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Extreme Makeover: Nonprofit Edition

Posted At: May 5, 2009 7:08 AM
by Louise Crow

Would you respond to a phone call asking you to volunteer your free time to transform a small and struggling social service organization with almost a nonexistent brand identity and little public attention? Julie Ruditzsky did.

Ruditzky, a Providence, R.I., ABC 6 News reporter, received a phone call one day from the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center, where she volunteers as a public relations consultant for struggling nonprofits. She was asked to help a Providence social service center, Progreso Latino, which teaches members of the Latino community how to meet their goals and remain self-sufficient. Before committing to the project, Ruditsky did her own research and could not believe the great work being done within the organization.

Although she already had around-the-clock responsibilities at the news station, she still accepted the task.

“I wanted to scream from the rooftop out of both excitement and frustration,” Ruditzky said. In only a few short weeks, Ruditzsky gave Progreso Latino a much-needed PR makeover.

Before its makeover, Progreso Latino had very little brand identity within the community especially outside of the Latino population. Although they sent out press releases to the media, they usually were last minute and ineffective. The issue was not the lack of results from the organization, but the lack of brand identity.

To gauge community awareness, Ruditzsky asked a successful branding company,NineDot, to volunteer their time to conduct field research, where they went throughout the community and asked people their opinion about Progreso Latino (to find out more about Progreso’s branding, visit Platform’s “Brand Empowerment” article). Ruditzsky immediately realized that the positive image of Progreso Latino needed to become more visible throughout the Providence community.

Low cost and simple implementation ideas became the focal point of this public relations plan. The first step included the development of social media tactics like a new Web site with blog updates and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“The world is transitioning to the Internet for information gathering. This allows our stakeholders to explore and become more engaged and involved beyond normal publicity,” she said.

Progreso Latino’s public relations strategy also included a new approach to media relations, influenced by Ruditzsky’s reporting experience. She focused on a proactive and positive approach to media. Nonprofits have the ability to reach out on a consistent basis while making a lasting impact. Certain organizations like Red Cross do an incredible job of establishing a credible relationship with local media channels.

“Nonprofits have opinion that reporters can use in their interviews focusing on what’s relevant to the community,” she said. “Reporters are constantly trying to find someone to interview on demand and nonprofits can be that person.”

Ruditzsky has focused on training the Progreso staff members to feel comfortable interviewing on camera and writing press releases. She said the key is writing about positive programs featuring how Progreso benefits the greater Providence area.

“It’s not just about social services but helping people get their lives in order,” Ruditzsky said.

Since press releases don’t always require or assure instant coverage, Ruditzsky encourages practitioners to send out positive weekly releases to area media. An example from Progreso is about how the center helped a homeless person find a job.

As someone passionate about public relations, Ruditzsky educated the Progresso Latino staff about the value of PR so her PR plan would continue after she left.

“I wanted PL to implement their own PR so when I left the organization the PR practices would continue to grow consistently,” she said.

To this end, Ruditzsky met with every single program director and talked about how PR works, how to write effective news stories and how PR can benefit their program. She said we really focus on the positives of the organization by showing how little things make a huge difference.

With more than 1.6 million nonprofit organizations throughout the United States, there are endless opportunities for PR makeovers. Each nonprofit organization is competing for the same volunteers, media attention and benefactors. Whether employed or job searching, I hope you consider picking up the phone and answering your calling to facelift a nonprofit organization.

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