Grant makers need to get a lot better at speaking out about social problems and telling their stories, said speakers at Tuesday’s closing session of the Council on Foundations annual meeting in Los Angeles.
In a session that was designed to resemble a form of speed dating—experts had just five minutes to sum up what was wrong with philanthropy—Andy Goodman, a marketing consultant to charities and foundations, criticized foundations for focusing too much on numbers and data. None of that matters if the people a foundation wants to reach are not open to what the data show, he said.
“All the data in the world is not going to change people’s minds,” said Mr. Goodman. “If you want to change what people think and if you want to create change, the first thing you need to do is change the story in their heads.”
Emmett Carson of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, chided foundations for not living up to their missions. While grant makers like to describe themselves as “change agents,” they don’t take bold actions often enough. He showed a slide of a man in a suit with his head stuck in the stand, and asked, “What are foundations doing?”
One sign of how little foundations interact with the public, he said: Just 50 of the roughly 76,000 foundations in the United States participate in Glasspockets, a Foundation Center project designed to make it easy for anybody to find out what foundations do with their money.
He said foundation unwillingness to interact regularly with the public has persuaded too many Americans to “think we really don’t care.” And as a result, grant makers are ignored. “If your foundation is not being asked to speak on your mission,” he said, “then you have work to do.”