By: Allyssa Murphy (@allyssa_murphy)
Nonprofit PR has always been an interest of mine. I got my first “big girl” job when I was 19, working as a Marketing Assistant for a small nonprofit in Flint, Michigan, called Whaley Children’s Center. After that, I fell in love with the industry, transferred schools, and changed my major. Now I’m here at GVSU, majoring in Advertising and Public Relations, minoring in Nonprofit Administration, and working as a Marketing & Public Relations Assistant for D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, another nonprofit in the social services field.
GVPRSSA was lucky enough to have Amy Knape, the Director of Development from West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), speak about her experiences with nonprofit communications at our recent meeting.
Here are some insights she was able to share with us.
It’s Not Always A Crisis.
Some people assume that PR in nonprofit organizations is only utilized after a crisis occurs. An example of a crisis in the nonprofit realm was when the Wounded Warrior Project was accused of spending donations on lavish conferences and gifts for staff instead of on veterans. Another example, local to Grand Rapids, was when the Chamber of Commerce endorsed Bill Schuette for Governor of Michigan, which received a lot of backlash from the community.
However, nonprofit PR is not always a crisis. Professionals share all of the good news that comes from an organization as well, and it’s fun to share the good news! WMCAT recently moved into a new building, with greater capacity to help even more people. They want to communicate that with as many people as they can. The more people who know, the more they can spread their mission. Other fun things to share about your organization include reaching a fundraising goal at a special event, partnering with other organizations in the community, and awards or accreditations earned by your nonprofit.
Development & PR: A Perfect Match
Development and communication go hand-in-hand in nonprofit PR. All communication is donor communication. Quarterly newsletters, monthly e-newsletters, social media, website, blogs, are all crucial for clients of your organization, but also donors. It’s important to consistently instill confidence in your donors. Put your message forward and show that you’re doing meaningful and impactful work with their donation.
Events, Events, Events!
Love it or hate it, event management is HUGE in the nonprofit PR world. For most nonprofits, there are usually several smaller to medium sized fundraisers throughout the year. Then, there is one big gala in either the spring or fall of each year. The pictures and videos of these events all look lavish and fun, but planning for them takes months and months of hard work. If you’re not throwing an event for your organization, then you’re usually attending one for another organization.
Where You Might Land
There are a lot of different places you can end up working for in nonprofit PR. The industry has changed immensely just within the last 20 years. Nonprofit work used to be viewed as something you do after retirement or in your free time. Times have changed and the industry is booming. There are so many more opportunities to pursue.
Communications/marketing teams for larger nonprofits – Like Goodwill
Communications/development team for a mid-size nonprofit – Like WMCAT
One-woman/one-man shop of a small nonprofit – Like Other Way Ministries
Agency with nonprofit clients – Like 8THIRTYFOUR
Corporation that partners with nonprofits/CSR – Like Wolverine Worldwide
Agency vs. In-House Nonprofit PR: What Should You Do?
Being a student who is interested and dedicated to the nonprofit industry, I’ve heard a lot of different advice from PR professionals about what I should do after graduation. The most common thing that I’ve heard is to work for an agency for a couple years before diving into an in-house setting. Amy gave some valuable advice for students who are torn between in-house and agency work.
If you join a firm, you work with multiple clients and get your feet wet in many different areas of PR, which is a wonderful opportunity. Because of the recent shift in how nonprofit PR is viewed, there are many opportunities to work in-house as well! In-house nonprofit PR gives you a lot of autonomy and high-end projects at a younger stage in your career because of the nature and size of the organization. There is a lot of room to try new things, which is great for younger professionals.
If you decide to go the in-house route, decide if you like the culture of smaller or larger nonprofits. Can’t decide which organization to work for? Volunteer with them first! See if you like the culture and the vibe of that organization before joining their team.
In my opinion, the most valuable piece of advice that Amy gave was to work for an organization where the mission speaks to you, whether that is animal welfare, arts & education, social services, or ministry. Reach out to the different nonprofit PR professionals in your field of interest. Most likely they would be happy to get a cup of coffee with you and talk about the different experiences they’ve had in their career.
Allyssa Murphy is a senior studying advertising and public relations at Grand Valley State University, and she is currently the VP of Chapter Development for GVPRSSA. She has a passion for nonprofit communication and relations, and she has experience with media arts. You can always find her hanging out with her black lab, Bear.