Nonprofits Must Speak Up and Get Their Message Out

Nonprofits Must Speak Up and Get Their Message Out

Nonprofits and foundations must share stories of their successful strategies to address community needs. This is the message Mark Sedway delivered to members of the Maryland Philanthropy Network at our recent annual meeting.

Mark leads the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, a project supported by the Packard, Gates, Hewlett, Irvine and Robert Wood Johnson foundations to engage more influential Americans in the work of organized philanthropy.

PAI research suggests that philanthropy faces an "awareness deficit” among the most engaged citizens. Only four in 10 can name a foundation. Only one in 10 can identify a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about.

We’d expect those on the frontlines of community improvement to know something about foundations that exist to support their work. Most do not.

Why is there an awareness deficit? Many foundation leaders point to a belief that "The work will speak for itself,” noting that typical news releases focus on dollars out the door rather than impact achieved with foundation support.

A lack of relationships with decision makers and failure to engage trustees and others as foundation ambassadors also contribute to this lack of awareness.

On the other hand, surveys commissioned by PAI suggest that engaged citizens have high expectations for foundations — expectations that many consider foundations well-positioned to meet.

They feel foundations are important to their communities. And if they’re provided some kind of experience with foundations, they show higher appraisal of their work.

Mr. Sedway’s message to us was to tell better stories about foundations’ work in the news media and elsewhere. Telling our philanthropic story, Mark suggested, can help spread promising practices, earn champions, attract new ideas, and encourage more giving.

And it can combat the measurable awareness deficit among the public and government leaders.

This is a bandwagon that we have been on locally for quite some time. It is one of the main reasons I have been honored to write this biweekly column in The Daily Record.

With increased public scrutiny of the sector, the time is now to step up our efforts. It’s more important than ever that we individually and collectively focus on telling our story.

Over the next several weeks, there will be considerable activity in Washington on budget and tax matters that could ultimately have a significant effect on the future of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.

The charitable deduction may be at risk, and we must understand that this in one of a number of challenges our sector may face in the future. We must seize the opportunity to make our voices heard in this current debate and for future debates that may affect charitable giving.

We are all ambassadors for the organizations we care about. Whether a donor, staff member, or trustee of a foundation or nonprofit, we have a communication role to play.

And now, perhaps more than ever, it is vital also to educate policymakers and others about the role of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in society.


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