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Mission to Message: PR Best Practices For Political Nonprofits

Published on October 31, 2023, 2:28 p.m.
by Carsyn Smiling. 

It’s possible you’ve heard of American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. These organizations have a notable similarity: They are 501©(3) nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits exist to serve purposes other than generating profit.

Most people interact with nonprofits on a regular basis. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States alone, public relations practitioners need to know how to brand for these organizations.

Organizations identified as a 501©(3) receive a special tax status. With this status come certain limitations. One of the limitations of a 501©(3) organization is not being able to endorse any political candidates.

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However, there are nonprofits that focus on issues surrounding the political nature of society, such as activism or education.

While the overwhelming majority of nonprofits are nonpartisan, some are not. There are nonprofit organizations on both sides of the aisle. It is up to public relations professionals to ensure these organizations’ branding and practices are consistent with their causes and tax status.

The branding

A key responsibility for a PR professional working for an organization is to help ensure the brand remains authentic. This is especially important for a nonprofit, as its mission statement provides a foundation for the organization.

Kayla Huston, a communications manager for the nonprofit Network of enlightened Women, explained that it is crucial for a nonprofit to keep its mission at the forefront when branding. Keeping the mission statement in mind will allow the practitioner to better brand their organization in a unique way that will draw in supporters.

Another key component when branding a nonprofit is being clear in the organization’s goals. Josh Bramlett, assistant professor at The University of Alabama, noted that “you need to have clear call to actions.” While initiatives are important in any company, they are especially important for nonprofits to reach supporters and donors.

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The better a PR professional understands what it is they are promoting, the clearer the cause will be to their publics. The easier it is for individuals to see the root and cause of the organization, the easier it is for them to decide whether to support it.

Huston reiterated this point by explaining how understanding an organization’s brand, mission and goals helps in other areas of the PR practitioner’s expertise, such as drafting language for social media or a website. Like many other types of organizations, these key areas need to drive the organization’s communication.

The cause

When assembling a nonprofit, the driving cause plays a large role in branding decisions. From the organization name even to brand colors, every decision holds weight to the cause.

Bramlett explained, “People can come to support a cause with purple and yellow colors over candidates with blue and red because when people see blue and red, you get sorted into your preexisting ideological dispositions. There is often more support for causes than candidates.”

It is vital for professionals in the PR industry to be able to think past political alignments and look at causes as a whole because causes are able to stretch where political lines divide. Nonprofits are much more than just a tax write-off for individuals; they hold value and allow for people to express support for issues they care about.

The transparency

Transparency allows for an organization’s target audiences to be in the know with the organization. Knowledge often leads to loyalty, especially with nonprofits because donors are able to see their investments translate to causes in real time.

Caroline Cason, communications training coordinator at Leadership Institute, explained her organization’s approach to

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transparency. “At the beginning of all of our trainings, we make it clear that we are a 501©(3) nonprofit to each person attending,” she said. This transparency allows for attendees to know that the organization complies with all necessary sections of being a 501©(3).

Being upfront about an organization’s nonprofit status can also play into positive branding, as individuals tend to trust nonprofits over other for-profit businesses.

The impact

Nonprofits have certain limitations, especially those that involve certain political stances. However, there is a way to promote causes without exceeding the bounds of a nonprofit. Keeping these practices top of mind can help to create better branding and practices in the nonprofit sphere.


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