General / PRSSA

How Nonprofits Utilize Public Relations

By: Ali Krogman

A nonprofit organization needs numbers.  It needs numbers in donors and dollars, employees and volunteers.  But a nonprofit won’t achieve these numbers if it doesn’t have a high level of awareness for its cause.  So how does a nonprofit succeed in finding donations and volunteers in order to build publicity?

Cheli Morgan and Janet Outlund of Systems Unlimited discussed their public relations strategies and what they do to achieve recognition for their nonprofit.  Systems Unlimited provides services to individuals with disabilities throughout eastern Iowa. Morgan is an event planner for Systems, and Outlund is the Director of Development and Communications.  Both women have over 20 years of nonprofit experience and know what it takes to maintain a successful organization.

“Fundraising is a big part of what we do,” Morgan said about needing numbers in donations.  “And as a nonprofit, we have to find our own creative ways of getting funds.”  Both Morgan and Outlund explained how it’s important to hold events to get the organization’s name out to the public.

However, planning and executing an event that is beneficial to both the organization and community is difficult, especially when the organization doesn’t have a flexible budget.  How does an organization find donors and volunteers?  How does it find the media publicity it needs?

Morgan and Outlund stressed forming strong partnerships within the community to be able to utilize different types of awareness, such as getting their information in the newspapers.  “It’s all about forging those relationships,” Morgan said. She mentioned that Systems Unlimited became a member of the Chamber of Commerce, which helped make connections.

When it comes to finding volunteers from businesses and the local public, Morgan said it’s as easy as dialing a phone number.  “You pick up the phone and ask ‘would you like to be at our event?’,” she said.  “Most of the time it’s ‘yeah, we do.’”

Morgan and Outlund also emphasized having a specific reason for the event, or a specific message to share with the public.  For example, the money raised in the upcoming Systems Unlimited Wine and Spirits Gala and Silent Auction event will fund three things: living systems (renovations), employment systems (social outings), and family systems (money for kids who need mental health support).  Morgan said, “By having it be so specific we’re finding staff are more ‘let’s go get it’ when it comes to finding donations.”

Outlund added that it makes a difference that it’s so specific. The public will be more inclined to volunteer and donate when they understand the details of what their time and money are going toward, instead of just a generalized “Systems Silent Auction.”

Outlund and Morgan outlined the basics of a successful event for a nonprofit organization.  Relationships and specifics attract numbers, which raise awareness, which positively impacts the organization and those it serves.

However, the women gave one more piece of advice that is perhaps the most valuable to know.  “Whether you’re nonprofit or corporate, it’s absolutely imperative that you believe in that business’s product or service and feel passionate about it,” Morgan stressed.  Focus on the specifics, strengthen the relationships, and be passionate about the cause, and your nonprofit just might have what it takes to be a successful and meaningful organization.