Independence Public Media Foundation

An Emerging Foundation Rebalancing Power in Philanthropy

The Independence Public Media Foundation is a young organization making a big impact in Philly media and arts. In 2017, WYBE, a public television station in Philadelphia, relinquished its broadcast license as part of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Broadcast Incentive Auction. WYBE received a one-time payment of $131.5 million and went off the air. WYBE’s time as a broadcaster was over, however they had bigger plans for how to make a greater impact: transform into a private foundation. In 2019, the Independence Public Media Foundation was established and has already made more than $30 million in grants in its first few years supporting community-driven media-making, storytelling and digital equity efforts.

They came to Message Agency looking for a partner who could understand their history, help envision their future, and tell their story about how they intended to redefine philanthropy and pass the power back to the people telling the stories. We established a brand strategy for the new foundation, and designed and developed a new, more sophisticated website that would tell their story and showcase the important work grantees are doing in their communities.

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The Challenge

Emerging organizations often encounter a similar challenge: how to define who they are, what impact they seek to make, and how they wish to be perceived by the communities they want to work with.

With the Independence Public Media Foundation, this moment of definition was important and an opportunity for the foundation’s stakeholders to align. Our challenge was to determine a long lasting brand strategy that could serve an evolving foundation, and create a site that centers grantees as well as raise the foundation’s visibility among Philly media creators and fellow media funders

Our Approach

Telling the Right Story

As we do with nearly every Message Agency project, we start with a comprehensive discovery process. We talked with internal stakeholders from the Independence Public Media Foundation, and conducted several user research interviews to inform personas that represent the priority audiences: grantees, partners and the philanthropic community.

From these conversations, a story emerged about power and who most often holds it. It was essential to demonstrate how the Independence Public Media Foundation was working to shift the power back to the media creators and industry experts, and what is possible when people, specifically LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities, are able to tell their own stories their way.

The foundation and its website are on a journey to center and best serve their users. We say journey here, because that is a key part of who they are: a group that’s committed to learning and evolving.

Making the Right Connections

Grantees need to be able to easily determine if their work fits into what the Independence Public Media Foundation funds, who their grantees are, and what type of projects have been funded before. The network of people and organization that has been brought together through the Independence Public Media Foundation is a valuable part of the foundation’s DNA that needed to be showcased just as much as the funding itself.

We asked the foundation to think about how to define what types of projects they  fund and how to organize it into easy-to-understand grantmaking groups. The following grant programs materialized: community storytelling, digital equity, journalism, and film.

To navigate the complex network of grantees and projects, we used taxonomy—grant program, grantee type, and focus areas—to make connections that users would find most valuable. Users can search all projects or all grantees, see what grants a grantee has been awarded on on their profile page, or browse all projects that fall under a grant program.

Importing Years Worth of Grantee Information

When the Independence Public Media Foundation first came to Message Agency, their web presence was simple with no record of grantees and their work for users to search. The history of the foundation’s grantmaking is important to document for the public so users are able to see the full extent to which funds were distributed from year one to present day.

Learning Moments

New taxonomy terms were established to organize and relate grant programs and grantees. Through this project, the Message Agency team learned how to better communicate with clients about the need for these relationships, and how they could provide that information about their grantees to our team in a way that would make importing it as smooth as possible.

Our developers created spreadsheet for the Independence Public Media Foundation to populate. This process now gives us an improved approach for how to better handle grant awards for future projects.

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