Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

June 2, 2008

Foundations need to tell their story better

Foundations need to tell their story better

A critical engine of social change, giving reflects the heart and character of America.

Yet active civic leaders actually know little about the work of the charitable foundations that can be key players in addressing both the symptoms and causes of the social problems our communities face.

A new survey finds that foundations “are isolated from many citizens on the front lines of local, regional and national efforts to improve American society.”

The survey, which was commissioned by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation for the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative, and was conducted by Harris Interactive, asked questions about foundations to individuals serving in a leadership, committee or board role in an organization working on community or social issues.
All told, the survey says, the findings “paint a picture of foundations as little known among key players in the efforts they seek to support.”

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed, for example, could not name a foundation on their first try, 60 percent considered themselves somewhat or not at all informed about foundations, only 15 percent could cite examples of a foundation’s impact on their community, and only 11 percent could give an example of a foundation’s impact on an issue they care about.

While foundation grants in 2006 represented only 12.4 percent of all charitable giving in the U.S., the impact of foundations and the role they can play is far greater than their share of overall giving suggests.

Foundation grants, whether to address immediate social problems or needs, or to fix the underlying causes of those problems or needs, can provide critical investment in improving our communities.

Funds from foundations also can help nonprofits secure investment from other funders.

And foundations can serve as brokers for social change, convening individuals and organizations that can work as partners in addressing community problems.

What’s more, foundations can do even more than they do now.

Instead of paying out only the 5 percent of their assets in grants and overhead that the law requires they pay, foundations can pay even bigger share.

Moving beyond their preference for funding programs, foundations can invest more in helping nonprofits strengthen their internal operations.

And rather than simply looking to their endowments for investment returns, foundations can be more active shareholders, making investments that are in line with their philanthropic mission, and working with the companies in which they invest to make change happen.

Ultimately, foundations can be powerful agents for social change.

First, though, foundations must do a better job telling their story, and helping the groups they support tell their own story.


  • At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Frank K. Simon, Jr. said…

    Are foundations merely warehouses and distribution centers for grant dollars or are they truly engaged in the community? Communication is certainly a major factor, but they must become active in order to shape social change. Joint efforts with charities and donors will have greater impact in the community.


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