Communicating Message

December 31, 2015       Paul Clolery      

The year 2016 has the potential to be 50 miles of bad road for the charitable sector. Presidential candidates will push their tax plans, which in most cases will propose gutting incentives for charitable giving in the name of a balanced federal budget. Current incentives will be allowed to expire as members of Congress refuse to take action during an election cycle.

Donors will continue to be confused by what constitutes a donation. Is it writing a check, using a credit card online, a simple point of purchase item that contains a nonprofit’s logo, social media outreach or crowdsourced solicitation?

Incredibly, a Tweet can’t change the world. It can happen once or twice but that leaves more than 1 million organizations looking for followers who will react.

The sector will also be hampered because of some of the advocates lost during 2015. The sudden deaths of thought leaders Henry Woods “Woody” Bowman, Peter Dobkin Hall and Rick Cohen leave a void that will be hard to fill overnight.

The issue of from where the next generation of thought leaders will emerge is a center of concern. The numbers just don’t work. There are not enough people entering the charitable sector to keep the ranks filled with competent executives and staff.

It’s nearly a perfect storm for disaster — political unrest, confused donors, staff positions and executive suites with vacancies and an ever-expanding need for services.

Let’s take them one at a time, even though the answer just might be identical for all.

The sector’s de facto leadership has been too polite. The tax-exempt sector – not including government entities – has been allowing those elected to get away with too much for too long. There is no doubt the sector has had a hand in the improving U.S. economy. It’s time to let the general American public in on the secret.

There have been numerous failed attempts at television programs that focus on the work of charities. It becomes like watching the show Undercover Boss, where one employee gets called on the carpet, a second gets patted on the back with a few parting gifts and a third strikes it big. Incredibly, workers are too inept to recognize the corporate CEO, even with the really bad wigs and dye jobs. Some of them had faces perfect for radio.

Ah radio, where most of America still turns for news and entertainment. It comes in at least three flavors: broadcast, satellite and Internet. There are numerous nonprofits with broadcast capability. It’s time the sector took to the airwaves on a consistent basis to discuss issues, alert consumers about threats to their neighborhoods, and to tell the good stories.

The days of radio icon Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story are not over. The legendary commentator for decades told the stories that people west of New York and east of California found interesting. It’s time the sector did the same thing, along with compelling debate on the sector’s issues – which are also the public’s issues when you get down to it. It’s not a liberal versus conservative conflict. All points of view should be explored with an eye to national and local issues. There are numerous outlets looking for programming and the content could be streamed on the Internet.

There is little time to get started. The sector’s leadership needs to be engaged in the debates that will shape the 2016 presidential elections. Whether it’s tax policy, immigration, human resources or any of a hundred issues with which leaders are grappling, it starts with engaging the general public.

The sector has always counted on the American people to respond to a call to action. Lively discussions of the issues are a good place to start.  NPT