Friday, November 13, 2009

Whatever happened to "The Quiet Company?"

Community foundations pride themselves on their quiet competence.  We often work behind-the-scenes to improve communities through the creation of nearly silent, but steadily growing endowment funds.  While every now and there is a splash in the media pond when a large endowment fund is created, generally community foundations do not make waves.  Few have fulltime communications officers.  This past week I saw a noisy outpouring of emotion as many of my colleagues exchanged emails about a Wall Street Journal article that failed to mention community foundations as a locally-administered, low-cost, high-value option for those seeking a custodian for a Donor Advised Fund.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that community foundation executives are overly sensitive, it is not as if community foundations are a trivial part of the Donor Advised Fund management marketplace.  There are more than 700 community foundations compared to only a handful of for-profit investment firms.  More than $31 Billion is held in endowments funds by community foundations.  While quiet, we are huge and quiet.

Moreover, the reporter in her research conducted an extensive interview with the President of the Council on Foundations, Steve Gunderson.  The Council on Foundations is the nonprofit membership association that serves as an advocate for nonprofit foundations of all types.  It is not like she just didn't hear about community foundations, she chose instead to favor the small subset of the Donor Advised fund management sector that advertizes in the Wall Street Journal.

Coincidence?  Perhaps, but the last time this happened I wrote a note to, (and I got a nice response back from) the Wall Street Journal reporter who failed to mention community foundations.  That time they said that they would make a special effort next time.  This is next time. 

What do we have to do?

Maybe this is why I no longer see those ads for Northwestern Mutual with the tagline: "The Quiet Company."  That marketing strategy doesn't work.

Would you be comfortable with a portion of the operational costs of your local community foundation going to a national marketing campaign or would you rather those funds be used to directlly benefit your local nonprofits?

I think community foundations need to take advantage of social media tools to reach deep into our local commuinty rather than spending money on raising our brand awareness nationwide.

Your thoughts?


Kim Clifton said...

How can the nonprofits that benefit from community foundations and donor advised funds help raise the profile of these and help market/publicize the important role they play in communities? Is this an option?

George Stevens said...


I did not think of that, but good suggestion. Some of our donor advised funds act like mini-endowment funds for specific nonprofit organizations. Each year a few thousand dollars are spun off for completely unrestricted benefits for the nonprofit.

We have never asked the nonprofits we support to advocate on behalf of Donor Advised funds. Perhaps we should.