How Family Foundations Use PR to Help Grantees Gain Awareness and More Funding

Lauren Mansur / April 19, 2019

When it comes to family foundations and supporting grantees financially, “keeping it in the family” is not always the case. Family foundations are known for giving back to communities, supporting smaller organizations and individuals through grantmaking and significant financial support. This support in turn provides grounding for organizations and individuals to operate and better provide services to their communities. Many family foundations also help elevate the names and work of their grantees. Enter public relations (PR) for family foundations, something we here at The Fearey Group know well.

 Family Foundations – What Even Are They?

Let’s back up a minute, though. When it comes to charitable organizations, a foundation of knowledge is important. Whether small, medium or large in size and scale, family foundations are unique in that they get their operating money from multiple members of one single family.

With nearly 50 percent of all private foundations in the U.S. listed as family foundations (Foundation Center, 2011), that’s quite a few stories to tell. Commonly, family foundations have in-house communications departments or work with PR firms in order to tell the story of the foundation and promote the work of grantees. Family foundations’ public relations efforts help inject the personal into private giving institutions. Those same efforts also help the foundation’s grantees, too.

Here are some ways that family foundations leverage public relations to assist their grantees.

Ways That Family Foundations Use PR To Assist Their Grantees

  • Boost grantees’ credibility and visibility:

PR helps tell a foundation’s story, incorporating grantees into the story and boosting grantees’ own visibility and credibility.

Public relations is about communicating your story — whether you are an individual, a family or an organization. Families often have deep emotional ties and connections, which means family foundations have stories, whether historical, interpersonal or current. Naturally, these stories drive the family’s narrative.

As family foundations use PR to communicate their stories, they can include their grantees in external communications with the public.

This can include highlighting grantees and their success stories on the foundation’s blog or social media channels, or through promotional collateral such as brochures or videos about the foundation and who it works with. One common practice of family foundations is dedicating primary sections of their website to illustrate the work of grantees, as seen on the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation’s “Partners in the Spotlight” page. These combined efforts signal the connection between the foundation and its grantees, indicating a sense of solidarity and appreciation toward the grantee from the foundation.

As grantees are included in a foundation’s storytelling through PR, they are aligned with a foundation with a strong story itself. In turn, the foundation’s communications channels and platforms help amplify grantees’ stories and mission among formerly unreached audiences. It’s a visibility booster for the grantee, and it also helps lend credibility to the grantee, signifying that the foundation stands by the grantee’s work financially and messaging-wise.

  • Value alignment:

PR helps family foundations illustrate intentions and communicate their values, all while highlighting grantees doing work related to those values.

In the process of using PR to tell its story, a family foundation communicates its values to the rest of the world. A family’s core values and beliefs are woven into the narrative of the foundation. Public relations tactics can often help communicate those values, as is the case with these brand videos from The Ford Family Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation.

Many family foundations award grants across a wide range of thematic areas, such as public health, education and the arts. They may then conduct media outreach to achieve media placements or even bylines in targeted media outlets in the industries associated with their giving priorities, and they may also try to position themselves as thought leaders within the industry.

With the environment a top giving priority, the Rockefeller Family Fund has supported a number of organizations who recently took action against the oil industry. In July 2018, the President and Director of the Rockefeller Family Fund wrote a New York Times op-ed that referenced a significant collective legal action against the oil industry that many of its grantees participated in. By utilizing its influence and larger platform, the Rockefeller Family Fund achieved a high-level media byline for two of its major staff members. Not only did this contribute to the Fund’s thought leadership around environmental issues, but it also significantly highlighted the work of the Fund’s grantees, whose values align with the Fund’s.

  • Recruitment: 

Public relations helps family foundations report on results and announce grant awards and recruit future grant applicants and potential awardees.

Private family foundations’ grants are publicly viewable, making it easier for nonprofits and donors to learn about a foundation’s values, and which causes and organizations it supports financially. No matter how viewable this grant information may be, though, public relations can help spread the word even more.

Often, family foundations make announcements about the grants they award in order to illustrate the types of awards it gives out and who receives those grants. Through an integrated media plan, a family foundation can leverage PR to distribute press releases and advisories to members of the media and can complement it with targeted social media promotion around it.

As grantees’ visibility is boosted throughout the media, other individuals and organizations may be funneled to the grantees’ websites or future events in order to learn more about the grantees themselves. These announcements, such as this press release from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, pique curiosity about the grantees. If a grantee is doing important and interesting enough work to be awarded large amounts of money to do that work, many members of the public will want to learn more about that grantee. On another level, if a nonprofit is looking for more funds, that organization might be able to seek out and apply for applications from an organization focusing funding on issues and values that align with their own.

Public relations can help family foundations pump the personal into their grantmaking. What starts as an independent giving institution with a large sum of cash to award can evolve into a foundation with a story and values woven into every element of its existence and a platform to help amplify its grantees’ stories and values as well, from the past, present and future.