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Opinion/Philanthropy Journal – Trust depends on openness

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By Todd Cohen

Whatever its outcome, the move in Congress to force foundations to hand out more dollars should prompt charities to work harder to tell their story.

Charities play a critical role in society that often is unsung.

Unless they sniff scandal, the news media typically fail to report on charities.

And squeezed between shrinking resources and growing demand for services, charities often fail to invest in making sure citizens, donors and the media understand their work.

Even charities like United Way that have built strong brands can have a tough time explaining the often complex challenges they face in raising money and providing services.

So the payout controversy can help spur charities to earn the trust they depend on by making themselves more “transparent” and easily understood.

Cultivating the news media is as critical as cultivating donors, and needs to be a business priority for charities.

Like the Miami-based Knight Foundation, which sponsors annual workshops to help reporters cover philanthropy, local charities could hold workshops for local reporters.

Struggling day in and day out to deliver services and pay the rent, charities exist to make our communities better places to live and work.

To keep from hitting a wall of ignorance when they most need understanding and support, charities must take the time to educate our communities and the media about the work they do, the role they play and the challenges they face.

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