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Blog for a cause

With this post, my first experience with blogging has ended. Although I was reluctant, I have truly learned a lot from the experience.

I wanted to use this blog to help students and young professionals learn more about working at non-profit organization. But as a side benefit I learned a lot about working at a non-profit. Through my posts and background research, I have developed a lot of new ideas that I can’t wait to try out.

The one key thing I learned this semester was to not be afraid of social media. I understood being on the receiving end, but actually producing it was intimidating. However, after hands-on practice, I not only know how to work social media, I know how it can benefit an organization.

For non-profits, especially, social media can be a cheap and effective tool to connect with audiences. Social media encompasses a wide variety of mediums, but for my last post, I want to talk specifically about the blog.

For many non-profits, blogs seem a little mysterious. However, I’m here to tell you, you can do it and see results. I’ve eliminated some work for you by dispelling the common reasons that hold organizations back from blogging.

We don’t have the resources
Staff’s time is the biggest consideration. To have a successful blog, an organization must keep it up to date. Posts must be weekly at a minimum. With short staffs and long to-do-lists this can be a challenge.

One great thing about blogs is brevity. Readers expect short posts. Less than 500 words is ideal. A good writer can pound out an insightful, brief post in a half an hour.

Also, creating and maintaining one is absolutely free through Web sites like WordPress and Blogspot.

Who will write it?
It can be a difficult to choose an appropriate voice for a blog. Whether it’s someone from the PR staff or the CEO, a blogger must have something unique and insightful to say.

If your CEO is swamped but has good ideas, he or she doesn’t actually have to write the posts. However, be careful to keep him or her actively involved in the conceptualization. You never want to project a blog to be something it’s not.

If you’re short staffed, do a team blog. Have different people within the organization take turns to lighten the load. Or another great idea is to have a volunteer blogger. For a great example of this, visit Urban Sprouts’ blog.

Opens up sensitive subjects
A blog must have an authentic voice, not a marketing tone. An avid blogger could peel off the glossy façade of an organization and open up some sore subjects. A blog should also encourage conversation, which could be some negative backlash.

Just remember people prefer reality. Being real about an organization is much more interesting and engaging than parlaying the lasted marketing materials. Honesty encourages a sense of being talked to instead of talked at.

Also, negative doesn’t have to be bad. Blogs are a good place to air out differences. Since it is two-way communication, the organization has an immediate chance to respond to any negative comment. And if a comment is just outrageous, the organization can block it or remove it altogether.

We don’t have anything to talk about
Blogs need to have an interesting topic designed for a specific audience. Non-profits have many audiences with different needs and wants. The issue really is more like we have too much to say.

One blog can’t solve all your communication issues. They need to be targeted. For ideas on what type of information makes a good blog topic, read 10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Blogs.

Now that your negative list is shorter and your positive list longer, reconsider what a blog can do for your organization. A real conversation can have amazing effects on your organization.

Before I go, I’d just like to thank all of you who have read my blog. I have tossed around the idea of continuing it after class is over and haven’t reached a final verdict. It is fun though. All of your comments, on and off line, have been great. Thank you!


Streamlining Your To-Do-List and Adding Value

Last spring I took a unique class in grad school called Show Me the Money: The Financial Side of PR. That class, taught and developed by Dave Meeker, a truly respected PR professional, opened my eyes. In addition to learning some basic business sense, Meeker hammered home the importance of connecting public relations activities directly to an organization’s bottom line.

Although at first glance, I know many of those in non-profits will think “what does this have to do with us?” Well, just about everything. Even though non-profits aren’t working for a “profit”, so to speak, they have a definite bottom line, whether it be cash, people, resources, etc.

Non-profits can be chaotic at times. Short staffs, small budgets and tight deadlines sometimes create situations where employees are just getting through a day by checking off their to-do-lists. If a PR professional ever had a chance to slow down and examine his or her to-do-list, he or she probably could trim a lot of fat.

Like I’ve mentioned so many times, non-profits have limited resources. Why waste them on trivial activities with little impact. So this week’s lesson, do less work and get better results. Who could complain about that?

