A survey commissioned by the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative posed questions to individuals who have held a leadership, committee or board-level role in an organization working on community or social issues. These “engaged Americans” are not the general public but a far narrower slice of the American adult population—making up just 12 percent.
Important constituents for foundations in their own right, these engaged citizens are also the key influencers of decision makers in government, business, news media and nonprofit institutions. For these reasons, they are a primary external audience for the philanthropy sector.
Secondary is primary
Their take on foundation communications? According to the survey findings, these engaged Americans were more likely to have read or heard information about foundations in the past year from secondary sources—such as word-of-mouth, nonprofit organizations and newspapers—than directly from foundations.
In seventh place
When asked to identify the primary sources of foundation information they read or heard over the last year, engaged Americans identified six primary sources they used more than the annual report.
When asked how they would prefer to receive information, engaged Americans cited email updates and websites most. They also chose direct mail, newsletters, meetings and media coverage before annual reports.
Reaching 3 in 1,000
Engaged Americans were asked if they had read an annual report during the last year.
• 25% said one.
• 14% said more than one.
At first glance, this data might suggest that a foundation faces a 39% chance that an engaged American has read its annual report over the last year.
But it’s not that simple. Here’s why:
• More than 70,000 foundations are in the United States.
• Let’s say that 500 of them produce annual reports (a low estimate).
• And let’s say that when engaged Americans read more than one annual report over the last year, they read 10 annual reports (a high estimate).
• Against those assumptions, the chances that an engaged American would read any single foundation’s annual report are far less than 39%. In fact, they are closer to .30%.
• In other words, a foundation producing an annual report can expect that only about 3 out of every 1000 engaged Americans will read it.
Source: Harris Interactive survey for Philanthropy Awareness Initiative
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