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Philanthropy's Awareness Deficit

May 19, 2008

Phil_awarenessThat's the title of a new report (10 pages, PDF) from the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, a project initiated and supported by the Packard, Gates, Hewlett, Irvine, and Robert Wood Johnson foundations.

Based on the results of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, the report found that only 43 percent of what it calls "engaged Americans" -- defined as the 12 percent of the adult population who hold "a leadership, committee, or board-level role in an organization working on community or social issues" -- could name a foundation on the first try, while even fewer could cite an example of a foundation making an impact on their communities (15%) or on issues they care about (11%).

Mind you, these are the most connected, influential, and civically engaged members in their communities. Imagine what the picture would look like if Harris had surveyed average Americans....

As Joel Fleishman, author of The Foundation: A Great American Secret, puts it:

The survey speaks volumes about the invisibility of foundations and how they are not doing a good job of getting out the word to the public about what they are and do. It also suggests that the very organizations foundations support are remiss in their obligation to keep their own leaders, board members, and volunteers informed of the funding landscape in which they exist. Both [failings] combine to make foundations even more vulnerable to ill-informed actions by government....

What do you think? Despite all the media attention paid to and scrutiny of the charitable sector over the last ten years, are foundations -- and nonprofits -- still failing, on a fundamental level, to communicate their value, tell stories, demonstrate impact, make connections, and initiate vital conversations around issues that concern Americans? And if so, what can we do about it?

-- Mitch Nauffts

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