Now before you start running around the office shouting with glee because you don’t have to create an annual report this year, hold on. There are some steps you must complete before giving projects the axe.

Have everyone in the department list all their projects, big or small. After compiling the department list you may be surprised at how many and what type of activities appear. To go even further, have employees record how much time they spend on each activity. Go through each item and ask “Does this activity contribute to the bottom line? If so, how?” Separate the list by items that do and items that don’t directly contribute.

Take a closer look at each item, whether you deemed it to contribute or not. Consider why each activity takes place. Is it because it’s essential to business or because the CEO thinks it’s cool? Rank each item by importance and then rank each item for how much time and effort goes into it.

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea at the activities that contribute to the bottom line. You should be able to identify the resource zappers from the valid projects. Now, go through the list of items that don’t contribute. Are there activities that need to stay on the list for some reason (unfortunately your CEO thinking they are “neat” may be one of them)? If they need to stay, consider how you can modify the activity to contribute or at least be less of a drain.

Let Go

Inevitably there will be items that no one understands why you still do them. Just because you’ve done them for 20 years isn’t a valid reason to keep doing them. Use this activity as a cleansing opportunity and let go. Crossing off an activity for good can be a real morale booster, not to mention a friend to the budget.

As public relations professionals, being good communicators is a given. However, our real worth shines through when our activities align with the overall business goals. Doing less work can be a good thing, especially when you shift your focus to the bottom line.

Why can’t we all just get along?

For many non-profits there is a great divide among employees. One that often goesbroken-chain-2.jpg unnoticed or ignored, but could destroy a great organization.

As I witnessed at my previous job and have discovered during interviews at other non-profits, many non-profits are split almost into two separate cultures—the business side and the service side.

As an idealistic intern and young professional, I never understood this phenomenon. I wanted to work at a non-profit to help people and I assumed that is what everyone else was there for too. Working toward the same goal was a no-brainer to me. But to everyone else, it seemed like a turf war.

This venomous distain between business (i.e. accountants, HR, communication professionals) and service (i.e. caregivers, guides, therapists) staff is a potentially disastrous threat to an organization.

I look at this problem from the communications side. Since it is hard to believe that any employee works at a non-profit for a malicious intent, there must be a lack of communication causing this riff.

The underline issue here is the everlasting search for respect. Each side wants respect from the other for what they contribute to the organization. No side is willing to concede complete respect to the other because neither fully understands the importance of everyone’s contributions.

I believe this classic feud is another opportunity for public relations professionals to prove their worth to an organization. Communication is our forte. Although small non-profit budgets tend to focus on communicating to the outside to generate interest, funds, etc., time needs to be set aside to specifically communicate to each other. And I don’t mean the humdrum employee newsletter updates, I mean real meaningful communication.

Recently, an organization I interviewed with mentioned the organization’s three-month orientation process (my last orientation was two days, so I was intrigued). During this period new employees shadow other employees in different positions throughout the whole organization. How great is that? First-hand knowledge of my peers’ daily duties. After walking a mile in a nurse or a payroll clerk’s shoes who couldn’t respect what they do every day?

However, orientation is not enough; coaxing employees into a unified team is a never-ending process. Although PR pros are known for being great communicators, we must remember that an essential of communication is listening. We must keep our ears to the pulse of the organization. What are employees’ concerns? What do they really care about? Although a big donation check is exciting to all the bigwigs, it is also important to recognize what excites employees.

Internal communication is vital in creating a cohesive culture. Authenticity is huge in today’s world. With the ability to blog available to anyone, one irate employee can shatter a non-profit who boasts to the public about its “team” while inside a rage is roaring.

To the outside world, all non-profit employees are in the same ship regardless of position. So it’s about time we realize we’re all hands on deck before we start a real mutiny.

Getting the most out of your non-profit salary

Last week I attended the You Too Social Media Boot Camp at Kent State. If you didn’t go,youtoo.jpg you missed a really great day for both PR practitioners and Kent State.

