spencer Brooks sits down with Jeff Barrus from the Grantmakers In Health (GIH) to explore two compelling topics. First, we’ll uncover the latest trends in health philanthropy and discover what funders are prioritizing in the ever-evolving landscape. Then, we’ll discuss tailoring your communications to meet the specific needs of your audience, drawing from Jeff’s unique perspective as a communications director in the health nonprofit space.

About the guest

Jeff Barrus is the Communications Director at Grantmakers in Health (GIH), a philanthropy-serving organization that supports health funders of all sizes and interests through education, networking, and leadership. Prior to joining GIH, Jeff was Communications Director at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, where he led communications on a wide range of journalism and education initiatives. While at the Pulitzer Center, he was part of the team that produced the 1619 Project education network website, which won two 2022 Webby awards. He began his career at National Public Radio in 1998 and went on to serve in various communications roles at nonprofits, think tanks, and universities, including The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Atlantic Council, and Johns Hopkins University. Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, twin daughters, and three dogs.


Contact Jeff

Full Transcript


Welcome to Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing, a podcast for nonprofit marketers in the health space. Join us as we discuss how to use the web to drive awareness, engagement and action for health causes. This podcast is part of the thought education of books digital, the web agency for health nonprofits. Now, here’s your host, Spencer Brooks.

Spencer Brooks 00:26

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing. My name is Spencer and today I’m joined by Jeff Baris. Jeff is the communications director at Grantmakers In Health or GIH, for short, of philanthropy serving organization that supports health funders of all sizes and interests through education, networking, and leadership. Prior to joining GCIH, Jeff was the communications director at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, where he led communications on a wide range of journalism and education initiatives. So I brought Jeff on the show today to talk about trends in health philanthropy, as well as how to tailor your communications to meet the specific needs of your audience. So, Jeff, first of all, thanks for being on the show. Welcome. Could you just start by giving listeners a quick overview of GIH and what it is that you do there?

Jeff Barrus 01:22

Well, thank you so much, Spencer, I’m really, really happy to be here. GIH is, as you said, philanthropy support organization or PSO. And we’re here to educate and provide training to grant makers, whether it’s foundations or corporate giving programs, small family foundations, any type of grant giving program that works on health philanthropy. So we have a wide range of programming, whether it’s webinars or conferences about health and philanthropy and public health. We do a lot of work on health policy where we educate funders about what’s happening on the Hill in Washington, either, you know, in the House or Senate or in the administration. And we basically also serve as like, a  hub for networking, where we bring funders together to, you know, kind of figure out what common challenges or, you know, common priorities they have, and try to work with them to help, you know, help shape their work in health philanthropy, and grant writing.

Spencer Brooks 02:31

Oh, thanks, Jeff. I, I’ve actually been really looking forward to this interview a lot. Because I feel like you have such a it’s almost insider knowledge in a way, right due to the nature of your work, the trends, what funders are caring about? Things like that? I think it’s so relevant for people who are listening. So I’ve been really excited to have this conversation. And so I just love to kick it off. Ask you right off the bat. What are you seeing as some key focus areas for funders, and health philanthropy right now? What trends are you seeing? How do you think those trends are going to impact nonprofits?

