Nonprofit sharing

PR pros in the nonprofit area often have to do more with less. Mark Hand profiles four to find out how they do it

PR pros in the nonprofit area often have to do more with less. Mark Hand profiles four to find out how they do it

Communications executives at nonprofit organizations typically have a wider range of responsibilities than their colleagues in the corporate sector, especially if their employer is the type of entity that must scramble each year to raise funds to support its mission.

Aside from communicating an organization's message to the news media and other stakeholders, nonprofit PR pros often are deeply involved in developing fundraising programs, serving as grant writers for the organization, and identifying potential corporate and philanthropic partners.

Communicators at larger, financially stable nonprofits still must develop metrics to show their financial backers how they have been successful in raising awareness about the group's charitable mission.

Below are profiles of PR pros at four nonprofits, with insight into how they integrate traditional communications initiatives with fundraising and other activities unique to the philanthropic community.

Brendan Hurley
SVP, marketing and communications
Goodwill of Greater Washington

Since joining Goodwill of Greater Washington in October 2003, Hurley's top priority has been to change the public's perception of the charitable organization. Goodwill has tremendous name recognition, but poor mission awareness, Hurley explains.

"While my job is to try and increase our revenue by providing the necessary marketing support for each business operation, I need to also try and find a way to balance the promotion of our businesses with the promotion of our cause," he says.

About 93% of Goodwill of Greater Washington's funding comes from its diverse line of businesses: retail stores, as well as custodial, landscaping, and pest control services. But the organization also is trying to increase its traditional fundraising methods. It recently hired a full-time director of development who is responsible for tracking down and securing foundation grants.

In his role as SVP of marketing and communications, Hurley tries to spend prudently in order to put as much money as possible toward the fulfillment of Goodwill's mission of job training for people with disadvantages and disabilities. "We need to maximize what we have to generate the best possible ROI," he says. "This requires some creative, out-of-the-box thinking."

One way that Hurley, who served as director of marketing for Clear Channel Radio in Washington before joining the nonprofit world, has created awareness for Goodwill's mission on a slim budget has been to barter its custodial services at major community events in exchange for enhancing the organization's visibility. In 2005, the organization provided cleaning services for the Marine Corps Marathon, Cherry Blossom Festival, and Booz Allen Golf Classic.

"This gives us significant grassroots visibility to hundreds of thousands of people, while also fulfilling our mission by giving employment opportunities to those doing the cleaning," Hurley notes. "It costs me much less to pay these employees than it would to purchase event sponsorships, and we get much more visibility for our investment."

Debra DeShong

Director of communications and public affairs
United Nations Foundation

Many of DeShong's fellow communications professionals in the nonprofit world are likely envious of her job at the UN Foundation. "Most nonprofits probably don't have a partner like the UN," DeShong says. "It's been really interesting to work with programs and issues knowing that you have this huge, world-recognized partner: the UN."

In 1997, media mogul Ted Turner announced that he was donating $1 billion to start the UN Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group - unaffiliated with the United Nations - that works to strengthen the US government's relationship with the international body.

"Through the generosity of Ted Turner's initial gift, our operating expenses are covered every year," DeShong explains. "We are not actively struggling to raise money to pay the bills."

Without financial worries, DeShong, who previously worked as senior communications adviser to the Kerry/ Edwards presidential campaign and communications director for the Democratic National Committee, can focus on the task of providing strategic communications support to the UN and building support for the foundation's advocacy campaigns.

DeShong says she measures the success of her five-person department the same way that it is measured in most media environments: Is the UN Foundation reaching its target audience and raising awareness of its core issues? So far, she believes her department has been extremely successful.

Crisis communications also has been an important component of DeShong's job since she joined the foundation in early 2005. Her department, for instance, went into crisis mode before the release of the oil-for-food investigation reports in 2005.

"We knew something bad was going to come out," she says. "We identified surrogates, educated the surrogates, got talking points out to everyone. We were able to educate the right reporters and the right editorial writers to mitigate some of the damage."

Sherry John
Acting director of communications
Operation Hope

Operation Hope was established in the aftermath of the 1992 riots that caused millions of dollars of damage to some of the poorer neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Founder John Bryant wanted to create an organization that would help members of impoverished communities build businesses and enable financial empowerment.

The Los Angeles-based nonprofit, which has financial centers in several cities, has shown dramatic growth over the past decade, owing largely to Bryant's perseverance and ability to forge partnerships with companies and government agencies.

"My main focus at Operation Hope is leveraging John Bryant," John says. "He is a major tool in development growth for the organization."

John, who previously served as assistant manager of communications for the Screen Actors Guild in LA, tracks the companies and partner organizations with whom Bryant meets. She makes sure that Operation Hope's sponsors and partners are aware of the organization's charitable work.

The organization has a list of 18,000 supporters and potential partners - what Operation Hope calls the "Bryant network" - who are sent news updates twice a week. "I produce an e-mail news item, a press release, or an update on something that has happened that we think the partners would be interested in learning about," she says.

John also has stayed busy managing communications and awareness of Operation Hope's work for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The organization, for example, has teamed up with the US Small Business Administration to launch Project Restore Hope, an initiative to help small and minority-owned businesses affected by the hurricanes.

Operation Hope hired Washington, DC-based Qorvis Communications last spring to publicize the opening of one of its financial centers in the Anacostia section of DC. The organization ultimately decided to retain Qorvis as its AOR, giving the nonprofit a communications presence in Washington.


Liz Rogers
Director of communications
Oral Health America

As director of communications for Oral Health America, Rogers faces stiff competition from other healthcare issues that the public may believe are more important than dental health.

"Oral health issues are just not on the radar screen with many major funders, as well as policy-makers and corporations," says Rogers, who ran her own PR firm and worked as a producer for National Public Radio before joining Oral Health America.

The organization is constantly looking for messages that will resonate with the public and policy-makers about oral health needs. "There are vast parts of the population that don't have access to a dentist on a regular basis," she says.

Every staff member of the Chicago-based group understands the value of communications and the development process, she says. The organization, founded in 1955 to raise awareness of dental education, does not have a director of development.

"Not only am I the communications director, but I'm our primary grant writer," Rogers notes. "That's a part of my job that I love because it means, in grant writing, you communicate messages, but you also create programs."

In the late 1990s, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation came on board as the main source of funding for the organization's "Campaign for Oral Health Parity," a communications initiative that seeks to place oral health on equal footing with other healthcare needs.

Using the Kellogg Foundation money, Rogers began to issue state-by-state report cards on the condition of oral health. Oral Health America, however, would get complaints from states about the bad news the report cards contained. In response, the organization started issuing report cards that would give good grades to states that had adopted creative programs to improve dental health.

"It didn't get as much media attention, being that it was good news," Rogers explains. "But within the oral health community, people regard it as a valuable resource, and it has absolutely helped with development, our fundraising efforts."

Oral Health America has been successful in fundraising, Rogers says, because it cultivates relationships with corporate partners. Developing relationships has been one of the key factors in ensuring corporate partners stay on board as repeat sponsors, she adds.

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