Wanted: PR for not-for-profits

      20 Comments on Wanted: PR for not-for-profits

Jeff Morosoff, Special Asst. Professor, Hofstra University

It’s astonishing and sad how so many not-for-profit organizations operate with little or no public relations programs.  This became truly evident with what one of my PR Campaigns classes and I experienced this week.

Each of my PR 107 classes is taking on two not-for-profit clients this semester.  All of the clients have made presentations to the students; the students formed teams, selected leaders and are ready to start work.  But last Monday, one of our organizations lost its funding and confirmed that we would not be creating a campaign on its behalf.

I quickly messaged my Facebook group of 65 PR professionals; some of them, in turn, contacted their colleagues about my search for an organization that would benefit from what Hofstra PR students could offer.  Within several hours I had been contacted by a dozen organizations that were hungry for a PR program–because they had none.  While every one of these groups has real PR needs, I wound up selecting the first organization that called because its projects and time frame were a good match for the class.

Not-for-profits depend almost entirely on government and private grants plus donations to survive.  In tough economic times, the pool of money becomes shallow and sometimes dries up completely.  Often what helps these groups win support is the awareness and recognition that a public relations effort can provide.   And while these organizations recognize the importance of good PR, most can’t afford it.  That’s why students and those just entering the field should consider interning and volunteering for a not-for-profit; students could use the experience–and the organizations could sure use the help.

Your thoughts?


20 thoughts on “Wanted: PR for not-for-profits

  1. Whitney Steiner

    I have been working with a not-for-profit for the past year and a half helping out with PR and event planning. I also run the Twitter site for the organization. There is definitely a lack of PR in the not-for-profit field as can be seen from our experience this semester in class. It is a rewarding experience and I would definitely recommend that everybody in this field experience it at some point in their career. In my opinion, doing PR for a not-for-profit is the most difficult section of PR.

  2. Alexandra Backes

    I never thought too much about not for profits needing public relations before this semester. However, after working with our client for so long I have seen that these organizations are possibly the most in need of PR. They do not have the huge budget that many other companies have, but still have a very important message that they need to get out to the public. With the help of public relations campaigns these not for profit organizations are able to reach a large audience and gain the support they need and start to grow at an exponential rate.

  3. Megan Messina

    Working with a not-for-profit client this semester is really opening my eyes to a different part of the PR world. I intern for a magazine with an enormous budget; money is never a problem when we are planning events, etc so I never actually thought about it. My client this semester is an organization that works to help families of those fighting for our country, and they have almost no funding. It astounds me that people who are working to help those who are working to protect us, are overlooked.

    Through research we have done to see what other not-for-profits have done in terms of PR, it turns out that it was a great learning experience. PR is all about ut of the box thnking, creativity and getting your clients name out there. There is no better way to enhance these skills than trying to figure out how to do it without any money. This is a great experience and I think that students who dont have the opportunity to work with a not-for-profit client through their school, should intern at one.

  4. Robert Lynch

    I agree with your article, Not-for-profits are being hit very
    hard today.
    The DRL Art program is just one small program with in a Not
    for profit Foundation and they do a fantastic job in their
    area.Our program pretty much has to obtain our own funding
    with-in the Foundation. Yes we do receive funding from them
    but our Art program has grown and we must continue to receive
    outside donations. This is NO way saying any thing against the
    Foundation, because every dollar received from contributions
    goes directly to programs with-in the Foundations. I find it
    very hard to promote just our one Art program when the over
    all Foundation does such an excellent job. But we must raise
    funding out side the General Foundation Funding. We need help promoting our program. Can any one provide any good answers? Please reply to (lynchrm12@gmail.com )

    1. jmorosoff Post author

      I’d suggest that if you have no budget, find yourself a good intern who is majoring in public relations or communications. He/she can help you assess you needs and find ways to use social and other “free” media to get your word out. The student, if a junior or senior, should already have enough background to get you started. This is one way of doing it.