Jeff Barrus 03:09

Yeah, so you know, for a long time, there’s been a big trend in health, philanthropy, about broadening the definition of health so that it focuses on the social determinants of health. You know, it’s pretty obvious that there are populations whose health is disadvantaged, based on housing or disability, income, civic engagement and other conditions in their lives, which aren’t always thought of as being tied to health but actually are really quite connected to people’s health and to health outcomes. And you would be really be hard pressed, I think, to find Grantmakers In Health funding partners. So just to take a step back really quick, we call, we are an association, but we’re not a membership organization. So we have grant makers who provide Grantmakers In Health with annual support financial support through dues, but they’re not members. So, we call them funding partners. So, you’ll hear me say funding partners a lot. And I just wanted to sort of make sure that I define that. So you would be hard pressed to find a GIH funding partner who doesn’t embrace the importance of the social determinants of health. And the thing about taking that approach to defining what health is, means that it’s something of a challenge for health funders to decide what they’re going to focus on. Because, you know, if you put the social determinants of health at the center of your perspective, then your purview is basically everything affects people’s lives. So, they have to care about housing, they have they have to care about democracy, about education and so many other things. And that this puts them into this really tough position of needing to prioritize and sort of figure out what, what work they can do that will have the most impact on people’s health overall. So that’s like one area that I think is a big trend in terms of what I’m hearing or what we’re hearing health funders talking about. We also hear a lot about behavioral health, workforce issues like primary care crisis, the nursing workforce staffing crisis, even a crisis and a lack of trained public health professionals. And then you have other areas like food systems, nutrition, food access, maternal and Child Health have gotten a lot of attention in recent years, especially black maternal health, birth equity and rural health, you know, and sort of thinking about it. Health Equity is probably besides social determinants of health. Health Equity is also a really big area of interest, the COVID pandemic and the racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd really opened the country’s eyes to the widespread inequities experienced by different under resourced groups around the country, you know, including people of color Indigenous communities, people that identify as LGBTQ and people living in, you know, sort of under serviced urban and rural communities. So that’s really brought health equity into the forefront I think, for a lot of people more broadly, nationally, but health, philanthropy has been working on health equity issues for an even longer period of time, dating back from before the pandemic, but the pandemic definitely has brought into the fore as being one of the our top, you know, issues Many in health philanthropy, have worked tirelessly on health equity issues, and, you know, as they become more urgent focus, especially in the wake of COVID, funders are definitely deepening and expanding that work, you know, speaking to our funding partners who, you know, we find that that’s something they really care a lot about. I mean, it’s an issue that health philanthropy really wants to address. We’ve also observed a trend where funders are becoming more engaged on public policy than they have been in the past. You know, I’m not talking about partisan politics. I’m not talking about electoral politics, but you know, policy in terms of working with government on the federal, state and local levels to see where philanthropy can contribute to improving health through policy. For instance, we’ve seen coalition’s of funders working together on various policy issues. Like for instance, in New York, a group of funders gathered together to partner with government to help address coverage gaps that were created in the unwinding of that public health emergency and a lot of the aid that was put into place as part of the COVID emergency. They’re also really starting to increase support for advocacy work, traditionally, the kinds of foundations that were policy engaged, would tended to fund things like objective research. But now there’s more receptivity to funding advocacy and organizations that align with the missions of the philanthropic organizations. So, they’re more engaged with policy, and they’re actually a bit bolder in terms of the way they engage. And, again, it’s not political, they’re not making like political statements, but like in supporting certain policy prescriptions that they may not have been as bold about in the past. There’s also a trend, I would say, finally, there’s also a trend towards greater community engagement, to make sure that philanthropies funding priorities really do match the priorities of the communities they serve. And those communities are now being more engaged in the decision making, who is getting funded and the types of things that are getting funded.

Spencer Brooks 08:24

This is some really, really good observations and insights. And I, you know, since I have to pick one right to go into here, I wanted to touch a bit on what you mentioned, right at the very beginning, which is how funders are having to prioritize and deal with like, there’s just a lot more, as you said, there’s a broadening definition of health, social determinants, things like that, which are making it difficult for funders to prioritize where that money is going. Would you mind expanding a little bit on that? And then maybe, do you have any advice for nonprofits who are seeking funding on how they might be able to stand out or make a compelling case in an environment where, you know, that might be difficult for funders to choose?

Jeff Barrus 09:15

Yeah. So, you know, you see, like, there’s a lot of like, particularly for smaller local, you know, smaller foundations or corporate giving programs or more local focus programs, they’re really focusing on these social determinants or the health issues that have the greatest impact on their communities. So you’ll see like funders in like say, Montana, focusing a lot on rural health and rural health equity, where urban funders may be working more on Black maternal health, or, you know, early childhood health, things that, you know, they see in their own communities, the national funders, the bigger foundations with the bigger corporate giving programs tend to work on a more broader range of issues because they have more resources to do that. But the smaller foundations, you know, or the regional focus foundations really will focus in on those sorts of issues that are of highest priority in their local communities or their states or their regions of the country. In terms of making nonprofits stand out and making their work compelling, I would really suggest, I’m sure a lot of nonprofits are doing this already, sort of seeking out funders whose priorities aligned with your own mission and goals, like it wouldn’t make sense for you to, you know, if you’re focused on rural health, it would not necessarily, you know, make sense for you to go to a funder that has like a very hyper specific focus on a health issue that’s not related to rural health. Like, I would definitely seek out foundations and funders look at who they’re who their grantees are, when you’re reaching out to them. And sort of find funders whose grantees work aligns with your own to sort of figure out what their priorities are, I mean, most foundations are pretty transparent about what their funding or what their interests are. But even if they’re not as transparent about it, by seeing who their grantees are, you can get a sense for whether or not they’re a good match for you as a funder for your work.

