Thinking about Impact and Public Perception

This week I had the opportunity to attend an event presented by the Charities Review Council and Thrivent Financial entitled, "Delving into Public Perception: what Minnesotans think about the charitable sector (and what to do about it)." To a captive audience of non-profit professionals, presenters discussed findings from a survey conducted for the Charities Review Council that polled Minnesotans on their giving habits and attitudes towards charities. The survey questions touched on issues of trust, ethics, and the proper use of funds by charities. For the most part, the survey respondents believed that charities could be trusted, that they are ethical, and that they wisely spend the money they receive from donors. Although the survey findings concluded that, for the most part, the public’s perception of charities is quite favorable, the event’s presenters reminded the audience that many external and internal forces have the potential to hurt charitable organizations.

Discussed by the panelists was the tendency for the public to allow their distrust or disappointment in one organization apply to their perceptions of all organizations. In other words, there is a tendency to let one bad apple ruin the bunch. As a result, the presenters emphasized the importance of everyone in the non-profit sector being conscious of public perceptions and conveying a clear message to targeted publics.

Since I work in media, I was struck by the issue of how much the press influences public perception. A large percentage of those surveyed looked to television and newspapers to learn information about charities. This can be a tricky relationship. As the panelists discussed, so often, the press picks up a negative story, and can neglect to focus on the positive. So anyone using solely traditional media to inform them about organizations can get a limited view. All of these are reasons why I LOVE my job at NEED. I get to go where few media professionals get the liberty to go: into the realm of optimism! I was also encouraged to hear that word of mouth is another popular way in which individuals learn about organizations and make decisions about whether or not to support them. So I think the take-home lessons from this event are, when it comes to supporting organizations:

-inform yourself through multiple forms of media or channels.

-don’t be afraid to ask questions of the organization.

-if you really like an organization, be their cheerleader.

To learn more about this topic visit www.smartgivers.org

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