Amplifying Voices, Empowering Change

Photo by: Green Leadership Trust

Lessons Learned from the Western Conservation Communications Hub

In the realm of conservation, effective communication is the key to fostering understanding, mobilizing communities, and turning passion into action and tangible results. Over the past five years, the Western Conservation Communications Hub, an initiative powered by Resources Legacy Fund and generously supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, has focused on equipping nonprofits with the tools and capacity to tell compelling, authentic stories and advance narrative change around conservation issues in the West. As this work concludes, and in the spirit of shared learning, we believe it’s important to reflect on lessons learned and impacts achieved through this innovative initiative.

A Vision for Change

The Hub’s inception in late 2018 marked a visionary approach to conservation grantmaking.

Grant decisions made by the Hub were informed by a participatory grantmaking process in which an Advisory Board of nonprofit communications experts, reflecting the identities and experiences of the grantee community, played a pivotal role in decision-making. This inclusive process ensured that the voices and experiences of the grantee community were reflected in every step of the process, contributing to the effectiveness and relevance of the support provided.

Recognizing that financial support alone may not be sufficient, the Hub took a strategic approach to capacity building. Over the past five years, the Hub awarded over $1 million in capacity grants to more than 30 organizations, providing not just funds but also invaluable resources such as one-on-one coaching, cohort-based learning webinars, and specialized training series. The objective was not just to fund projects but to equip organizations with the tools and knowledge to articulate their conservation narratives compellingly and evolve them over time.

Over the course of the Hub’s five years of grantmaking, the world experienced a radical transformation marked by the Black Lives Matter movement and the global COVID-19 pandemic, reshaping how, where, and why we do communications and advocacy work. The Hub adapted its approach to meet the moment, prioritizing under-resourced organizations representing marginalized communities and moving away from directive, project-based grantmaking towards direct capacity support and digital organizing strategies.

In 2023, the Hub underwent a comprehensive program evaluation, conducted by Resource Media, which concluded that the Hub provided “outsized” communications impact relative to the modest investments made. The evaluation underscored that the Hub’s support played a pivotal role in strengthening narratives and building lasting communications infrastructure for organizations that may not have otherwise had dedicated support.

Lessons Learned

Double down on the cohort model. Evaluation responses revealed that grantees value and benefit from the relationship-building, networking, information-sharing, and collaboration enabled by the cohort approach adopted in 2022.

Align cohorts for collective power. The Hub’s cohort approach, fostering relationships and shared learning, emerged as a powerful strategy. The lesson learned is the potential for even greater impact by aligning these cohorts with specific, place-based conservation efforts.

Scale up funding for sustainable wins. The Hub’s focus on digital capacity-building over the last few years of funding is well aligned with helping organizations take advantage of the opportunities in front of them, but even for those organizations fortunate enough to receive support, Hub support is a fraction of what’s needed to truly scale up communications activities to meet the moment.

Sustained, multi-year support is essential. Grantees need multi-year support to implement, sustain, and build on the Hub’s learnings and capacity support. Accompanying training and support offerings with additional funds would allow grantees to invest in tools they have been exposed to, build out systems and structures, augment staffing, and/or hire consultants for key priorities.

Human-centered grantmaking matters. The Hub’s relational and human-centered approach stood out. Grantees appreciated the simplicity and clarity of grantmaking processes, and the value of the close working relationships fostered by the Hub.

Conclusion

As the Western Conservation Communications Hub concludes its five-year journey, it leaves behind not just a legacy of empowerment, collaboration, and impactful change, but a trove of lessons for the conservation and funding community. The lessons learned underscore the importance of adaptability, collaboration, and a deep understanding of the evolving needs within the conservation landscape. And while the Hub expresses pride in its “outsized impact,” it recognizes the need for increased funding to meet the growing demand for communications capacity support, particularly in supporting marginalized communities in telling their own stories. For me personally, the Hub experience was a testament to the power of connection—connection between and among movement leaders, connection between cohort participants and advisory board members, and perhaps most importantly, the power of connection to the lands, waters, wildlife, and communities that we all hold dear. As my time with the Hub concludes, I hope and believe that it is these connections that will be the Hub’s most enduring impact.

Western Conservation Communications Hub Board

  • Alistair Lee Bitsóí, formerly at Utah Diné Bikéyah
  • Yanira Castro, Humanity Communications Collective
  • Robert Fanger, Hispanic Access Foundation
  • Katie McKalip, formerly at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
  • Pilar Montoya, Resource Media
  • Matt Nelson, Presente.org
  • Aaron Weiss, Center for Western Priorities

Western Conservation Communications Hub Grantees

  • Amigos Bravos
  • Bears Ears InterTribal Coalition
  • Colorado Plateau Foundation
  • Conservation Lands Foundation
  • Ecoflight
  • Environmental Learning for Kids
  • Grand Canyon Trust
  • Green 2.0
  • Green Leadership Trust
  • Heart of the Rockies
  • HECHO
  • Hispanic Access Foundation
  • Justice Outside
  • Latino Outdoors
  • Montana Racial Equity Project
  • Montana Wild
  • Native American Fish and Wildlife Society
  • Nuestra Tierra
  • Outdoor Afro
  • Sustainable NW
  • Whiteswan Environmental

Consultant Partners:

  • Do Big Things (Black and women-led)
  • Tahoma Peak Solutions (Indigenous and women-led)