As PR professionals, we will usually work on at least one not-for-profit (NFP) client in our careers – whether it’s a pro bono client, part pro-bono, or one who has managed to scrape together a small budget for a campaign that you need to help them maximise.
NFPs are faced with the same organisational and communication challenges as for-profits but usually with far fewer resources. So how can the PR profession assist NFPs to achieve their goals?
Making blanket observations and recommendations for this sector is challenging, as was demonstrated at the PR Directions 2011 panel discussion Pulling a rabbit out of a hat – learning tricks from the not-for-profit sector where the moderator was very quickly put in his place when he asked whether NFPs are fuelled by passion, rather than talent.
The panel, which included representatives from NFPs with missions ranging from providing breast care nurses to providing microfinance to women living in poverty in the Asia Pacific, demonstrated their organisations have both passion and talent in bucket loads. According to Kylea Tink, CEO of the McGrath Foundation, NFPs are “not plagued by passionate, untalented people”. Salaries are competitive and there are extraordinary opportunities for young people starting out in communications or marketing careers.
Also, senior staff with incredible experience are moving into the NFP sector from the corporate or political worlds and bringing their strategic thinking and business nous with them. Think 2011 Australian of the Year Simon McKeon, World Vision’s Tim Costello, Naomi Steer of the UNHCR and Al Gore.
The NFP sector is highly competitive. They’re also operating in a communications landscape which quickly and constantly changes; look at how swiftly organisations like Get Up! and Avaaz have grown, starting online then making a splash in mainstream media.
NFPs need to find the balance between having a corporate approach/attitude and keeping focussed on their overarching purpose.
So how can we help our NFP clients, and how can NFPs ensure success when engaging agencies?
- Strategic thinking and planning – having a well thought out communications strategy, agreed upon by both the agency and the NFP, will contribute to effectiveness in carrying out communications and achieving stated aims.
- Start small then snowball – Consider starting with a small campaign to achieve some quick wins then snowball from there.
- Know your mission – Knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve or what question you’re trying to answer, is vital to being able to effectively plan and execute your communications plans.
- Creativity and innovation – organisations that ‘think outside the box’ and look for creative solutions to communications challenges are more likely to succeed. Particularly in the NFP sector where there really aren’t many more colours of ribbons or badges left to sell, keeping issues fresh in the minds of the public is a huge challenge.
- Trust – NFPs need to trust their agencies to provide the best advice, and this might sometimes mean the NFP needs to step outside its comfort zone to execute a creative campaign that achieves cut through. On the flip side, agencies need to remember that getting buy-in to ideas from NFPs, particularly ones with risk-averse boards, may require playing to board members’ strengths and passions.
- Effectively communicate your purpose – People are more likely to accept the idea you’re selling, or donate to your organisation, if they easily understand what it is you do and who you’re helping.
- Transparency and accountability – Most in the NFP sector believe the proposed new accountability measures are a good thing, as people are increasingly inquisitive about how NFPs use their funds. Di Bowles of Good Return, a PNS pro bono client, believes transparency is a major reason their new way of giving is proving popular, as you can log onto goodreturn.org and choose the person you are helping. When donors know exactly where their funds are going, they’re more likely to fork out.
- Use your networks – With NFPs it is all about what you know and who you know. The most successful NFPs build alliances with other organisations with similar purposes or goals, (and extensive mailing lists), which can greatly assist in getting messages out to a wider audience. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.