PR 101 for charities

Charities must realize maintaining secrecy may not prove acceptable anymore.

By THE JERUSALEM POST: EDITORIAL
January 25, 2010 05:35
3 minute read.
PR 101 for charities

charity 298. (photo credit: )



A few days ago, for the first time ever, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services made public the amount of shekels it contributes to Israel's third sector.



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While the announcement of the NIS 1.5 billion its spends on outsourcing projects to local non-profits was not newsworthy enough to make big headlines, the willingness of a government office to share information on the charity industry was a welcome change for a sector that is growing increasingly secretive about its inner workings.



In an attempt to encourage local media to publish this data, ministry officials pointed out that non-profits are very quick to cry poverty and bemoan a drop in their fund-raising but often very slow to acknowledge those who do support their activities.



Among the organizations listed as receiving large sums from the government for various social welfare projects were the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO); the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, Alut; Emunah, the national-religious women's organization; and Akim, the association for the rehabilitation of the mentally handicapped.



Obviously non-profit organizations freely publicize the outstanding charitable work they undertake and are rightly happy to talk about the positive aspects of their activities. Most are fairly pushy with their fund-raising methods; a minority have even been known to employ questionable or unethical tactics to entice donors.



Of course, running such charities and fund-raising for them is not easy. Over the years it has become something of an art, requiring real expertise. Without such work, the charities simply would not be able to finance their essential activities.



Over the past year it has become increasingly clear that many non-profits - both big and small - are struggling financially due to the economic crisis. It is no secret either that all types of charities are being forced to make difficult choices about the scope of their programming and being pushed into making structural changes to their projects and long-term goals.



While full disclosure about charities' heartwarming activities is obviously beneficial, so too is transparency and full disclosure, and not just messages of woe and pleas for help, about fund-raising.



While not wanting to admit that your organization is hurting financially is understandable, for fear of undermining confidence and out of concern that your backers will jump ship, contrastingly "public relations 101" dictates that openness is crucial in order to keep your supporters... supportive. Cutbacks and new directions taken by non-profit organizations should be thoroughly discussed with donors, and openly detailed in the press. The truth will out, and far better that it be the accurate account that the organization can disseminate rather than partial and distorted revelation via the online rumor mill.



AT A conference in California earlier this month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserted, not without justification, that the increase in use of social media means that privacy is no longer a social norm.



"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," he said. "That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."



With individuals indeed opening up their private dealings and publishing them for all to see, it is high-time that charities, especially those whose outreach relies on and touches thousands of people, realize that maintaining traditional secrecies may not prove acceptable anymore.



One development that might force a change in the near future is the creation of the online portal GuideStar Israel (www.guidestar.org.il). A joint initiative by the Ministry of Justice,

Yad Hanadiv (the Rothschild Foundation) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee-Israel, GuideStar, which is not yet active, aims eventually to provide a forum for all non-profits in Israel to list their activities and share information, as well as reach out to donors.

It is a free service that we hope will highlight how being transparent and sharing information, far from being damaging to an organization, could actually be beneficial for all.


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