Do Not Let Perception Become Reality

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

For history buffs who remember the classic movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” this line is a warning for the role today’s media plays in shaping perception. There is a disturbing trend that we have witnessed in the media especially recently, and that is the misperception of the way nonprofits conduct their business.

According to a recent New York Times article describing the American Jewish community’s support of Israel-based organizations, giving “has been based largely on Jewish giving and Israeli taking”. This could not be further from the truth. As most of us know, many vibrant Israel-based organizations continue to achieve results today largely because they have moved beyond this outdated way of thinking. Successful Israeli non-profit organizations – and other agencies within the Jewish community – have been able to instill a sense of partnership and equivalency between them and their donors.

The notion of partnership is not just a term; it is a fundamental belief that despite being separated by an ocean or large distances, Jews across the globe can be equal partners in their ventures. Yes, some approaches will change because of the lessons learned from the Madoff mess, but the success of forging lasting partnerships with donors will always be a successful business model. This is a truism that characterizes donor support for all non-profits, regardless of where they are located.

We, in the Jewish nonprofit community, must remained vigilant and balance the media’s determined portrayal of the philanthropic marketplace in these economic times as catastrophic and without any accomplishment or bright spots. It behooves all of us to engage misperceptions and inaccurate portrayals wherever they appear.

In today’s 24/7 media culture, the options for getting your view out are vast. Questions to pose:

  • What is your organization doing to achieve its goals and serve the needs and expectations of its stakeholders and consumers?
  • How is your organization adapting to the “new normal” and finding ways to succeed in our challenging environment?
  • What success stories are you aware of that can give the volunteer and professional leaders the inspiration to try new things and move beyond “traditional” approaches?

So here is YOUR assignment: write to a local paper, blog on websites, speak on a radio or TV show and submit op-ed pieces for national, regional or local publications. This will require persistence to make sure that the hard work and achievements, even in these uncharted waters, are not drowned out by the media’s two-dimensional approach. In the next few months, keep an eye on nonprofit support and expect even more media commentary about non-profit and charity issues. With our collective focus, the media will make some positive presentations about charitable giving and the role of non-profits.  (A true challenge to NPO’s is to encourage positive press coverage . . . highlighting donors and the impact that generous people can have.)

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of non-profits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices.