Sunday, January 09, 2011

Why It Matters What The Public Thinks of A Nonprofit & How to Check

What does the general public think about your nonprofit organization?  No matter what you know or
think you know the public thinks about it, how do you truly determine what your organization’s
image or reputation is, without checking?  If you don’t get feedback, the fact is, then you truly
don’t know what the public thinks about your agency.

Why does it matter what the general public thinks about your nonprofit (or why does it matter
that they think anything at all about it)?

If your organization, it’s name, its work, its mission, its recent achievements and successes,
and why it does the work that it currently does is not understood among the people living in the
community that your organization serves; how then does your organization raise support, acquire
new support, acquire community partners, recruit volunteers and excellent staff, and more?  More
importantly, how will it grow without support (and the organization’s strong reputation in its

Your nonprofit hopefully regularly creates, disseminates, gets back, tallies, and acquires
findings from meaningful, accurate, pertinent, and quantifiable data from the people who
participate in its programs, services, and use its products.  Lessons must always be learned for
anything to improve and become leading work in its field.  For anything and everything that your
organization does related to the work of its mission statement, you should be regularly,
ethically, and objectively obtaining quantifiable (an relevant) feedback about the beneficiaries’
actual experience of those programs, etc.  If you don’t, how then do your organization’s services
and programs improve, achieve real results for your agency’s beneficiaries, or get receive kind
of objective or meaningful scrutiny to check for each one’s effectiveness and outcomes?

Consider, then, that your nonprofit’s current and new or potential: donors, volunteers, community
partners, staff, consultant, and any other type of partner’s perception of your nonprofit is also
worth worrying about.  Much stress, wasted resources and money, and time can be saved; in fact,
numbers of donors and numbers of donations; new volunteers; and even the number of truly talented
professionals that your organization would wish to consider when hiring can be increased by
proactively managing one’s organization’s reputation and image, among the general public.  One
way to begin is gather all current pertinent public-facing inter-personal interactions, written
materials’, web and other virtual materials’, etc. content and reviewing it.  What is the message
‘Joe or Josephine Q. Public’ could or might get from it, about your organization?  The other way
to find out is to also regularly gather the general public’s perception of your nonprofit after
reading, hearing, or interacting with it and its content.

What potentially new donors have considered giving to your organization, but haven’t because of a
misunderstanding that could simply be fixed by clarifying some public message your organization
is stating?

How many people have considered but decided not to volunteer with your organization because
they’ve never been told that, for instance, your nonprofit does not require a minimum number of
hours’ commitment, per week, which is exactly the kind of leeway they need if they were to commit
as a volunteer with your agency, since their schedules are so full, each week?  If only they

What potential community partner has not even heard of your organization or is not aware of what
the organization’s work is?  What a shame, because perhaps it turns out that if they knew, they’d
reach out to you, and it could work out that your organization works together with theirs’ to
produce that new program that you’re trying to lock down funding for, in order to get it going.
Perhaps they have a major donor who would fund its first three years, and having helped gotten it
underway, enabled the program to operate at all (without placing fundraising strains on whether
it comes to be or not)?  Sometimes collaboration winds up enabling something that would never
been possible without the team work.

Your nonprofit’s leadership should gather, review, research, compare, and then discuss the
following nonprofit’s messages.  Review each message’s content.  Is it even relevant today?  Is
it ‘on message’ conveying the organization’s current: mission statement, goals, anticipated
outcomes, successes and achievements, reason for existing, values, and professionalism?  If not,
why aren’t all of these outward or public facing messages consistent?  This should not be done to
scrutinize anyone’s work.  Instead, the goal in reviewing all messaging, and get public feedback,
is to get a true understanding of what the general public’s impression is of the nonprofit.  If a
group of people or individual apparently isn’t aware of the organization’s intended image, train
them.  Never assume that everyone knows how to be professional, knows basic customer service
skills, or knows the organization’s mission, values, or current goals, for instance.

Gather the most recent versions of the following and consider its content and what message
(intended or not) it gives to the public (current donors, volunteers, and partners; and potential
or new donors, volunteers, and partners, for instance):

__ All fundraising events’, campaigns’, and methods’ written, virtual, and even interpersonal
content or conversations (i.e. grant applications, annual appeal letters, sponsor recruitment
documents, informal discussions on the phone, etc.);

__ All recruitment documents (for volunteers, board members, staff, consultants, etc.) including
written, virtual, and verbal messages such as in solicitations, interviews, training, and

__ How happy, fulfilled, supported, and heard are staff, consultants, and volunteers working for
your nonprofit?  How is morale among volunteers?  Staff?

__ How does all public facing interactions between anyone representing your organization
(officially or not) and the public go?  What are office walk ins’, donation droppers’,
fundraising event attendees, program participants’, potential clients’, career fair attendees’,
professional affiliation members’, etc. impressions of your organization after their experiences
with official and unofficial representatives of your organization?  What about when the public
talks to anyone in the office on the phone, receives an e-mail, gets a fax, receives postal mail,

__ All online content (website, social media, gossip, criticism, etc.);

__ Newsletters’ content (past events, upcoming events, donation requests, volunteer requests,

__ How do intra-personal interactions, between anyone who works in the office, generally go?;

__ The organization’s interactions (written, interpersonal, etc.) with its community partners
(such as other nonprofits, government agencies, businesses, etc.);

__ All marketing materials;

__ All public relations materials’ content;

__ All programs’, services’, and goods’ materials;

__ All recent press (good and negative);

__ Etc.

What is the public misunderstanding about your nonprofit?  How can this be rectified?  What
message is your organization attempting to send that the public is clearly not getting?  Why did
this happen?  How can this be avoided in the future?  What image damage exists?  Is it accurate
or are there clarifications that must be made?  What will be effective at efficiently fixing each

Outward facing messaging to the general public should be consistent.  It should also be
proactively planned, implemented, and managed because so much depends upon the general public
knowing about your organization and its work, but knowing the correct and intended information. 

As stated, a nonprofit should regularly determine what its public’s perception is of: itself, its
work, and its potential; and findings should be reviewed and improvements should then be made.
How successful are different campaigns to inform the public about any and all of the
organization’s work? 

A nonprofit’s difficulties with acquiring new donors, recruiting better quality staff, and the
best of the best for new board members may have to do with an organization’s public image or its
reputation, or both.

A nonprofit can always improve its image and its reputation and thereby improve its successes at
acquiring all different types of support, while lowering its expenses and waste.  An organization
cannot do this, though, if it does not objectively check what the public thinks of the nonprofit
and its work.


Simon said...

A very interesting post (if a little hard to read with the layout, all organizations should constantly monitor what the public actually thinks about them.

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Simon, Thank you for reading and for commenting. My apologies for the format. Blogger and I have been fighting and its evidently winning. Best, Arlene

Anonymous said...

great info and i so totally agree (now if only np's both found and made time for this valuable facet) thank you for an article I can forward as support!