Spencer Brooks 11:16

Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. I’m also curious, Jeff, what you think, I guess, where do you see the momentum building? A lot, you know, last year and even in the year to come? Is there a particular area that you’ve noticed, or maybe one that has surprised you that you really say, hey, there’s like this is snowballing?

Jeff Barrus 11:34

Yeah, I mean, I think health equity is where a lot of the momentum is. I mean, you do, like I said earlier, you do hear a lot about social determinants of health, sort of as a broad framework for thinking about health. But, you know, there is a lot of interest, particularly in foundations that are serving traditionally underserved communities, there’s a big focus in trying to narrow those gaps in health outcomes for people who traditionally have been left out of the system. So you know, if you go to the, you know, GIH Annual Conference, which is the biggest gathering in the country of health funders, you hear a lot of a lot of funders talking about how they’re really hyper focused on health equity. And again, we are hearing a lot more on birth equity, on trying to close the gap between different groups in terms of birth outcomes and trying to deal with the maternal mortality issue. And, you know, the sort of not typically rich country issues that the United States has to deal with when it comes to maternal health. Yeah, I think those are probably like the big the big areas.

Spencer Brooks 12:40

Yeah, that’s really insightful. Yeah. Thank you for indulging me on some of those questions. I actually did want to talk a little bit about a movement that you mentioned in one of our earlier conversation, Jeff, a movement called trust based philanthropy. And so I’m curious to get your perspective, how does that shift in grant giving impact nonprofit organizations? What benefits do you think it brings to both funders and grantees?

Jeff Barrus 13:07

 Well, I would say trust-based philanthropy is a really positive development in grant giving, I’ve worked most of my career at various nonprofits. And, you know, I’ve seen, I haven’t worked in development, I’ve not been a fundraiser, I’m primarily been a communicator, I’ve seen just sort of how, you know, how it typically works in terms of applying for grants, that it’s usually a pretty strict process that requires a lot of administration on the part of the nonprofit to apply for grants. And then also, there’s a lot of really strict reporting requirements that happen afterwards, where, you know, you have to really prove the outcomes that you managed to achieve. And it’s just, it’s for small nonprofits, for really small nonprofits that are understaffed, it can be quite difficult, you know, getting funding and then also meeting all of the requirements that funders have. And you know, and traditionally, it’s been kind of a top down approach where the relationship is really dictated by the funder. And the nonprofits really just sort of have to follow the rules that the funder sets out. But trust based philanthropy takes a much different approach. One way is the powers is vested, not only in the funder, but also in the grantee, so that instead of, you know, instead of restricting funds to various specific projects, or things that are outlined in their agreement with funders, you know, a trust based approach typically offers multi year general operating grants that, unlike specific project grants, allow nonprofits to spend the money in the ways that best suits their mission, as opposed to really restricting them to various specific uses of that money. And that’s huge. I mean, I at the Pulitzer Center, you know, generally operating support gave us so much more flexibility and freedom to support journalism than other types of grants. So, you know, it, it really I have seen myself how important that is to nonprofits to have that freedom. They also they tend to relax reporting requirements in trust based philanthropy, where nonprofits don’t have to, you know, do as much paperwork as they had in the past, which, which obviously frees them up to focus more on their core missions. And you also see the funders having a more of a partnership role with the grantees or nonprofits. So that, you know, they’re checking in regularly to see how they’re doing, they offer ongoing support and advice in a way that’s definitely, you know, more productive than in other forms of grant giving. You know, the key with trust-based philanthropy is really to give nonprofits the support they need for their long term success. And funders who follow this approach, really understand that it takes time to reach the outcomes you’re looking for. I mean, I, you know, for so many years, you know, working in nonprofits, I’ve seen, funders will give a, you know, a nonprofit like, you know, a one to three year grant, and then after that their support is gone. But with a more trust based approach, you see more long term investments in grantees, which I think really helps improve outcomes, because so many nonprofits just end when these grants run out, or they’re not able to replace them, or they have to radically shift their focus and their work to chase what different funders are looking for in terms of granting. So this approach really is I think, a lot better for nonprofits, and gives them more of a runway to do their work  then they’ve had in the past, I would add that, you know, if you want to learn more about trust based philanthropy, there’s a great resource online, it’s the Trust Based Philanthropy Project, and you can go and see how they define it. And you know, what it means for both funders and grantees working together in new ways. And then if you want examples of you know, a good example of a recent philanthropist who made a lot of trust based gifts, is Mackenzie Scott, like about a little over a year ago, she gave a pretty significant amount of money to a number of nonprofits through a trust based approach. They didn’t apply, her people vetted all of these nonprofits on their own reached out to them directly, instead of having nonprofits apply to her for grants. And then she gave them rather substantial general operating support gifts, that really were transformative for those organizations and really will help them to, you know, succeed in their missions in ways that other grants can’t. So that’s one recent example. But a lot of other grant makers are also sort of shifting to a more trust based approach.

