General / PRSSA

An Inside Look at Non-Profit Public Relations

By: Kathryn Susik

Beth Ritter Ruback, Communications and Development Director at the Johnson County Crisis Center, spoke enthusiastically on Wednesday, February 26th about her non-profit work schedule.

“Today, I dealt with social media. I wrote for our blog. I designed some materials for our upcoming pancake breakfast. I did event planning. I gave a tour. I talked to DITV. I worked with some coworkers on a grant as well as our strategic plan and I’m doing a community presentation tonight!”

Beth discussed a typical day on the job at the Johnson County Crisis Center, and PRSSA members get a taste of all the responsibilities involved in public relations for a non-profit organization.

Before assuming her position with the crisis center, a local non-profit that provides immediate support through its crisis intervention, food bank emergency assistance, and community intervention programs, Beth worked in corporate PR for U.S. Cellular and for the Iowa Tobacco Research Center. With experience in both corporate and non-profit PR, Beth laid out the differences between the two working environments, based on her own knowledge and observations.

In a non-profit organization, there is typically a very small staff with many responsibilities. “If you have really strong skills in one area and want to further develop those skills, corporate PR is great for you. If you have ADD, and like to do lots of things, non-profit is great,” Beth said.

Apart from variations in staff size and structure, differences also exist in the clientele. In a non-profit, you choose your client. In a PR firm, you are assigned clients, having to “earn your stripes” before choosing them yourself.

After drawing these distinctions, Beth singled out a few of the challenges that arise while working for a non-profit organization: budget, time management, a lack of mentorship, and doing many things well.

“In the non-profit world, you learn to be crafty with your funds,” she said. “The hours are what they are and sometimes there may be more flexibility in working a corporate job. You can’t afford to have a weak link in non-profit work, and the challenge is to juggle a lot of balls at the same time.”

Working in non-profit PR, Beth believes one can become a master of many elements and she seeks out individuals who have great skills in specific areas, skills that not only supplement her own but also effectively contribute to the company’s successfulness. A previous intern jumpstarted the crisis center’s present Twitter account, an important tool in getting the organization’s message out to the Johnson County community.

As for networking, community supporters are key, and non-profit PR specialists must establish strong relationships with prospective supporters. In doing so, the organization will generate a stronger impact.

However, with all of these challenges come significant rewards, including professional growth, community networking, and impact. “People eat on a daily basis because of our [Johnson County Crisis Center] food bank,” Beth says while discussing impact. “It makes it worth all the late nights and all the hard work. I really value that.”

Listening to Beth and many other professionals throughout the fall and spring semesters, PRSSA members continue to learn about the many facets of public relations and what distinguishes one kind from another. Which PR environment do you envision yourself thriving in?