Strategy and communications
consulting for foundations and
My name is Eric Brown
When I was a little boy I found a chicken in my neighborhood in Queens, and I ended up in the newspaper. Thus began an illustrious career in communications.
Little did I know that this fascinating incident would someday lead to Brownbridge Strategies, a strategy and communications consulting firm that helps foundations and non-profits achieve their goals. (Read more about the famous chicken story.)
For almost eleven years, I was the communications director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California. In addition to creating strategies for the foundation’s own organizational communications, I worked closely with the foundation’s programs and grantees, helping to design and implement communications strategies in global development, reproductive health, environment, education, philanthropy, and the performing arts. I was a member of the senior staff, reporting to the president, and I worked closely with the foundation’s board of directors. My work has taken me across the globe and has given me the opportunity to help nonprofit organizations in Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe.
For twelve years, I served on the board of directors of the Communications Network, which is the national organization of foundation and nonprofit communications professionals, and I was Board Chair from 2009-2011. I chair the Board of Directors of the Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco, I sit on the Advisory Board of the Narrative Initiative in New York, I am a board member of ReCharge America, and I am a member the Alumni Advisory Council of the Master of Liberal Arts Department at Stanford University. I have also served on the Board of Directors of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers as well as the Biodiversity Project in Madison, Wisconsin.
Before coming to the Hewlett Foundation, I spent five years working in the environmental field, where I was the communications director at the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit organization in the Washington, D.C. area. Prior to that, I was press secretary and speechwriter for Congresswoman Nydia M. Velazquez, a member of Congress from New York City. As a political media consultant, I produced television and radio ads for U.S. Senate, Congressional, and statewide campaigns for Murphy Putnam Media. I hold a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley, and I recently earned a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Stanford University, where my thesis research examined the presidency of Rwandan leader Paul Kagame.
I am also the co-host and co-producer of the podcast Let's Hear It!, which explores the wonderful world of foundation and nonprofit communications.
Eric Brown, Principal, Brownbridge Strategies
I’ve long said that communications is the camel’s nose under the strategy tent, if you follow me. What I mean by that is that any good communications strategy starts with identifying a good goal and the person or people whom you are attempting to persuade. Once you’ve got that sorted out, you begin to create a set of messages and tactics. So, once we start on the road of identifying goals and decision makers, we’re actually well on our way to strategic planning.
Now that we’ve figured out what we want to achieve and who we need to persuade, we can get cracking on the communications plan. Once we’ve settled on our decision makers, we determine the audiences they listen to, figure out what everybody cares about, and we create messages that speak to our audiences’ values. Then we create a plan for delivering those highly relevant messages to our audiences in ways that make sense.
Writing and Editing
Maybe you know that old saying “I’d have made it shorter, but I didn’t have the time.” Part of what I do is take complicated things and make them easier to understand for the audiences that matter. I did it for years at the Hewlett Foundation, and now I do that for my clients. And don’t be scared, we’re not talking about dumbing it down, whatever that means. But our world is full of deeply confusing, jargony complexities that we’d make easier to understand if only we had the time. That’s where I come in.
Finding the way to express who you are, what you do, and why it matters isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential. What’s my process? I try to learn as much as I possibly can about your work, I ask a ton of questions, I try to listen very carefully to the responses, and then we work together as the creative process kicks in. It’s a highly collaborative and creative process that also happens to be a lot of fun.
A lot of people really don’t like fundraising. But I’ve always said that the only thing people like less than being asked for money is not being asked for money. Seriously, asking somebody for money is a sign of respect and an acknowledgement that they have the means to help. It’s more than that, though. It gives people who care about an issue the opportunity to invest in causes that mean something to them. Think of it – when you sit down with your family to decide what organizations to support it feels good to know that you’re helping to make a difference with your contribution. And foundations are in the business of giving money away. I can help you put your fundraising plan together and take some of the pain out of asking for money.
At Hewlett, I was responsible for supporting our staff’s presentations, especially presentations to the Board of Directors. I will work with you to create a presentation that is focused on your audience, and which answers the all-important question: What do I want my audience to know, feel, and do? We focus first on content, making sure that the presentation is engaging and interactive. Then, working with outside designers, we’ll make sure that it looks great.
Providing communications training for your team or even for your entire organization can be one of the best investments you can make. While most organizations have at least a few people with the word communications in their title, the fact is that every single employee of every organization is communicating pretty much all the time. I’ll create a curriculum customized to your organization, which can include learning how to: pick the right goals, identify the appropriate decision makers, create messages that are relevant to your audiences, and determine which tactics have the best chance for success.
I know this sounds corny, but the best part of the job is working with clients. They come to me with a problem to solve, and we work very closely together to find a way to solve it. My current or past clients include:
The Atlantic Philanthropies
Children and Violence Evaluation Challenge Fund
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation
The College Futures Foundation
Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
East Bay Community Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
The Oak Foundation
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Kenneth Rainin Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation
The San Francisco Foundation
The Skillman Foundation
The Spencer Foundation
Strada Education Network
Drop me a line
I will take what I’ve learned over the years to help your foundation or nonprofit get from here to there. That might be a strategic plan, a communications strategy, a development plan, or whatever else you may need to be more effective. Just like I have tried to emulate the best funders I had when I was on the other side of the grant check, I will try to be like the best consultants I’ve worked with over the years. Let me know how I can help.
Some Nice Things People Have Said
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
“The Hewlett Foundation truly lucked out in hiring Eric Brown as its first Director of Communications just as we were starting to pursue ambitious goals in climate, global development, population, and education. Under Eric’s guidance, the staff learned the essential role of communications in pursuing advocacy strategies. Eric soon became recognized as a national leader in strategic communications for foundations and nonprofits.”
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
“Eric was a tremendous asset to the Hewlett Foundation. He’s one of the best in his field – smart, great to work with, and a terrific strategist.”
Former Chief Communications Officer
The Atlantic Philanthropies
“I’ve worked with Eric Brown for many years, first as a peer colleague, which led to his engagements with Atlantic upon starting Brownbridge Strategies. He’s a great strategist, a quick and brilliant writer, collaborator and executor, and he makes the people and projects he embraces smarter and better. He’s also fun to work with — a great wit and storyteller — which can’t be minimized. Eric is among the very best in the communications consulting business.”