While I was there, I ran into one of my “readers” (can you believe it?). We talked a bit about the blog and she asked if I’d ever talk about how to negotiate a salary at a non-profit. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it, but it is definitely a topic I need to learn more about myself as well.

In an effort to help at least one reader, here is what I’ve found.

It’s important to remember it’s not likely that you can “fix” your salary after you’re hired. Non-profits have few chances for promotion and raises are incremental and dependent on how the organization’s budget stands. Your quality of work and skill set don’t change when you move into a non-profit, so you should get what you’re worth. Here are some tips I found to get the most out of your non-profit salary.

Most importantly you have to do your research. You never want to go into a negotiationtre05144.jpg blind. There are three major categories you must have all the facts on before you are even offered a position. First, know your own needs. How much do you need to maintain your lifestyle or move up to a new stage? Are you willing to have a lower salary with better benefits? It is necessary for you to completely assess your financial situation.

Secondly, know the marketplace. What salaries are similar positions earning in the field? is a great place to begin this search and compare what people are making in the non-profit field throughout the country.

Finally, know the organization. What is its overall budget? What are other positions earning within the company? You can begin this type of research at


After research the most important tactic is to stall. You don’t want to bring salary up right away and if possible don’t talk about it at all in the first interview. If a potential employer asks you about your expected salary range, don’t give in too quickly. The Nonprofit Jobs Cooperative offers some great stalling examples for this situation.

Also, you should never accept a position on the spot. It’s best to consider it for at least 24 hours. The extra time will give you a chance to weigh the pros and cons and help give you an edge to push for what you know you’re worth.

Overall, you must do your homework and don’t back down without a fight. Remember, we’re worth it!

The downside: The negatives to working for a non-profit

This week reported results from the study “Ready to Lead?rtlcover.jpg Next Generation Leaders Speak Out.” The study found that non-profits will soon face a crisis in leadership. As top executives “gray,” non-profits have not stepped up to nurture young employees, causing talent to leave the sector by droves.

I said I’d write about the reality of working for a non-profit. Until now I’ve been pretty positive, but that article got me thinking. Although I enjoyed working for a non-profit, there were some headaches.

It isn’t a surprise that the majority of young non-profit employees feel underpaid, but below are my top four reasons I feel non-profit employees become dissatisfied.

1. It’s all about the money
Non-profits are just as obsessed with getting the almighty dollar, albeit in a slightlymoney_bag_with_dollar_sign.jpg different way than corporations. In non-profits, donors rule. If a donor donates a million dollars to start a chinchilla farm for your organization, who cares if that doesn’t fit with your mission, because—HELLO, it’s a MILLION DOLLARS. That example might be a bit extreme, but some of the lengths non-profits will go to cater to big donors is enough to make Donald Trump blush.

2. Shorthanded doesn’t mean you can do my job
Oftentimes, small non-profit staffs perform a lot of different duties and that’s great. But when a non-profit hires a professional people need to learn to LET GO.

Public relations is a profession. I was hired because I’m a trained professional, not because I make my family calendar on Microsoft Publisher.

3. Isn’t that great …
This one could just be in my head. When someone new asked me where I work, I’d say a non-profit. People inevitably say “Oh, isn’t that nice,” while their body language says another story.

People respond with reassuring stories of people they knew who worked for non-profits and turned out alright. It’s a lot like telling people you met your fiancé online, which coincidently I did. There is a bit of a stigma, whether conscious or not, for a professional at a non-profit.

4. Really, I worked all year for a ham?

ham.jpg The worst part of a non-profit is the cold, hard cash. My salary really wasn’t a problem; it was knowing there was no chance for promotion or significant raises no matter how hard I worked.

Holiday time was the worst. It was easy for my coworkers to get salty about their holiday ham when their friends at corporations were getting hundreds if not thousands of dollars in end-of-the-year bonuses. To top it off, you’re expected to donate too (without the special donor treatment.)

That sums up the worst of it all from my perspective. Hopefully, I haven’t scared everyone away because my intent was just to be honest. I still really enjoyed working at a non-profit and look forward to working for another one soon.

Don’t non-profit employees deserve a coffee break?

