By Windy Hovey
A couple of months ago, Tiffany invited me to post on her blog about my professional public relations work with a local nonprofit organization (WREN). I realized how excited I am to meet college students who are eager to dedicate their energy and talents to social change. You see, that was me five years ago. Fresh out of my undergraduate studies, I found that the inquisitive nature, strong writing skills, and ability to work under deadlines that had led me to a bachelor’s degree in journalism were of great benefit to a small, ambitious nonprofit in Idaho. I was immediately addicted to this line of work and since then my life has intertwined with this sector.
Kelli Matthews noted on her PRos in Training blog that local nonprofit organizations are a superb place for public relations students to get real-world experience. From the standpoint of both a former student and a current nonprofit professional, I would like to further explain why this is true.
It’s All About Relationships
So what does public relations look like in the nonprofit world? There is a tremendous range of publics with whom we build relationships, including (but by no means limited to) clients who receive an organization’s services, business owners that might sponsor special events, media professionals, volunteers, and donors. The last two publics I listed are unique and essential to nonprofit organizations. How lucky are nonprofit staff to get to relate every day with individuals who demonstrate the most inspiring personal qualities you could ask for in people: philanthropy (means love of the human race) and voluntarism? When it comes to donors and volunteers, our primary focus is not on the checks they may write or the hours they may commit. It’s about – you guessed it – cultivating long-term relationships with people.
Making an ask of someone is merely one part of a continuous cycle that includes raising awareness, gaining feedback, addressing concerns, involving supporters in programs, and recognizing support. One key principle often repeated among development professionals is “people give to people, not good causes.”
Potential Public Relations Projects
Below, I depict some examples of projects that a public relations practitioner or student intern might undertake.
- Calling members and donors after an organization’s fundraising event they attended to thank them for their donation: Ask them how they think the organization is doing or if they have any ideas for future events.
- Giving presentations about an organization to local associations and businesses.
- Developing a public relations campaign for an upcoming special event
- Completing an assessment with an organization’s board, staff, volunteers, and major donors. Overall, are they in agreement with the direction and mission of the organization?
- Reviewing an organization’s key messages and developing a media campaign around those messages.
- Building an organization’s online visibility: Discuss with organization leaders whether launching a blog or social networking site would align their goals. If so, create and implement a social media plan and set them up with the knowledge and programs to track traffic on their online sites.
- Launching or revitalizing an organization’s newsletter: Are there ways the organization can freshen up its publications, save money, or more directly reach target audiences?
- Compiling testimonials, photos, and narratives: Take a month to attend an organization’s programs and events, take photos, and interview participants, volunteers, and donors. Put this together into a document that an organization can use for everything from grants to donor packets to presentations.
These are just a few ideas to get the brain buzzing. Please do remember that nonprofit organizations are limited on time and resources. When working with them, use their time efficiently, and under-promise and over-deliver.
Members of the Millennial Generation are said to be more engaged in civic action than previous generations. This is fantastic news for nonprofits and the communities they serve. The personal satisfaction of working to save the world one day at a time is immeasurable. To top it off, you receive the privilege of working with others who wake up each morning driven to make this world a better place. I encourage you to share your knowledge and skills with the challenging-but-rewarding, sometimes chaotic-yet-highly gratifying nonprofit world.
Windy Hovey graduated in September 2008 with a master’s degree in communication and society and a certificate in nonprofit management from the University of Oregon. She has five years professional experience working with nonprofits in public relations and fundraising. Currently, she is working as the resource development specialist for the Willamette Resources & Educational Network in Eugene. She is seeking a position in development for a nonprofit organization or consulting agency in the Portland and Seattle areas.