Non-Profit Communication in a For-Profit World

Recently Kara Kennedy, the Director of External Affairs for Samford University’s Brock School of Business, came and spoke to our class about the processes and challenges of non-profit communication.  She has extensive experience in Public Relations and media, especially with non-profits from her time with the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society.  Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from what she shared with our class:

1. Non-Profit PR comes with its own challenges: I gathered this mostly from when she spoke about working for the Red Cross when September 11th happened.  She explained how they raised over a billion dollars in the weeks after the attacks, and how that money was being used was under intense public scrutiny, so much so that a top official in the Red Cross lost her job.  They had to be very clear in their communication of how much money was raised and how it was being spent, since they are such a high profile organization.  Since the Red Cross is a non-profit, the American public was wary of the idea of where all that money was going, wanting to guarantee that it was going to victims, not the organization.  In a non-profit, it is important to avoid these issues by being extremely upfront and honest in all your dealings. 

2. Remember the 4 Bs: Be Honest, Be Upfront, Be Smart, Be Innovative.  If you can remember those things, you will be on the way to a good relationship with the public. 

3. Relationships: going along with point 2, it is especially important to build quality relationships in non-profit PR.  Since most non-profit organizations don’t have PR budgets big enough to plan lots of events, or even to really make a lot of printed materials or advertising to get attention, relationships are key.  You must not only build bonds with clients, but also other, related groups or causes that could help get the word out about your organization. 

4. Essential Elements of a Communication Plan: Mission, vision, Public Relations, campaign opportunities, crisis management, event marketing, social media and advertising. 

5. Flexibility: especially with non-profit PR, since money is much more tight, you have to be flexible.  Things won’t always go as planned, and since there isn’t as much money to go around, there isn’t much room for stress to take control of this job.  Rolling with the punches is the best way to make sure that little hitches do not completely ruin your chances for effectively communicating with the public. 

You can check out Kara’s full Biography here:


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