PR Can Save the World, Man.

Windy Hovey recently wrote a fantastic guest post on Tiffany Gallicano’s PR Post titled, “A Window Into Non-Profit PR Work” that sparked my fancy for several different reasons.

Before I comment on this post and add my own thoughts, I should give you some background information about myself that may influence my feelings towards this post/subject. First, I am college student and I  live in the beautiful city of Eugene, Oregon. Some may refer to it as “Hippy-ville” (such as my brother) but instead, I like I think of it as a place that is home to many good-hearted, politically-active people who are committed to making a difference in their community. Due to this, the nonprofit community in Eugene is thriving. After living here for three years, this mindset has rubbed off on me. Moreover, I recently had the opportunity to work at NextStep Recycling, which is a large non-profit technology recycling organization here in Eugene. My experience there was wonderful and stimulating and has certainly inspired my future career aspirations (I could rant and rave about NextStep for hours, but I will spare you).

Bottom Line: Yes, I am kind of a young (naive?) tree-hugging-hippie-idealist from Eugene, OR; but hey man, if non-profits are going to change the world, they need PR practitioners’ help. A lot.

Relationships with Volunteers and Donors 

In Windy’s post, she explained that in any type of PR work, you must establish close and long-term relationships with your publics. This is, of course, where PR comes in. In the non-profit world, two of the most crucial publics are volunteers and donors. A non-profit could not survive without both of these. For example, NextStep Recycling had the help of more than 5,000 volunteers in the past seven years, with one single location in Eugene (until a recent expansion to Springfield last month) and the organization still needed more. Additionally, many of the (few) staff/employee positions were dependent on grants from sponsors. So what’s a PR practitioner to do? Well I think that Windy was very accurate when she wrote:

One key principle often repeated among development professionals is “people give to people, not good causes.”

There are a ton of non-profits out there, most with valuable causes and missions. So why yours? As the PR practitioner at non-profit, you are very much the face of your organization’s cause. It is your job to make people personally invested in your organization’s mission. What do I mean by personally invested? I mean that your publics are active in their support of your non-profit because they feel that the mission could not be reached without their time (volunteering) or their money (donations).

This was a challenge I was faced with at NextStep, both as a PR practitioner and as a volunteer coordinator. Here are a few general ways that I found effective to get volunteers and donors to actively support your non-profit:

1. Form alliances with other related groups in your community
The most committed volunteers that we have at NextStep are Master Recyclers. We have an alliance with the Master Recyclers of Lane County because we share common goals with them and common missions for our community. In turn, many NextStep staff and volunteers participate in the Master Recycler’s program. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.
2. “Pull on their heart strings”
As my boss, Isbel, would say. This is particularly important for donor relations. Find creative ways to showcase what would happen if your non-profit did not exist. How would that effect your local community? How would it effect your publics personally? Their children? Etc. This makes an emotional appeal to your publics and can make them emotionally tied to your cause and motivate them to act.
3. Be straight-forward about what’s in it for them
Sure, there are those people who like to volunteer for the sake of helping others, but as a PR practitioner, I wouldn’t count on that to keep the steady stream of volunteers that your organization needs. One of the most effective ways that we got folks in to volunteer regularly was that after volunteering for a certain number of hours, volunteers would earn their own computer system, which they could either keep for themselves or donate to someone in the community in need.

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