Spencer Brooks 17:48

I’m curious, Jeff, what, what percentage or how common do you think that this this is out there? Right, because I, my impression is that the old model, right of imposing certain restrictions or reporting requirements, that’s still the majority of funding. How common in your view is the trust based approach right now?

Jeff Barrus 18:08

I’d say it’s, it’s obviously less, it’s less common than the traditional, you know, the traditional approach to funding, but it’s gaining traction and interest. Philanthropies recognize that they need to have a more equitable relationship with grantees. And so you’ll see, you may not see funders going all the way to like what Mackenzie Scott is doing. But you are seeing the funders adapt aspects of trust-based philanthropy into their work and into the, you know, their relationships with their grantees. But I will say it’s still the majority of, I can’t give you a percentage number, but still, the majority of grants are given under the old model, but it is definitely a shift that I’m hearing a lot about, and that we’re hearing at our, you know, the last few years of our conference, we heard a bit about it from various funders. So it is, it’s definitely a real thing. But it’s not something that has totally taken over the field of health philanthropy just yet.

Spencer Brooks 19:10

Sure, yeah. Well, it’s still it’s exciting nonetheless, I’m glad we’re able to talk about that. And, Jeff, I would be remiss if, as a communications director, I did not ask you about communications related topics. And so I wanted to talk a little bit about tailoring communications. This is another thing that I wanted to, to chat with you about. I know that you’ve highlighted in your conversations with me and you know, alluded to that a little bit in some of your early, earlier answers to my questions of the importance of aligning your messaging with the priorities of funders. And so could you give me your thoughts on how other nonprofit professionals you know, regardless of what their primary audience is, I know that it’s quite, it can be different within the health field. How can other professionals is listening to this apply those principles to tailor their communications effectively?

