Survey results: NonPRofits struggle to "do" PR

I’m using this week’s blog to announce the results of a survey I conducted of 160 Long Island nonprofit organizations to determine how they “do” PR. The survey proves what we’ve anecdotally known: Nonprofits understand the value of good public relations, but few have the resources for staff or tools get their messages to their publics.

No matter how small or large these organizations are, nonprofits typically devote less than 5% percent of their budgets to public relations campaigns and staffing, according to the respondents. And due to ever-increasing challenges and competition for funding, the overwhelming majority of them (87%) say they will not be increasing PR staff or budget in 2012. Just 29% of the nonprofits surveyed have at least one full-time public relations professional on staff, and only 25% of full- or part-time staff receive any PR training.

Because of tight budgets, nonprofits are depending upon staff and volunteers to multitask, often combining their public relations responsibilities with others including marketing (69%), fundraising (69%), event planning (67%), advertising (60%), and/or additional administrative duties (65%). Of those surveyed, half responded that they use volunteers for public relations work all or part of the time, and 21% say they have college interns handling some PR duties. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of respondents said they devote less than five hours to pitching stories to reporters each week; 64% report spending under 10 hours a week preparing or creating promotional materials; and 64% said they spend less than five hours updating social media profiles and posting relevant content weekly.

Qualifications and training requirements for handling public relations functions at nonprofits are mixed, according to the survey. Only 36% of those doing PR functions are required to have a college degree in public relations or a related field, and just 40% of those hired are expected to have some prior experience in PR. You have to question the effectiveness of their efforts if so few of them have a PR background before coming into the job.

My friend Ken Cerini, partner of Cerini & Associates, LLP, an accounting firm in Bohemia, N.Y. that specializes in the nonprofit sector told me, “In a climate where the nonprofit sector has been hit hard with negative press and changes in regulations, now is the time for nonprofits to make their voices heard—and PR is extremely important in this process. As a result, nonprofits need to consider how to effectively utilize the various channels, both traditional and social, to get their message out.”

Sadly, Long Island’s nonprofits lack the tools and expertise they need to “do” PR right. Despite this, more than two-thirds of the respondents believe that their public relations efforts are helping their organizations’ missions. This may be true, but imagine how much more effective they’d be with the right staff and tools.

So, after seeing their struggles in numbers, how can we help these nonprofits? I have plans which I’ll share here in the near future, but I’d like to hear from you. Your thoughts?

(A total of 160 Long Island-based nonprofits were surveyed online between October 27 and December 17, 2011, and also person-to-person at two major Long Island events: the Fair Media Council’s “Connection Day” on October 27 and the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ “Philanthropy Day” on November 18.  Hofstra students Vania Andre, who is a wonderful research assistant, plus Lauren Katz, Christopher Scheben and Alexis Sibilio, were a tremendous help to me and I thank them!)


8 thoughts on “Survey results: NonPRofits struggle to "do" PR

  1. Viral Videos

    I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both educative and
    amusing, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something that not enough men and women are speaking
    intelligently about. I’m very happy that I found this in my hunt for something regarding this.

  2. Susanne Engelen

    I have to agree with Michelle that when a nonprofit already has a great reputation, getting a professional PR staff is not its priority. With any lack of money it is impossible to get everything an organisation needs to perform best in its industry. Not only nonprofits, but most organisations have to make choices about what to spend their money on and although a good PR staff is essential for improving your reputation when this is not what it’s supposed to be, it is less essential for those who are already loved by their audiences. For the nonprofits whose reputation is questionable, it is time to rethink some stuff about where their money should go. There are lots of people (like me) who are still learning to become a PR professional, but already know much more about this industry than some in-house PR volunteers without any experience. I’m sure they are willing to take on a nonprofit PR job – as an intern, voluntarily or just for a small amount of money – as long as they can learn from it and can put on their resumes that they’ve worked for a real (nonprofit) organisation.

  3. EllenC

    There is NOTHING gained from only having funding staff and not having PR staff at a nonprofit whose annual operating budget is anything over 200K. PR and funding raising are first-cousins, not twins. Members of the same family, but each are critical functions requiring dedicated, experience leadership. About hiring agencies at small org.s : the staff or volunteer time and talent it takes to bring outside agency really up to speed, monitor, work with them on every project, is almost always a large expenditure. Nonprofits with very little to spend need CEOs and Board to bring in money, and PR and FD staff to cultivate relationships, promote the brand, and show case financial responsibility to gain trust!

  4. Michelle

    As a PR major who now works in fundraising. I can understand why nonprofits don’t spend money on PR. Unless you are a large nonprofit, it is about the amount of money you bring in. Money allows the nonprofit to continue operating. NOT good PR. While good PR is positive for the nonprofit and indirectly brings in money, it is not a substitute for getting out there and asking donors and corporations for money. I think if a nonprofit is doing everything right and is building a good reputation in the community, there isn’t necessarily a need for a PR person. At least not to the extent that would justify the extra money.

  5. Phil Hecken

    Prof. Morosoff,

    Fantastic job on the survey. Do you feel more than ~5% of a not-for-profit’s budget should be spent on PR efforts, or is this about the “right” amount (or is it low)? With limited resources, is anything above ~5% going to result in a better ROI? After all, by charter and definition, these entities are non-profit, so will increasing the budget for PR efforts result in improving their mission(s)? Obviously, the more $ for PR, the better their ability to promote and get their message across. But at what point do you feel there will be diminishing returns?

    On another note, did you find that whatever the budget for PR, were those resources being spent as effectively as possible? That is, despite the limited funding, were they able to maximize their message or did you find that because many of those doing PR were stretched in other ways, the organizations’ outreach was compromised? I am looking forward to your follow-ups and await your suggestions as to how these companies might be better able to improve their public relations efforts.

    A big thanks also to your research assistants for their efforts as well.

  6. ron gold

    I agree with everything you write and in the last year my Public Relations firm has met with many non profits and have been hired by a few of them. As funding drops and they are forced to make cuts they are forced to make changes. It makes sense when they look at what they pay a staffer on a weekly basis vs. what they would be paying a professional PR company that they are probably going to pay equal or less to hire a firm that has years of experience and contacts. They lose the control of the person in-house but the gain is substantial.


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