Standardized Language to Improve Communication

The primary project that I worked on this summer was a social media campaign that was educating our followers about the impact that Virginia Supportive Housing has on the community. VSH has recently started to invest in their social media, and we settled on a summer educational series that outlined the basic vocabulary we use within the work of housing justice, but also the programs that VSH has created throughout the state. As someone who was just starting out at the organization and learning about these topics, and could discern what terms or ideas were unfamiliar, or pertinent to a basic understanding of housing justice. 

I have always been passionate about the importance of clear communication when bringing people into a community. It can be so isolating when someone does not have the language that everyone else has, because it can be a massive barrier to understanding. The graphics made for this social media campaign have a larger purpose than just expanding our digital footprint, they also are a reminder to Missions Advancement about how to communicate our guiding values and principles. The Communications Officer made sure that the graphics would be useful in other contexts, from mailers to newsletters, they are generalized definitions that can apply to any medium. 

As the summer moved on I saw that there was a lack of shared vocabulary even within the organization. VSH gets a majority of their funding from government grants, and the other portion from philanthropic grants, but the two use very different types of language about housing. The government grant writers are used to a higher specificity of language, while the philanthropic grant writers use more general language, because the private organizations do not care to understand the highly technical jargon. In the past there was an understanding between the two departments, but over time, with staff changes, that understanding broke down quite a bit.

It became my task to create a data dictionary that almost translated the terms that the two use. As I synthesized the two sides of the grant writing process, I was able to create a common ground and a document that can grow and change as the organization’s work continues to evolve. Since VHS regularly has outside consultants or grant writers that help them with projects, the data dictionary can serve as an orientation into the vocabulary necessary to discuss permanent supportive housing, and makes the transition period a bit smoother.