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Call it brand equity, issue expertise, or reputation. It is the sum of earned and perceived credibility an organization holds around a set of issues.

Your reputation is shaped and grown by the choices you make over time. As with your bank balance, you are constantly making deposits to and withdrawals from your reputational chart of accounts. That does not mean everything your organization does needs to be highly visible or public facing. Sometimes reputation is earned quietly, behind the scenes by delivering consistently on your brand with little or no fanfare.

The ultimate goal is to make communication decisions that are clearly aligned to your mission and consistent over time. That’s how reputation is built.

For many the issue of “reputation management” comes into play when you contemplate communication tactics like writing op-eds (“How will this make us look to the informed public paying attention to our issues?”) or selecting a partner with whom to co-fund a new initiative (“Do we agree on the problem we’re trying to solve and the best pathway for accomplishing it?”).

In the same way most individuals are deliberate about what they Tweet or post on their individual Facebook page, so too should organizations be deliberate about how they shape and manage their institutional reputations. Clarity and consistency are key, and knowing when to say no plays a big role, too.

by the numbers


Percentage of survey respondents who agree that when foundations communicate about an issue it helps their grantees work more boldly.


Percentage of survey respondents who feel that communications always or often helps to ensure that “progress made in program areas ‘sticks’ and leads to lasting change.”


Percentage of survey respondents who agree that “without effective communications we could not raise the support we need (such as funding, partners, and good will).”


Percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs who have absolutely no presence on social media.

tips and insights

A foundation's reputation, when leveraged effectively, can provide significant validation for the work of a grantee or partner, advancing the strategic goals and objectives of both organizations.

The ubiquity of social media significantly increases every individual’s ability to spread negative ideas or critical information about an organization. Foundations and nonprofits have to devise strategies for managing and tolerating higher levels of reputational risk.

Lobbying restrictions for social media remain largely untested. Foundations should take a consistent approach by either deleting all partisan comments, responding with a follow-up statement posted by an organizational representative, or ignore them and rely on a disclaimer posted on that social media platform. (BolderAdvocacy)