Were you unable to get your coffee fix this week? On Tuesday, all 135,000 Starbucksstarbucks-logo.gif locations across the United States closed for three hours. Don’t worry. There wasn’t a shortage of Frappuccinos. No, this break was essentially a three-hour employee coffee break—for training. (Take a look at the official press release for more details.)

Wow. Sure the coffee mega-giant gets a lot of guff in the press now and then. But I for one must say how refreshing it is to hear a company take time out, at rush hour I might add, to focus on its number one audience.

Too often it seems employers take their employees for grant it and it’s a real shame. As smile-guys.jpgone of my mentors, Davis Young, said regarding audiences, “Among equals, employees are always number one.” An engaged employee is a productive employee. An engaged, loyal employee is a company’s best asset.

All too often, non-profits fall into the rut of “our employees are lucky to work here.” They start to believe the non-profit propaganda that the good feeling you get from doing good is the ultimate reason employees work for them.

Get real! A segment of non-profit employees work for non-profits because they believe in the mission strongly, but a whole lot more work there for another reason. If you ignore those people, you’re going to have a problem.

I think there is a wealth of opportunities at non-profits for PR professionals to prove their worth by engaging employees. In circumstances with small budgets, indoctrinating a captive audience (i.e. employees) in your mission is critical. Between having mission evangelists or apathetic drones, which would you choose? Obviously mission evangelists.

When you have only one or two communications professionals on board it can be extremely difficult to keep a consistent, on-target message about your organization. Making sure employees not only know what to say but actually want to talk about your organization will lead to the holy grail of current PR—buzz.

Sure you may not have the fun gimmick of allowing their employees to create their own signature drink, but a day or even a few hours of listening to them will go along way. According to a recent article from the Christian Science Monitor, appreciation, followed closely by respect, are the top characteristics needed to be happy at work. As PR professionals, we know that keeping the lines of communication open and honest is the best ways to start building both of these.


So take a long coffee break sometime soon. Non-profit employees work really hard. It’s about time they felt their organization was darn right lucky to have them too.

Work/life balance helps non-profits be top places to work

Recently, I came across a non-profit I wasn’t familiar with. Interested, I wenthead_logo2.jpg to its Web site and a logo popped up for NorthCoast 99, an award that honors the top 99 places to work in Northeast Ohio. Although I believe the awards to be a bit subjective, its presence got me thinking. What makes a non-profit worthy of being a top place to work?

fortune_magazine.gifAs I hunted the blogosphere for my answer, I noticed that several bloggers, including Tom Durso’s of The 501(c) Files, were proud to see non-profits along side corporations in Fortune magazine. In January, Fortune announced its 100 Best Places to Work For and several non-profits made the list, including MITRE, a non-profit research firm that has made the list seven years in a row.


So, what sets a non-profit apart from an average corporation? What I and many others see is the one thing that is moving non-profits up the ladder of prominence is work/life balance.

Seeing as MITRE has cracked the code of employee satisfaction, at least according to worklifesign.jpgFortune, it’s a great place to start the examination of work/life balance in non-profits. Among MITRE’s work/life programs, which include adoption assistance and wellness programs, is the program entitled “Flexible Work Arrangement.” In short, this program allows employees to flex their time at the workplace and telecommute from home in order to deal with personal and family priorities.

MITRE is not only flexible non-profit. Many non-profits have foregone adhering strict schedules so that employees can see to personal issues. In my own experience, the greatest perk at my non-profit job was knowing if a crisis came up or a Northeast Ohio snow day occurred I could work from home. This was a great asset when my dad was battling a fatal disease and we didn’t know when I’d be needed at home.

Another increasingly popular work/life program offered by MITRE and other non-profits is child care. MITRE offers employees resources for emergency childcare in case school is canceled or a babysitter backs out. Other non-profits host full-time on-site childcare for employees, which invaluable to working parents.

The work/life balance movement is on a roll and if they have formalized programs or not, non-profits are helping set the curve. Although students and young professionals may be wooed by the opportunity of a big paycheck, no amount of money can by you extra hours in a day or a second chance at your kids’ first day of kindergarten.