Is PR the Only Way to Make a Big Difference?

I was honestly excited when I read about Eli Broad and Bill Gates' new $60MM campaign: Strong American Schools designed to thrust Education to the top of the 2008 presidential campaign agenda with advertising, on-line community and volunteerism. How can you not be excited about two of the country's largest education funders collaborating? What's not to celebrate about a home-front issue getting some focus?

Well, to be frank, a few things. First, there's the quote by Eli Broad: "I have reached the conclusion as has the Gates foundation...that all we're doing is incremental." Let's remember for a moment that these two organizations dwarf the investments of nearly everyone working to improve the quality of education in this country. If their investments are "incremental" what does that imply about the magnitude of effort needed to have any impact? Second, the $60MM is coming from their respective foundations. Hmmmm. $60MM in PR. Could it be that this is "awareness building" on a whole new level? I wonder what the impact metrics are...

In the end, I agree with the spirit here, that it will take a movement, a groundswell, to really revolutionize education. But can PR really be philanthropy?

Nancy DeFauw

Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 27, 2007 in Accountability | Education | Permalink | Comments (2)


I wouldn't call this campaign PR or philanthropy... But to the extent that this effort engages the most important stakeholders -- educators, parents and, to some extent, employers -- this may affect the campaigns. And if the money helps those stakeholders find their voice and use it after the elections, it may actually change something.

Posted by: Ryan

I agree 100% that this isn't philanthropy...or at least I did. That's actually what caught my attention to begin with...if it's not philanthropy, why is the money coming out of their foundations??? But then again, how is this investment any different that the Lumina Foundation's Know2GO PSA program (

It occurs to me that I have begun to define philanthropy so narrowly, and in fact, defining it as being narrow, focused, and targeted that the idea of anything "mass market" initially sets my teeth on edge. But when I stop and think about it a bit more, I see this as another form of advocacy; of educating and creating community around an issue...and we need foundations to do that, for sure.

Posted by: Nancy DeFauw