Inside Philanthropy

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

July 17, 2013

When nonprofits fail to communicate they risk losing connections

Janet L. Falk

"I give money to groups that I know. One way for me to get to know your organization is to see your name in the press.” An executive of The Starr Foundation, which annually grants more than $50 million to nonprofit groups, clearly stated the power of communications to a group of fundraising professionals.

Too many nonprofit groups overlook budgeting time and money for communications, whether contact with the press, maintaining a current website or sending a quarterly newsletter.

When an organization decides not to proactively engage in communications, not to allocate budget and staff (or consultant) time, not to invest in itself, not to promote itself and its successful programs and partnerships, it may experience unanticipated outcomes:

●By relying on an annual letter from the executive director, a nonprofit may become too heavily dependent on existing supporters. It may find it difficult to attract new donors, partners and advocates or receive referrals from outside observers, because "Everybody already knows us."

●The absence of third-party validation may create the erroneous impression that there is no news, no progress and no achievement taking place at the nonprofit. A lack of news coverage may make it even harder to land media attention when newsworthy developments take place. Reporters, like funders, are partial to those they already know.

●Nonprofit organizations may be limited in their ability to diversify their funding sources. Without promoting their innovative and replicable programs through newsletters and media coverage, these groups remain below the radar of regional and national funders. As a result, the organizations are mired in a weaker position to obtain new or even matching funds from such sources.

●When new advocacy coalitions are formed, participating members may overlook the nonprofit as a potential partner. They may be are unaware of shared concerns and relevant programs.

●The area business community provides support to selected organizations, largely based on personal contacts and vendor relationships. In the absence of periodic reminders of successful programs in the media and newsletters, local businesses may perceive little incentive to increase giving to selected nonprofits or to connect with groups beyond the small circle they already support. The lack of news coverage promoting the impact of businesses' philanthropy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

●Elected officials at the municipal/county and state level may erroneously believe that the nonprofit group is supported sufficiently by residents and businesses; they may not allocate monies from their discretionary funds that are part of the annual budget.

●Website visitors that stumble upon the website (which is not consistently referenced in outward-bound communications), may encounter outdated information. They may perceive an image of indifference to external audiences or a lack of attention to detail. Neither impression bodes well for the organization's professionalism.

Cutting back on Communications can be a satisfactory arrangement in the near term for a short-staffed and budget-constrained group. Whether for fundraising, advocacy, ticket sales or any other programmatic purpose, the long term consequences of a failure to engage in proactive communications are too serious to be overlooked.

Janet Falk provides media relations and marketing communications services for nonprofits, small businesses and consultants. Her proactive communication campaigns help them achieve their goals through expanded contact with members, prospects, supporters and influentials.

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