Jeff Barrus 20:05

Yeah, so I think it’s really important to be clear eyed about who your audience is and what they need and want from you. This means I think you really have to take the opportunity when you can get it. And for me, I’m lucky because we have two annual conferences, you know, we have a very specific audience in health funders, but it’s really important. So I have a lot of opportunities that other nonprofit comms professionals may not have to talk to my constituents one on one. But I think it’s really important to ask questions of your constituents and sort of figure out why it is they’re engaging with you and your work, what they like about your work and what you offer and what they’d like to see, change or improve. It’s, you know, it’s important not to leave things to guesswork when you’re planning your communications, and really understanding why you have an audience and you know, how you can meet their needs is super important. You know, we view GIH as a hub for health funders, they come to us because they want to learn from what their colleagues in the field are doing, not just their successes, but also lessons from programs that didn’t work as expected. And you know, we also know that our  constituents are deeply committed to advancing better health for all. So, they also want to hear not just from other funders, but also from government, nonprofit grantees, caregivers, public health professionals, and really anyone else working on the ground who’s committed to the goal of improving health. So, knowing that, I always take, I always try to elevate or uplift people or topics or work that sort of fits into that sort of lens of looking at health. You know, when I’m developing our communications products, you know, whether we’re talking about newsletters, or social media, or articles, or reports, or even our marketing materials, which, you know, we’re just trying to promote ourselves. I always ask myself, if what we’re, you know, what we’re doing furthers the narrative of GIH as that hub for health, philanthropy? And are we providing our audience with information that’s unique and useful and furthering their work as professionals in health philanthropy? And also, everything we do, all of our communications has to inherently make the case that GIH is an organization that funders should be engaging with and investing in. And, you know, it’s the same, I took the same approach at the Pulitzer Center, when my main audience, I would say, you know, what was, you know, was pretty bespoke. You know, we were trying to reach funders who were interested in funding journalism, we were trying to reach educators who wanted to bring journalism into the classroom, we wanted to reach reporters who we hoped would apply for grants from the Pulitzer Center. So, you know, I very specifically tailored our communications to those different audiences as well, it’s a little easier for me at Grantmakers In Health, because I have one very sort of unified audience. But again, it’s like, you really have to look at your work and think, Is this what my audience wants to see and, you know, checking analytics on, you know, on social media, on your website, on email, it’s all really helpful, attendee numbers for events, and surveys from, from attendees at events like all of that helps to sort of shape what the overall, you know, overall approach is in the communications content that we create, in the products that we create, you know, and if I feel like a product we’re doing doesn’t meet that criteria, whether it’s from the comms team or something, something that’s created by another GIH colleague, like I really do think it’s important for us to take a step back and talk through like, how can we make this better? How can we shaped this to better serve what our audience is looking for? In terms of communications? I on, you know, on some levels, I view our communications products as really being akin to a new service devoted to health philanthropy. So what are the health policies funders should know about? How are, you know, funders around the country investing in health, not just in their local communities, but also on the state and federal levels? And besides the content we create, or our funding partners create, you know, is there as I said before, other content from other sources that we can elevate in terms of like, I will probably talk more about channels later on, but like thinking about social media, and how we tailor our content and social media, you know, Twitter’s effectively gone as a viable channel and, you know, Metis algorithms that made their platforms sort of ineffective in reaching professionals unless you’re running paid ads. But that said, like social media is still really important. And I know a lot of nonprofits tend to relegate their social media to like very junior staff or interns, and then they ended up putting out content that’s either pretty light in terms of substance, or they put out, you know, they’re putting out content that’s just sort of like a real condensation of their longer form content. I think, you know, with social media, I really tried to work with my team to make sure that we have content that is sort of native to that platform, or to the social media platform we’re using. And that also still falls into the sort of priorities I have for content that I outlined before. Is the social media content, you know, does it does? Does it maintain the narrative that we are this hub for information about health philanthropy? Does it give useful, you know, information or useful content for our constituents, so they can better do their work? And does it seem like it’s of a really high quality? So I tried to take that approach with it as well. But across the board, from newsletters, to articles and reports, and to social media, I really want to make sure that all of our content aligns with GIH’s underlying mission, and is of use to our end user, like I don’t want to ever send an email out to our audience that isn’t, doesn’t have some inherent value to it. And I think, you know, I know a lot of other communicators feel the same way and approach it the same way. But I guess this is sort of like my unique take on on making sure that our content is relevant to our audience.

Spencer Brooks 26:34

Yeah, I would frame it like that’s a disciplined strategy, communication strategy, right to be able to develop that clear understanding of audiences. And you’re right, you’re lucky to have one unified audience because you’re, I think you’re the exception rather than the rule.

Jeff Barrus 26:50

Oh, for sure. Yeah. I was just gonna say it makes it makes it a lot easier for sure. Like, I know, if you’re a nonprofit in a community and you’re trying to reach different audiences on health issues, it’s a bigger challenge. And I, it’s easier for me to do. But I’ve also, like I said, I’ve worked in other organizations that had broader audiences. You know, like I worked at foreign policy think tanks where we’ll have like one really big, we would have like one really big audience that had a very specific niche interest that may not be interesting to our wider audience. So, like, how you communicate directly with them versus how you communicate with your bigger audience, that can be a challenge. But I do think that no matter how fractured your audience may be, or how diverse your audience may be, you should always be disciplined about how your communications products are telling the story of what it is that you do and why what you do is important.

Spencer Brooks 27:47

Yeah. Jeff, I wanted to briefly touch a little bit more on channels. I know you kind of alluded to this, unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of time to like to dive into that. Although I wish we did. But I did want to give you a chance, just to, you talked a little bit about social media. But do you have any advice on how, you know nonprofits can help tailor their communications or use other channels to connect with their audience?

