What I've learned working in a nonprofit (but not a no-profit) PR world

Lessons learned from a career in healthcare comms.

I’ve spent most of my communications and PR career working for nonprofits and in healthcare. It is truly a different culture and focus than working for an organization that is for-profit. I’m not suggesting one is better, just different from my experience.

The culture of a nonprofit focuses more on its mission. In healthcare, we talk about doing what’s best for the patient, not the bottom line. However, a nonprofit doesn’t mean a no-profit, or organizations wouldn’t last too long. Nonprofits also focus on giving back to the community. In healthcare, we concentrate on medical care, education, and research. We measure our accomplishments, such as innovative procedures and bench-to-bedside research that saves lives, rather than products and services sold.

Personally, I have found working for a nonprofit personally rewarding. In healthcare, we’re able to share powerful stories of inspiring patients, amazing recoveries, and talented physicians and caregivers who are able to do incredible things to save or improve the quality of patients’ lives.

Over the past three years, my team has had the honor of working closely with National Geographic, its famed photojournalists, writers, and editors, who spent an extraordinary amount of time with one of our patients and her family. Here is her story.

Our communications team is able to educate the public about the kinds of surgeries, innovations, and treatments that we can provide to help patients live better lives. Often, these surgeries are paid for by the hospital in the form of charity care or through research funds. Other sources of funding include government grants or reimbursement through Medicaid or Medicare or from generous philanthropists who want to give back and help others. Private insurance covers many patients’ care as well.

Our board leadership is made up of those who give their time generously to ensure that our organization moves in the right direction with no personal gain whatsoever and no ownership in the health system. Our administrative leadership is made up of physicians, who also treat patients and have a deep commitment to do what’s best for them.

Going to work each day is such a pleasure and one of the most rewarding and satisfying jobs I can imagine. The stories we share help others and that brings a sense of gratitude that extends beyond the daily job. One of our top heart surgeons told me that he could be the best baker in the world and make the best cakes -- but no one would know about them without public relations.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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