Ep 206: The Nonprofit Sector’s PR Problem – And How We Can Fix It

by Joan Garry

The nonprofit sector has a serious PR problem that impacts its ability to garner adequate support. Nonprofit leaders have a powerful opportunity to be ambassadors and advocates for the sector as a whole. In this episode, I make a poignant call to action for nonprofit leaders everywhere to rally to the side of saving public perception of the important work they do.


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Statistics show that 44% of the American population doesn’t trust the nonprofit sector. This mistrust is due to publicly held perceptions of mismanagement of funds, doubt in nonprofit leadership, and the impression left behind by the “bad apples”.

I’ve collected evidence of this myself. You probably know that I post a lot on social media and sometimes the comments are unkind. Here’s just a taste:

“Need to keep those big salaries rolling in for the np admins.”

“They are getting money hand over fist from taxpayers.”

“If those leaders truly believe in their cause they should be willing to work for the cause not a huge check.”

“Do I get paid like the non-profit organization’s workers cuz if so I’m in. I like scams.” (sic)

There are so many misperceptions that negatively impact the work we do. This is where I see a powerful opportunity for change. Nonprofit leaders have a chance to be ambassadors and advocates for nonprofit work, acting together to change the narrative and perceptions.

In this episode, I’m talking about a topic that’s been simmering in my mind for a while: the nonprofit sector’s dire need for better public relations. Despite the invaluable work nonprofits do, they often face criticism and lack adequate public support. I feel strongly that nonprofit leaders might inadvertently reinforce negative narratives about nonprofits collectively and their own organizations. 

The work that you do is so important, and so impactful, that we cannot afford to leave any potential volunteers or supporters behind. 44% lack of trust is 44 too much!

We need all hands on deck.

So, I am taking to the mic to emphasize the need for better public relations and encourage nonprofit leaders to reflect on how they communicate about their work. I’m speaking the truth and providing actionable insights on how to address internal challenges and foster a more positive public image.

I’ll be honest with you. This is a tough-love conversation.

I believe that nonprofit leaders need to be a part of the solution to the sector’s visibility and trust issues. By promoting integrity and being mindful of your words, you can highlight the positive impacts of your work and help restore and build trust. And perhaps, most importantly, you can positively support our collective influence as ambassadors of the nonprofit sector.

Key Quotes:

  • “Trusted nonprofits and trust in philanthropy is not where it needs to be… 56% of Americans trust nonprofits. That does not strike me as a great number.”
  • “Our sector has a PR problem and a trust problem, and we all need to be a part of the solution.”
  • “Let’s make sure that in our public-facing roles, be it at a public event or a family gathering, that we are ever mindful of just how powerful our voices are.”

Primary Takeaways:

  • There are specific steps you can take to enhance the nonprofit sector’s public image through positive storytelling.
  • Learn the critical role of nonprofit leaders as advocates.
  • What internal dysfunction needs to be addressed to build external credibility?

Join me and the Nonprofit Leadership Lab to gain more insights and tools for building a stronger, more trusted nonprofit sector. Learn more and request an invitation to join the Nonprofit Leadership Lab.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”