Jeff Barrus 28:15

Yeah. So, you know, for years, I think communications teams have really felt pressured to follow a certain roadmap, when it comes to leveraging the various communications channels we have available to us. You know, early in my career, you know, which was in the, you know, early 2000s, late 90s, there was this obsession with mainstream media coverage, with intense pressure, you know, to get media hits, especially television, so comms teams were focused, you know, not exclusively, but very much on getting media coverage. And you still see nonprofit leaders who are demanding those media hits, but without sort of understanding that the news media has changed significantly in the past decade. And I would say, you know, even more so during the Trump years that it just has, the changes have really accelerated, coverage has really narrowed to fit the political news cycle, and there’s not a lot of room for other types of stories. And if you can’t find a way to fit your work into that cycle, good luck, you know, hitting mainstream media attention because if you’re not part of the whatever the ongoing narrative is, they’re just not going to be interested in telling you know, their audiences about your work, giving you opportunities to share your work. So, like big mainstream media hits, you know, feel good and impress boards and funders, you know, in an annual report, but they do, but I don’t know that they really, when they do happen, I don’t think they make a lot of difference in terms of reaching the right audiences. So, like, you know, with earned media, focusing on the trade press or smaller local outlets that cover what you do is more important, I think then trying to get bigger outlets to cover you. So like, I tend to, you know, focus on like the philanthropic trade press like Chronicle Philanthropy, Inside Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly, Philanthropy News Digest like outlets like that. And I spent a lot less time trying to get the attention of reporters like the Washington Post or the New York Times. But I do think that earned media is still you know, it’s kind of like a diminishing area in communications, I think our own media channels are the most important. And I think figuring out, like, what channels are most appropriate for you and your work and where your audience is, is like, really key. So like, with social media, you know, we receive a lot of pressure, just like we do with earned media, to, you know, get our story out there, and to use every platform available. And oftentimes, I’ll hear stories from colleagues or friends will tell me about how like, you know, who are working in comms, who told me that, you know, a senior leader in their organization really likes a particular platform, like say, TikTok, so they really want to see their organization, posting video on TikTok, when, you know, that may not, that’s probably not where their audience is. So like, focusing on where your audience is, I think is, is really important. To do that you should, you know, look at your analytics and try to figure out which platforms are giving you the most, you know, the biggest bang for your buck in terms of the time you’re investing. So like, when I started at GIH, I looked at our channels and saw we had really low engagement on Facebook, and on what was then called Twitter. But I didn’t notice that we were getting really good engagement on LinkedIn, which we were sort of rarely posting on. But when we did, we got a lot of, you know, we got a lot of clicks, and likes and comments, responses from people. So, you know, because our audience is primarily made up of philanthropic leadership and staff, they’re on LinkedIn a lot, because they use LinkedIn, to communicate with each other, with colleagues and friends and to sort of learn more and grow as professionals. And so we really shifted away from using Facebook or Twitter, to using LinkedIn as our you know, as our main social media platform, we saw a lot of, a big increase in, in engagement because of that. We also sort of rethought how we use LinkedIn. GIH, you know, as I said before, it’s like the hub of health philanthropy. And our bulletin newsletter is by far our most successful product. It is, you know, it features news about what funders are doing. And it also includes articles written by funders about their work to sort of help other funders learn about how the field is, you know, prioritizing funds and how they’re working with grantees and those kinds of things and how successful those grantee projects are. So, I took sort of that approach and applied it to LinkedIn, where LinkedIn is sort of a clearing house now, for us for news about our funding partners, and about philanthropy writ large. We put our media monitoring software to work to find news stories about our funding partners, ourselves. So instead of waiting for them to come to us, we would find stories about them, or stories they were putting out and share those on LinkedIn. And so we really grew the types of content and expanded the types of content we put out LinkedIn. And we found that our constituents really, you know, really noticed that we had put the effort in and really appreciated that we were sharing their work with the field more broadly, and more consistently than just with our monthly newsletter. So I think that’s sort of an example of like, how we have looked at our social channels and figured out how best to use them to meet the needs of what our funders are.

Spencer Brooks 28:15

Yeah. And, Jeff, I think that’s it’s a very, it’s like an insightful point in the sense that it’s, a lot of people are going to copy just blindly what they see, you know, it could be the for profit sector or whatever, yeah, or even what other nonprofits are doing. But being able to actually see what it is a your audience is doing, I think is way more valuable information. So, I appreciate you being able to highlight those. I have a couple, two final questions for you. I’d like to squeeze in before we’re done with the episode here. And the first one is just what’s one thing that you’re working on over the next three to six months that either excites or maybe terrifies you?

