CEO Q&A: Chuck Connor, American Lung Association

Chuck Connor of the American Lung Association speaks to Tonya Garcia about competition among nonprofits and the recession's impact

Chuck Connor of the American Lung Association speaks to Tonya Garcia about competition among nonprofits and the recession's impact

Why is PR important to the American Lung Association (ALA)?

Connor: We have been around for more than 100 years. One hundred years ago, there were very few charities and nonprofits functioning. Now it's a very competitive marketplace and tens of thousands of new nonprofits are being certified by the Internal Revenue Service every month. The not-for-profit sector is probably even more competitive than the for-profit sector.

What do you think helps PR people stand out to senior executives?


Connor: In my twenties, I took a traveling PRSA course. At the end, the professor said, “If you expect to go to the top of your field, you need the right credentials or they won't let you into the inner circle.”

I became a lawyer. Though I've never practiced law, I have licenses in Illinois and DC. That is a tremendous ticket to being in the inner circle and making you conversant in the kinds of issues your organization's lawyer or general counsel talks to the CEO about. Getting an MBA is also a good thing.

How has the recession impacted the ALA?

Connor: The recession has affected everyone's direct-mail returns. We are increasing our PR investment to boost the rate of replies to this coming season's Christmas Seal mailing.

We talked to all of our associations and they agreed that we'd have an investment of $350,000. We would also invest in a multi-channel effort with a variety of communications, all with the intent of maximizing the return of the mail drop and modernizing the image of Christmas Seals.

How has the healthcare reform debate impacted your PR efforts?

Connor: Very favorably. Unlike a year ago, the public debate has happily put the spotlight on the importance of maintaining one's health and preventing disease. It's a lot cheaper than curing disease. Finally programs to get people off tobacco and cigarettes are being seen as an area worthy of policy and financial investment.

We're optimistic that when these bills get out of Congress, they're going to incentivize good behaviors. To that extent, we're happy with the way the debate has taken shape.

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