  5. Nikki St.Hilaire

    I was entirely unaware that non-profit organizations did not have some/any support through public relations. What an eye opener! It it incredibly vital for their existence and to achieving their goals as an organization. I am not a PR major but I still think it is awesome that you have chosen to do the project with non profits because it will be a great experience for the groups. It will be the perfect learning opportunity and it seems like the class is excited to have real, hands on experience.

  6. artur finkel

    It is tragic that non-for-profits have such a hard time gaining recognition and awareness. As Melissa said, the best way i believe is what our class is doing now. It is a learning experience for us and we are helping a company that otherwise would not be able to find help elsewhere. many students may try and avoid non-for-profit internship for reason such as lack of understanding or a belief that there is no point because they dont want to work in that area of PR due to money. These companies spend their money on helping people in need so there is little room to pay for PR and in many cases no room. Only people who care can help and in the case of our PR107 class its those who want to help. My group was excited to be doing this project because its a rare experience and we were given total control because of the lack of PR for the company. Of course we HAVE to do this for the grade but that’s not the point. In PR experience and connections means everything and working for non-for-profit would simply show the type of person you are. Future employers can easily characterize you because of this small experience you had in a sometimes forgotten area of PR.

  7. Chelsea Rae Simmons

    I think not-for-profit companies have it hardest in terms of finding pr reps because those who are able to help for free are either well-off enough not to need the extra money (however, their time is generally consumed with their day jobs), volunteers with very little pr experience, or interns. Students interning for not-for-profits is their best best, but at the same time, most students think they would prefer to go into more “prestigious” industries after college and would likely choose an internship in their industry of choice over one at a not-for-profit. This is why I appreciate the experience I’m getting in PR107, because I wouldn’t have the experience of working with a not-for-profit, otherwise, having worked in fashion and beauty from the get-go.

  8. Amy Romano

    First off, I think the fact that you were able to get a new client on such short notice goes to show what great networkers us PR people are as well as how important it is to maintain good relationships with others.
    It really was a shame that LI Works Coalition closed down because it was obvious that they needed some serious help. Its a sad thought that this non-profit was trying to do something to really help LI students and now they no longer can, but I think they needed to hire a PR person much sooner.

  9. jmorosoff Post author

    I was unaware that some professionals give an internship with a not-for-profit lesser importance. The skill set is the same whether you work for an agency, a business or a small not-for-profit. But I would agree that trying to have different types of internships while in college is very valuable.

  10. Cait Scungio

    Not-for-profits are always looking for unpaid help. As an intern last semester for a local not-for-profit it became evident how important PR is for these organizations. While they do not have the funds to hire someone full time, our energy and willingness to help can be extremely beneficial for their business.

  11. Victoria Frary

    I think that the work our PR 107 class is doing with the 2 not for profit organizations is extremely beneficial, both for the students and the organization. We are able to experience, hands on, what it would be like to work for an organization that doesn’t have unlimited resources at their disposal. In the future, if any of us were to be in this situation again, we would know what to do and what PR methods to use to benefit the organization. Our not for profits also gain an entire team of PR people who are excited to help them and achieve their PR goals.

  12. Sarah Facciolo

    I really do think it is very upsetting that non-profit organizations do not get the same privileges that other companies get and there is not a lot of awareness of it either. It amazed me when we had our client come in and tell us that there were little to only like five people working in the entire organization and I was so pleased to know that I could contribute to them and help with there PR. At the same time though they may need help and awareness if the people looking for internships and jobs are not interested in non-profit it should not be an automatic to just apply there because they could get a job easily. Their just has to be a way to show that working on non-profit organizations is as important as working for a PR agency.

  13. Ben Thompson-Star

    It is absolutely true that non-profits can always use the aid of PR students. Most of these non-profits have very worthy causes that could be drastically helped by a PR student. I think that the PR 107 capstone class’s focus on working with these types of organizations is a perfect avenue to practice skills whilst providing a pro bono service. However, I agree with Alex that for a student who is not looking to work for a not-for-profit organization they are better to spend their time interning elsewhere.

  14. Alex Petrucelli

    If a PR student can fit a not for profit internship into their schedule, I would strongly encourage him or her to do so. With my time in PR limited at best, I could only contribute to the efforts of PRSSA and PRestige Agency. With the two, I have accumulated a lot of experience working with not for profits.

