I volunteer my public relations and marketing expertise quite frequently for local nonprofits in need. Why? Because I have been helped along the way by generous professionals, so paying it forward is the right thing to do. Secondly, many have great stories but not the expertise to tell them. Lastly, it keeps me connected to my home market in a way my client work does not and allows more creative freedom.
Every time I work with a nonprofit – at some point in the relationship, I find myself pleading, “Help me help you!” And, yes, I feel like a female Jerry Maguire as I beg with tightened fists and tears in my eyes – knowing I’m not breaking through.
For nonprofit staffs that don’t have access to agency public relations and marketing services, I understand that what we do can be a mystery. But the reality is you are far better served when you put yourself in the volunteer’s shoes for a moment and then act accordingly. And, surprisingly, this is easier than you think.
So, of course, I have five tips to help any non-profit organization create a positive, successful working relationship to get the best out of the marketing and public relations professionals volunteering on your behalf:
- Tell me your goals. I need a solid understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish. If you are hosting a golf outing, yes you want to fill the foursomes, but you likely also want to draw new supporters, thank current ones, and highlight your mission. If you start with your goals, I can help you draft a strategy and tactics that will achieve all of them – which is much better than two days before the event letting me know we forgot to address xyz that just so happens to be hugely important to your CEO.
- Don’t do a mass data dump. I’m volunteering for you with small amounts of time I have available in my work day that I could be dedicating to paid client work. That means I have to work very efficiently to get results for you. I know you probably have a 57-page whitepaper explaining the research on a new issue important to your organization and I would really love to read it (truly) but I don’t have time. Your very concise summarization on what’s important is vital and I will love you for it.
- Respect my time. If you can send your needs to me well in advance of your deadlines, I can give you a better effort. Again, I’m fitting your needs into my already overloaded client schedule. If you tell me you need a press release the day before you need me to send it, and I’m working on editing a web site for a client, I cannot fit you in. And, believe me, I feel horrible about that – and, guilty, too – which isn’t good for our relationship. I want to help you. That’s why I’m volunteering. I feel frustrated when I can’t.
- Tell me where the buck stops. I know you probably work in committees and collaboratively. I like collaborative efforts, too. But, when I send something over for approval, gather everyone’s feedback into one place and send one email with it – and an email from someone who has the authority to approve or change my work. I work with one local non-profit that sends a massive quantity of emails – the record is 47 – as I’m trying to get approval on one single press release. Each email contains a thought toward an edit. I often don’t know whose opinion I should really be taking into account and whether or not I should really make every suggested edit. On more than one occasion, because I cannot get to the bottom of it, we’ve lost our press window. And, that breaks my heart.
- Preserve my relationships. Getting the attention of a reporter to cover your story is hard work. There are people who believe it’s about relationships, but I believe the reporters are transient and they cannot do favors every time I ask — they answer to bosses, too. I’ve had far more success developing good stories to attract attention. So, when I do develop that winning pitch and a reporter agrees to cover the story, don’t get cold feet and back out on me. It makes your organization look bad and it puts my relationships in jeopardy. Believe me, I cannot afford to risk my livelihood to help you.
It seems so easy, yet for years I have encountered these relationship-killing issues over and over. So have many of my fellow volunteer-minded colleagues. As the non-profit, if you’ve not followed these tips, often the professional won’t tell you, they’ll just feign being understaffed and too busy the next time you make a request for help.
I find people who volunteer genuinely enjoy it. I do. When the relationships run smoothly, it feels good to be a contributor to an important cause. I hope these tips help your nonprofit form relationships with your marketing and public relationships volunteers that will l truly benefit you both.