(This is a guest post from Sandra Bass, Program officer at the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)
By Sandra Bass
Ask the average person what a philanthropist does and they may very well look at you askance before leaning in to whisper a rather sordid tale….when you gently say “no…that’s a philanderer….I’m taking about philanthropy”…that’s usually the point where you get the blank stare or the hunched shoulders. Hard to believe that in this day and age, even among the learned, there are few people who truly understand what philanthropy is and does. The Philanthropic Awareness Initiative is an effort to change all that.
PAI’s research on awareness of philanthropy among “influentials” (defined as policy makers, business, and non-profit leaders) found that only 11% could name a foundation, however about 50% had a vague notion that we did something good. Armed with this woeful data, quite a luminary panel gathered at 5pm today to talk about what we could do to change that. Much of the conversation focused on how to interact effectively with policy makers on issues of importance to your organization rather than the broader issue of educating influentials and the public about the value of philanthropy. Kevin Klose of NPR was one of the few whose comments brushed up against this issue when he mentioned that their audience research indicated that listeners were just as interested in who sponsored programs as the programs themselves. In other words, NPR audiences cared about who supported what….so at least this crowd knows a little about what we do.
Although real tips for how to raise awareness of philanthropy were pretty thin, here are two
1) Getting over our reluctance to speak about our work. There are tasteful ways to publicly acknowledge the good works of your foundation without overshadowing your grantees
2) Tell your stories. Even though many of us strive to influence the lives of thousands if not millions, telling the story of one child, or family, or community will do more to reach the hearts and minds of your audience then a slew of statistics.