Jeff Barrus 33:42

Well, I can’t tell you if it excites me more or terrify me more. But we just yesterday signed a contract with an agency to provide us with a real, a detailed assessment of our communications platforms. So our website, our funding partner portal, which is kind of like a membership portal, our CRM, our email marketing system, all of our systems and help us develop a roadmap for how we can have a more integrated, more usable, you know, system of platforms to use in the future. So, I’m really excited about that. But I’m also really terrified about what the, you know, what the roadmap will reveal. And you know, just what kind of work will need to be done to get our systems into a place where they are, you know, they do meet that vision of having a fully integrated, very usable, user-friendly system for us and for Grantmakers In Health, in our board, and our constituents, and everyone else that interacts with us. You know, like, the biggest project I’ve ever worked on previously, was a redesign of the Pulitzer Center website, which was done in tandem with the creation of a separate website for the Center’s, rainforest journalism fund, both sides shared a back end. And eventually, we added a website for the New York Times 1619 project on top of that, at the end of that project, so that was a huge project, I think this is going to be an even bigger project. So I’m a bit terrified of that. But I’m also really excited about what the future might hold after we’ve done it.

Spencer Brooks 36:05

Good luck with that. I know that’s, you know, it’s fun to have something that’s bigger and more challenging, right, than anything you’ve done in the past. Yeah, that is both exciting and terrifying. I appreciate you sharing that. I also wanted to ask you, Jeff, just what are two or three resources that you regularly use to keep up on news and trends in your work?

Jeff Barrus 36:21

Yeah, so I am a member of the Communications Network or ComNet, which I don’t know if your listeners probably know what ComNet is. But it’s basically an association of community, nonprofit communicators. And they have a big annual conference every year, but they also have lots of webinars and opportunities for local meetups or happy hours. And I’ve just found like, every time I interact with anybody through ComNet, I like I gain an incredible insight that I never had before I learned something new. So it really is just an indispensable network to join, I would really recommend it. But as someone working in philanthropy, which is like a really niche kind of world, which is relatively small compared to other nonprofit specializations, I’m also a member of the United Philanthropy Forum through Grantmakers In Health, which is an association of philanthropic support organizations for PSOs. And they do for PSO is what we do for funders. And they’re really essential and learning about what the trends are in the philanthropic space, especially the broader trends outside of health philanthropy in other areas of priority areas for philanthropy, it’s super, super helpful for me, man, I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from people I’ve met through United Philanthropy Forum. And then finally, you know, GIH has a lot of standing partnerships with a number of other PSOs when our work intersects and every time I collaborate with another PSO, I just learn something new, not just about being a being a staff member at a PSO, but also just about communications generally, in terms of how they, you know, how they tell the world about their work, or how we work together as a team., when we’re partnering to tell the world about our work. Just I always learned something great from them, too. So like those are, those are like, basically, the three resources that I go to most for news and trends in my work in communications and philanthropy.

Spencer Brooks 38:25

Wonderful. Yeah. And for listeners, as always, we’ll make sure and have those links in the show notes if you want to be able to access them. And Jeff, I really only have one more question for you, which is how can listeners get in touch with you if they’d like to learn more about your work?

Jeff Barrus 38:39

Sure. So I would definitely encourage them to visit Grantmakers In Health and our website at Also, you can reach me on threads at GJ Baris or at LinkedIn. I’m the Jeff Baris on LinkedIn that works at Grantmakers In Health, there are other Jeff Barrus’s there, and you can always email me at J Barrus that’s B A R R U S at GIH.orh.

Spencer Brooks 39:05

Wonderful. Well, that wraps up our show for today. As always, if you liked this episode, please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. The show is also part of the thought leadership of Brooks digital, we are a web design, development and strategy Agency for health nonprofits. So, if you like this podcast, feel free to check out our website at You can find more of our insights and learn more about our work. But with all that said, Jeff, I really appreciate you coming on the show today. Thanks so much.

Jeff Barrus 39:39

Thank you so much, Spencer, it’s been a real pleasure and I’ve loved discovering your podcast and hearing from other communicators


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