Published on December 7, 2019, at 12:25 p.m.
by Ali Cushing.
Nonprofit organizations use public relations for a variety of benefits that go beyond soliciting for direct financial aid. Tactics are used to help educate the public of a nonprofit’s cause, increase awareness, find potential volunteers and bring in donations. The more positive of an image a nonprofit can create, the more opportunities it will have to carry out its missions and goals.
Each person’s entrance into the PR sector of a nonprofit is different. Due to a generally smaller salary, aspiring PR practitioners tend to head down a more commercial career path. However, there are immense benefits in using your public relations skills for a nonprofit position. Autism Society of Alabama Development Director Lauren Reid started her career in the nonprofit world doing fundraising and event planning. However, as the organization has grown over the past seven years, she has switched into also managing PR for the organization. Reid explained, “It was just a part of the growth; it was necessary for someone to fill that role and it just worked out for me.”
CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Alabama Danielle Mcinerey graduated from The University of Alabama with a degree in public relations, and ran her own nonprofit organization before getting her position with Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Alabama seven years ago. Mcinerey, alongside Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Alabama Development Director Holly Hillard, manages PR for the organization. Mcinerey said, “Every employee dabbles in our PR, but it is specifically run by Holly and me. … I knew that was going to be a big part of my position going into it.” It is important to realize that a person’s entrance into a nonprofit PR position can be untraditional, but it allows for the expansion of one’s skills in new means.
The use of PR aids nonprofits organizations tremendously in many ways. Hillard mentioned that “from my side, it has really helped raise money for the organization in an effective way, as well as helping us get the word out to potential families.” Reid noted how Autism Society of Alabama has created “such a strong voice in the community because our voice and PR is so well-maintained. I think that if we had a bad reputation it would significantly hurt us.”
Nonprofit organizations utilizing PR is advantageous because despite receiving funding from the federal government through grants, such funding does not always come through as desired. Mcinerey explained how “previously we stuck to grant writing, but when one federal grant that was half of our annual budget was canceled by the federal government, we established that grants cannot be our saving grace.”
Economically, a nonprofit organization uses its revenue, primarily funded by donations, to achieve its mission rather than distributing its main sum of income to its employees. Therefore, a person approaching a nonprofit-based career path has a lot to consider. “You are not going to get rich entering into the field out of college. You may think that you are worth ‘X amount’ or worth being paid ‘X amount’ and that is sometimes part of the learning curve of coming out of college. … But don’t discredit the PR nonprofit world just because of the income, if you can — you’ve got to pay your bills — but there is a huge value and a huge ‘feel good’ when its PR in a nonprofit,” explained Mcinerey.
Reid stated, “You are going to wear a lot of hats, so just be diverse in leading up to taking a position with an organization. … The staff is going to be small but a lot of times they can’t play all of the different positions — I would just say be diverse; it helps a lot in finding your place within an organization.”
Mcinerey is passionate about running the public relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Alabama. “I wouldn’t trade doing [public relations] for a nonprofit for anything. It’s the best job. … It’s stressful at times, you don’t get rich, but it is fulfilling in a totally different way that I prefer,” she said.
“I would take a PR nonprofit job over any, because you become passionate about it, and when you become passionate about the program you’re working for you do a much better job,” stated Mcinerey. She also explained the importance of believing in the work you do because “if you don’t believe in it, you are going to stink at trying to convince other people to believe in it, too.” She values the passion she has found in working for a program that helps other people, “it makes the days that you really don’t feel like being at work easier because of what you are doing, rather than trying to give an image or raise money for something in corporate America.”
While on the search for your desired PR position, don’t count out nonprofit work based on numbers. As Mcinerey said, there is a “sense of fulfillment, not even accomplishment; you feel more fulfilled working PR for a nonprofit.”