Public relations for a national non-profit organization poses many unique challenges compared to working with a for-profit business. Public relations includes activities such as communications, community and customer relations, employee and industry relations, issues management, press agentry, media relations, publicity, public affairs and speechwriting. How can each of these help non-profits face the following challenges?
One of the first challenges is the economy. The downturn in the economy has affected all business, but non-profits started out with limited resources before the recession hit. In 2008, charitable donations were down 2 percent from 2007 and giving could take an even bigger hit in 2009. Donations to the nation’s largest nonprofits were expected to fall an additional 9% – the steepest drop The Chronicle of Philanthropy has reported in 17 years. And the Foundation Center in New York expects giving to foundations to decline more than 10%.
Another challenge facing non-profits is that they compete with other “worthy causes” for their limited resources and there are over 1.9 million nonprofit organizations in the US. How do you say that saving kids in Africa is more important than feeding kids in Atlanta? With the economy down it will grow even more competitive than ever, as state governments and private foundations cope with resources that have dropped sharply. Corporations, foundations and government is looking to cut costs across the board–they have to be able to justify that a non-profit is making enough of a difference to justify their donations and government subsidies.
Another challenge is that limited budgets, resources and staff limit the options you can use to accomplish goals. Some strategies and tactics may be removed and you are left to come up with more creative solutions. And what about crisis management? Do you know what all employees and volunteers are doing across the country? With hidden cameras and hidden agendas digital media has made it quicker and easier than ever to portray a non-profit in the wrong light. The non-profit ACORN was forced to shut down some operations and threatened with a freeze on their government funds after hidden-camera videos were to the public.
But it is not all dire news. Interest in community service is at an all time high and giving is becoming a vital part of everyday life. President Obama and the first lady have made strides in inspiring a new volunteerism in the country. Cultural/news websites like Huffington Post have introduced sections about doing good. And social media like Facebook and Twitter are helping to spread philanthropy with online fund raisers and contests.
As part of an integrated marketing plan, Public Relations has a lot to contribute in helping non-profits face their challenges and take advantage of their opportunities.