Commentary: Nonprofit Sector Must Take New Approach to Public Relations

By Troy, Carol Wilkinson | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Commentary: Nonprofit Sector Must Take New Approach to Public Relations


Troy, Carol Wilkinson, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Many people look forward to the new year for a new start on old habits.

- Author Unknown

Let's start the new year with a solemn promise to break some of our old habits. In the case of the nonprofit sector, the way we thought about public relations for our organizations could certainly stand some new thinking.

It wasn't that long ago that public relations was something that most nonprofit organizations thought they couldn't afford. They tried to get by with PR volunteers instead of a paid professional public relations staff.

It wasn't that long ago that some nonprofits thought that public relations meant getting a mention about a fund-raising dinner in the society pages. Some nonprofits confused public relations with advertising and tried to get it pro bono from local ad agencies.

Some nonprofits confused public relations with fund raising - and had the same person handling both. Others confused it with publishing booklets or with glad-handing.

Tom Harrison, president of the Russ Reid Co., a marketing and communications agency that helps nonprofit organizations through direct response marketing, public relations and government funding, sees it very differently. He believes that there is beginning to be a remarkable and positive change in the way nonprofit organizations are using public relations.

Here's his theory:

Competition for donor dollars has heated up intensely, and fund- raising techniques themselves - in direct mail, TV, special events - have become far more sophisticated. Nonprofit organizations have borrowed proven marketing techniques from corporate America. Now the more sophisticated nonprofit management has begun using corporate- type public relations strategies. And it's working.

Today, just as no corporation would introduce a new product, make a management change, or corporate move, or support the day-to-day marketing of a product without public relations, many not-for- profits are turning to public relations as an integral part of the marketing mix.

But let's be clear. Today's management doesn't want yesterday's public relations by press release or answer the phone media relations. Today's nonprofit management sees public relations as an investment. And they demand a return on that investment in three areas.

Public relations must:

* Build awareness of your organization, and position it as a valuable contributor to society.

* Create an environment to enhance fund-raising opportunities among target audiences such as foundations, corporations, volunteers, and individual donors.

* Educate and persuade your target audiences about an issue or cause.

Public relations, then, plays an important role in both your fund- raising efforts and your organization's program itself. For example, if you're the March of Dimes, you use public relations both to build support for fund-raising campaigns and to educate teens about pregnancy, birth defects and prenatal care. Public relations supports both fund raising and your programs - or you're not getting your money's worth out of it. …

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