    Part of the problem nowadays is not for profits are basically a given on resumes; they do not accomplishment much in distinguishing an applicant. My last interview slammed me for having too much not for profit experience, to where all I can muster was a head tilt and strange look. I still would encourage students to have not for profit internships, but not at the expense of agency PR or a specific niche PR, only because getting jobs in this (admittedly capricious) industry requires internship experience that leaps off the page.

    It is unfortunate the not for profit PR has fallen to the bottom of the totem pole sotospeak simply because it is not as ‘glamorous’ ‘ostentatious’ or “high-paying” like other PR fields. It is even more unfortunate when the pall cast comes from the very same people who should be encouraging that sort of experience.

  15. Lisa Jablon

    I absolutely agree that it’s so beneficial for students to intern or work for non-profits. My first internship was with the Chamber of Commerce in my town, and I firsthand saw what budget meetings consisted of, how heavily we rely on donors, sponsorships, and Chamber members, and more. As a paid intern, I was very fortunate to be a part of a non-profit that had enough funding, but after I left, there were budget cuts that forced some full-time employees down to part-time to save on insurance. But that internship was so hands-on and I really felt like I was doing so much actual work that was being used everyday.

  16. agarone

    It is very sad that so many non-profit organizations working towards good causes are suffering and cannot survive today’s economy. However, I feel that hiring someone to do PR would be a good investment for these types of organizations. Non-profit organizations often rely on donations and volunteer work, which involves getting their name out there as well as how to actually help. PR does exactly that. If they truly cannot afford to hire someone to do PR, I agree that interns are a good alternative. However, I believe that our PR 107 class is a great set up. We are getting hands on experience and applying everything we have learned, and these organizations are getting PR done without the cost of hiring someone. By the end of the semester I am sure that our work will benefit these organizations greatly.

  17. Julie Wiener

    I think our PR 107 classes working for non-profit clients is a really important lesson for the students and the clients. Not only does it open our eyes to a different type of PR, but it also shows us the importance of non-profits in the community and how often times they need more help than they can get. PR can help non-profits grow, become more well-known in the community (and outside, even) and receive more funding. With projects like universities and interns working with them they’ll not only receive help they need, but maybe learn some things they can use in the future even if they can’t afford to hire PR professionals.

  18. Melissa DiMercurio

    I think that students should definitely intern for not for profit organizations, but I feel that incorporating a PR class with a non for profit organization – like we are doing in PR 107 is the best way to go about it.

    I feel really fortunate that Hofstra does design a class around doing a PR campaign for an organization in our community. PR is all about the experience, professors can make us stare at a book and talk about case studies all they want- but we aren’t going to “get it” unless we are in the situation.

    I feel that more universities should do this instead of throwing a thesis at PR students or big hypothetical projects. Let us get our hands dirty!

    It is also a great way for organizations to get the help they need. Win win situation.

  19. NMagnacavello

    I actually just started working for a non-for-profit organization in Hempstead called The INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network). I honestly was unsure about going in for the internship in the first place. I figured I would give it a shot given we were going to be helping two not-for-profits in class. Going into the interview I felt more welcomed than any other interview I had been on. The people who run these not-for-profit organizations are there to lend a helping hand to so many people they barely even know.

    I also believe that sometimes not-for-profits go by the waste side because not many people know about them. If truly believe if I had never been a public relations major or even taken a business class I would never have been aware of not-for-profits whatsoever. I think that Hofstra should offer a class dedicated to not-for-profits as well as teaching students how they are funded and how they basically work. There is no doubt in my mind more and more students would be willing to intern at them and they may even come up with creative ideas as to how to produce publicity for these organizations.

    The organization I am interning for alone does not have much of a public relations department, but that is also because funding for the organization as well as those who work there becomes a financial problem. Although I have just started, I am trying to get them to effectively use Twitter amongst posting their events on other sites as well. To be honest it’s difficult and quite a challenge, however I am excited to try and use some of the tools I learn in classes for my internship and vice versa.


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