In years past, private foundations have more or less shied away from actively pursuing public relations because of the fear of somehow demeaning the overall theme of altruism for the sector. However, as the world and especially social communication have become increasingly connected and widespread, foundations are realizing the benefits of linking in to the matrix and making their name known. Now public relations can be used as a valuable tool to help nonprofits grow, increase and sustain giving.
Although the rewards of tapping into the media market are great, many foundations still put less importance on the use of public relations for growing their missions. As outlined in a recent article by Rich Polt in Business Week there seem to be three outdated mindsets that must be overcome to accept the great usage of public relations and the effects it has on the success of many nonprofits.
First, your mindset about our culture should shift as we shift into a society that respects and appreciates honesty, transparency and people willing to speak up for what they believe in. This shift is best explained through this quote from the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative (PAI), titled Making American Foundations Relevant: Conversations with 21st Century Leaders in Philanthropy, “Good works do not speak for themselves. Sharing stories about successes and lessons learned contributes to your effectiveness by creating awareness and understanding for what you do… Behavior that is insular, fragmented, and reactionary is perceived to be both widespread and problematic among foundations. A culture shift is needed in order to convey that foundations are benevolent, honest, collaborative, and instructive, and that they act with integrity, and work for the public good.”
The next mindset is based on the stereotype that in general the media is out to get you and bring you down, creating fear among foundations that don’t want to compromise their reputation. In fact, in 2006 as reported by the PAI, only 1% of the 38,000 stories about philanthropy that they analyzed were negative. Stories that are inspirational are getting increasingly more attention from the media. The last mindset is the fear of becoming overwhelmed by requests. However, this mindset is more controversial depending on your optimism because even though it could be overwhelming, it will still be a good thing because having a larger pool of applicants and more interests gives you more options and the ability to pick from the very best.
In short, mindsets based on fears and stereotypes can defer some of those in the private sector from actively pursuing public relations in the fight to support their cause and make a difference in their community. However, if these mindsets can be overcome, foundations can benefit greatly from the positive effects of linking their name into the media and raising awareness for their mission.