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!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “Why are Human Service Organizations so “Shy”?

  1. I dunno much about the US, but here in OZ, all non-profits (Non Govt Orgs) are funded by …..
    Government. As such
    1) They do not like to rock the boat, or bite the hand that feeds them – that could lead to defunding,
    2) Competition in the human services sector – we don’t want this other ngo stealing our funding by copying our methods, thereby splitting the total amount of funding available, and
    3) Possibly stealing our own thunder. I have seen this attitude in community supports groups as well, unfortunately. One person, when told another organisation was pursuing the same goal as an organisation they were involved with commented “We thought of it first, and if anyone’s going to get the funds for this, we are”.
    4) Community backlash – many non-profits/ngo’s work with sectors of the community considered to be untouchable by the mainstream – homeless, drug addicted, mentally ill, disabled, ethnically & sexually diverse being the main groups. As an example – recently here in QLD, OZ a group that worked with the gay community to educate around HIV/AIDS was defunded by a conservative government because the modus operandi involved reaching out to the gay community, funding community events for the community at large run by the gay community, featuring the full variety of gay life. In essence, these events “promoted” a gay lifestyle, which is why the conservative government defunded them. Similar stuff happens around funding for working with all the above mentioned groups – the conservative vocal minority speak up about what they see as a waste of taxpayer dollars, and philanthropists tend not to fund controversial organisations/whose clients ‘bad’ names will reflect badly on the philanthropist.
    So – there you go – reasons why social/community workers do not blow their own trumpets.

    • Beth;
      Thanks for your comment. While I have not been involved in such an experience myself, I am now reading about this same situation. One university center studying poverty and inequality is now defunded by the conservative state government “education” committee that didn’t care for its policy recommendations. So this is not just a predicament in OZ.
      In the US, however, there are enough different foundations that for every one that is conservative enough to cut all ties to an organization, it seems there is another that would step up to the plate to take up at least some of the slack.
      Thanks for your comment–it points out a real danger of gaining prominence.

    • Hi all, my first post here and, please, excuse my english 😉

      I absolutely agree. For Germany I might e.g. add:
      Some years ago, the federal employment agency decided to set a market in the field of adult education for unemployed people. At the same time, they decided that there had to be a certified qms in each applying institution.
      The offical criteria to win a bidding are: low cost, subject matter-knowledge of a submitted concept, and results of formerly done projects. Experiences show, that, in fact, the last criterion simply doesn’t matter at all – so why spread the news, why even put money into evaluation, why, in the end, put money in a “living” qms? Most institutions simply “adopted” or “copied” some qms to get certified and didn’t put it into practice – because there is simply no real necessity.
      It is desillusionating for quality managers who really try to make their job and it was the very reason for me to leave this field and join a company who does social work in other sectors. We develop a completely free-designed qm and there is even an chance it might work to the benefit of the company – but it will be the same for the topic discussed here: government funded, we have the same reasons to keep quiet as stated by Beth.

  2. I volunteer with several very (VERY!) small nonprofit groups, most of which have not yet reached the point where they can get grants. We rescue animals – mostly dogs – from abusive or neglectful situations or from local shelters when they have not been adopted and are about to be euthanized. Every time an animal is healed (emotionally or physically) or adopted to a good home, or just placed with a temporary foster – any time one of our animals flourishes – we promote it. Social media is our outlet. Specifically Facebook. Photos and videos document the journey and the stories are often gut-wrenching, but the transformations are often truly amazing. The Facebook pages from these rescue organizations grow and grow as people “share” with their Facebook “friends.”

    It’s the history of the organization, created in real time, and documented in a way that (if you organize your content effectively) you can refer back to prior successes easily.

    I realize that this was about HUMAN service organizations, but it made me think of the ANIMAL service organizations I work with. And of course, every time an animal is saved, the human generally benefits just as much as the animal does. 🙂

    This is also on a smaller scale, but I thought I would throw it out there. I hope that having a presence on social media, a growing fan (donor) base, and well-documented success stories, will help give credibility to these small organizations when we do begin to submit grant requests.