Why Are Nonprofits “Shy”?

Why don't nonprofits market themselves better?

I recently posed the question “Is Your Nonprofit ‘Shy’?”Boy sucking thumb, procrastinating  Basically, I wondered out loud why, despite all the benefits of being “loud” about your organization’s achievements, few nonprofits actually were.

It sparked a wonderful discussion!

Two threads against seeking publicity were shared.  One came from a reader in Germany.  His experience was that positive program results and publicity meant nothing to his organization’s government funders. They had their own ideological agenda to push which resulted in changing the recipients from a mix of Germans and immigrants to a less well-funded program aimed only at immigrants.  The staff members were told they were doing a good job, but it did not result in more funding—rather, it had the opposite effect, or no effect at all.  So seeking positive publicity seemed a waste of time.

Another thread was from a reader in Australia who indicated that her services organization served people who were stigmatized by the general population and certain politicians.  As soon as this agency came up in the press for their good work, the organization found itself in the crosshairs of elected officials who took every opportunity to vilify it.  Eventually government funding was cut which resulted in many fewer services being available to the clients.  This writer lamented the publicity received as it ended up being quite harmful.

These comments were very helpful in putting both an international and “realistic” perspective onto my initial question.  Publicity in a contentious atmosphere really MAY be a bad idea.  And sometimes the contentiousness can take the nonprofit by surprise.

Another commenter, from the United States, saw the problem in his experience as one of lack of training and of “going with what they know” rather than seeing what may lay ahead.

Yet another person (who volunteers with animal rescue organizations), wrote about using social media, such as Facebook, to promote the good work that is done. This is certainly a very common way to let the world know about positive results.  The main limitation, in my view, is it tends to preach to the choir.  But you never know who will stumble upon it and even the choir needs to know good things are happening, too!

Obviously, you need to assess you own situation as a nonprofit leader, and do what is prudent.  But I want to show an example of the kind of good publicity that I’m talking about.  This is related to an organization I have recently become a board member of, so I can take absolutely no credit for this article—but it illustrates what can may be excellent publicity for the organization serving the homeless in Dallas, Texas.  Here’s the link—enjoy the read.


Oh, by the way, I do a lot of evaluation consulting work with nonprofits.  Positive evaluations are one of the best sources for positive publicity possible—and I can work with you to have an evaluation that will provide you the kind of information you need to know how well your efforts are working.  Be sure to sign up on my website, www.richardhoefer.com, to receive updates.

Why are Human Service Organizations so “Shy”?

Because foundations are looking


The other day, Mike (the Executive Director of a nonprofit) and I were meeting.  I consult with them on an evaluation of a federally-funded program.  The agency is doing very good work which is reflected in the evaluation reports.

The conversation came around to how the results could be more useful for the agency.  Mike said they were very useful already because they were well written, had easy to understand information, and so on.

“But,” I persisted, “do you take the good results and share them?”

The board gets a copy of the report’s executive summary and, if they want more, I give them the entire report, but they don’t ever ask for it,” he said.  “Sorry about that!” he grinned.

So here’s my question–what keeps successful organizations from spreading the news more widely?

Good news from previous grants can clearly go into future grants (and often does) to show capacity to achieve grant outcomes.  But, what about beyond that?

Foundations all across the US have become less willing to accept (or seriously consider) applications for funding from organizations they aren’t familiar with, or who don’t have a successful track record.

Individuals are not very likely to give to an agency they haven’t heard of.

Members of the media are not always willing to print positive news about social services, but they might, if the story was pitched to them.  Positive news leads to more people knowing about your good work and more good news leads to more people with more donations.

The advantages of spreading your own positive information (this is part of any branding campaign) seem clear, but it doesn’t seem to be done much.

Sure, it’s one more thing to do, but if the positives are so large, the writing basically done for you (tell your evaluator to write up a press release!) then what reason would be compelling enough to make time to publicize your good news?

What thoughts do you have on this?

Does your organization do intentional publicity to point out its successes?  How do you manage to do so, when so many other agencies don’t?  Have you seen positive results from doing so?

Please share your experiences!

Does a Food Desert Need A Salsa Factory?

Link the Need to Solution

Link the Need to Solution

I recently reviewed federal grant proposals to deal with local food deserts–areas without access to high quality fresh food.  Typical solutions are to entice a grocery store to locate there or establish community gardens.

One applicant organization took a different approach.  It desired to establish a salsa company that would pay good wages, so that employees could purchase dependable cars to drive to grocery stores that are already in place outside the boundaries of the neighborhood.

While this was innovative and “out of the box” thinking, the reviewers did not think it was a realistic solution to the food desert problem for the entire neighborhood.  We therefore gave the proposal low scores for that portion of the grant.   There was a need, and there was a solution, but they didn’t actually fit together well.

This example highlights the importance of CLEARLY linking the need you can document with the solution you will  propose later in your proposal.

Foreshadowing the solution within the need statement forces the writer to be clear and helps the reader follow along.  Any time you can help the reader connect the dots, you are increasing the odds of being funded.

The lesson is that the solution and the need for assistance are highly intertwined.  The need should become smaller if the solution is as effective as anticipated.  Funders want to see a significant amount of change, to justify the amount of money given to an organization.

Be sure to foreshadow the solution to your need so the reader is not surprised at what you propose.  Surprise breeds doubt, and doubt leads to lower scores.