PR 101 for charities

Charities must realize maintaining secrecy may not prove acceptable anymore.

charity 298 (photo credit: )
charity 298
(photo credit: )

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

Whilethe announcement of the NIS 1.5 billion its spends on outsourcingprojects to local non-profits was not newsworthy enough to make bigheadlines, the willingness of a government office to share informationon the charity industry was a welcome change for a sector that isgrowing 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 crypoverty and bemoan a drop in their fund-raising but often very slow toacknowledge those who do support their activities.

Among the organizations listed as receiving large sums from thegovernment for various social welfare projects were the Women'sInternational Zionist Organization (WIZO); the Israeli Society forAutistic Children, Alut; Emunah, the national-religious women'sorganization; and Akim, the association for the rehabilitation of thementally handicapped.

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

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

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

While full disclosure about charities' heartwarming activitiesis 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 organizationis hurting financially is understandable, for fear of underminingconfidence and out of concern that your backers will jump ship,contrastingly "public relations 101" dictates that openness is crucialin order to keep your supporters... supportive. Cutbacks and newdirections taken by non-profit organizations should be thoroughlydiscussed with donors, and openly detailed in the press. The truth willout, and far better that it be the accurate account that theorganization can disseminate rather than partial and distortedrevelation via the online rumor mill.

AT A conference in California earlier this month, Facebookfounder Mark Zuckerberg asserted, not without justification, that theincrease in use of social media means that privacy is no longer asocial norm.

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

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

One development that might force a change in the near future isthe creation of the online portal GuideStar Israel( A joint initiative by the Ministry of Justice,

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

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