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5 Reasons Non-Profits Need PR

E.V.A. Association’s Communications Specialist, Alexei Lahov, shared with the journal «Public Relations in State Institutions» lifehacks from his working experience .   In the new novel…

E.V.A. Association’s Communications Specialist, Alexei Lahov, shared with the journal “Public Relations in State Institutions” lifehacks from his working experience .
 
In the new novel by the American writer John Grisham, Gray Mountain, a young woman lawyer is fired from her company as a result of the global financial crisis. Instead, she is offered a position at a non-profit organization that provides free legal support for low income citizens. The woman agrees and then when the opportunity comes to return to the large firm and receive a huge salary, she decides to stay in the non-profit and work for the benefit of the disadvantaged. (Sorry for the spoiler).
 
Besides the obvious message that money isn’t the most important thing in life, the novel, as I interpreted it, touched upon another important theme: what professions are needed in non-profit organizations? Lawyers, most certainly (at least to understand what organizational and legal forms to choose). An accountant definitely wouldn’t make matters worse, even if you won’t have to submit any reports. Of course, so that there will be reports, you absolutely must have a fundraiser, a person responsible for increasing the financial resources and assets from donors. Can the organization find space for a public relations specialist?
 
“Often PR manager is simply absent in organizations and its function starts to be fulfilled by managers, coordinators, volunteers, and others. The central nucleus of the organization erodes and the ‘entrance point’ for journalists disappears. It ends up that in non-profit organizations, PR is deemed far from a priority, but instead takes second place,” justly remark the authors of the collection “The Voice of Non-Profits: Public Relations“.
 
Many Russian non-profit organizations can not afford to maintain a large staff and even lawyers, accountants, and fundraisers work for them merely as freelancers. In certain circumstances this approach is deliberate while in most cases it is forced. Under the conditions of limited funding and human resources, naturally the question arises: does an organization truly need PR or is it just the trend of the moment? (As an aside: in terms of new trends, SMM Manager (social media marketing manager) will be more trendy.)
 
Based on my personal experience, I made a list of the main tasks that public relations specialists can help solve in non-profits. They all complement each other and therefore this list is in no particular order.
 
MANAGING THE ORGANIZATION’S WEBSITE
 
From the first of January, 2015 the Russian commercial and non-profit social service organizations received the opportunity to be listed on the registry for social service providers, which permits socially oriented non-profit organizations to have access to a wider range of state funding. In order to be accepted into the registry, non-profits, among other things, must have an official web site.
 
But, naturally, a non-profit organization needs their own website for other reasons as well. News about the organization’s activities, posting information about donors and beneficiaries, interviews with coordinators and other staff members, contact information, charter documents and reports… this is far from the full list of topics and pages that can – and in some cases, must – be present on the website of a non-profit organization so that the organization is transparent and open. Managing the website, which acts at the organization’s business card, can safely be put into the categories of functions of a public relations specialist.
 
Useful tips. In my view the most suitable platform to create a website for a non-profit organization is WordPress. On the portal WordPress.org you can find free Russian language themes that have already been adapted to mobile devices and tablets. The building blocks from Tilda (Tilda.cc) are also noteworthy. If you want to understand how it all works, a real warehouse of useful information can be found at the community education project ‘The Social Technology Incubator’ (Te-st.ru). And if you want to know how to keep up the traffic on your site and how to develop materials that even a bot will like, take a look at the internet agency Texterra (Texterra.ru/blog/).
 
WORKING WITH MEDIA
 
However boring it may be, it’s a fact: mass media plays an important role in forming the opinion of your organization among potential and current donors, government agencies, and the  public at-large. If the organization is open to sharing about its activities, about how it’s spending the resources it receives, about the people who it was able to help (maintaining confidentiality in cases as needed), its recognition, reputation, and attractiveness will increase. This, in time, may facilitate to strengthen the interaction with current donors and to attract new ones.
 
Of equal importance is the change in public opinion relating to the beneficiaries, also known as the clients of non-profit organizations, especially if we are talking about ‘unpopular’ categories of the population such as homeless people, drug users, and HIV positive individuals. In this case an interview with people who find themselves in a difficult place and who were rescued by your non-profit, or presentations by experts clearly communicate why every ruble that is devoted to help these people allows the government to save two, three, and even four rubles.
 
Useful tips. The Agency for Social Information (Asi.org.ru), a professional informational agency that specializes in raising awareness about social initiatives, allows one to independently post information about the activities of one’s organization as well as interviews and other formats of the non-profit’s work. Registering for the electronic journal Philanthropy (Philanthropy.ru), allows one to have a blog which will address burning issues relating to the work of one’s organization. The governmental project at the infoagency RIA Novosti, ‘Life Without Barriers’ (Ria.ru/disabled/) takes press releases and other materials from non-profits.
 
PREPARING EXPERTS FROM AMONG ONE’S CLIENT BASE AND STAFF FOR MEDIA
 
Who best knows what it’s like to live with a chronic disease, every day overcoming the barriers posed by it? The patient. Who best knows how to establish relationships with doctors and, if needed, stand up for one’s rights? The patient, who has been prepared by a lawyer. Who best can tell the media about their life, overcoming these challenges, and standing up for their rights? The patient, who has been prepared by a PR specialist.
 
Be ready that the person that you have prepared for television or radio broadcasting or for interviews for printed media will scatter parasite words, blush, and stammer. Even if special trainings on rhetoric are not held, with experience of interacting with journalists, it will pass. Ideally, it’s best to find a friendly TV cable channel and work out the presentation there (in Saint Petersburg at one point it was absolutely free to chat with invited guests on social topics at the ‘VOT’ channel (Your Public TV), which was founded by the well-known journalist Alexei Lushnikov).
 
But even more importantly, in my view, is not HOW your expert will speak, but rather what MESSAGE they want to send to the viewers/listeners/readers. And who other than a communications specialist works on this?
 
Useful tips. Last year the blog of the Pressfeed was launched (Blog.pressfeed.ru), which is a compilation of materials about media and communications, including how to prepare speakers for the air and how to establish relations with the media. Another useful blog on this topic is Mediabitch.ru.
 
ORGANIZING EVENTS
 
Your organization has conducted a unique study and wants to present it to the public? Find a room for a press conference. (In many large press centers events on socially significant topics are held for free or with a significant discount – don’t forget to ask about it).
 
You want to initiate discussions with government representatives and you want the press to be present? The format for this would be a round table.
 
If you must have a demonstration on the street, for example, to hand out condoms and conduct rapid HIV testing then you must go to the municipal health office and the district administration.
 
If you wake up the PR specialist in the middle of the night, he or she must, in my opinion, be able to do three things: write a press release, organize an event, and quote the commandments of Sam Black. For non-profit organizations, round tables, press conferences, and demonstrations are important instruments to disseminate information about the activities of the organization and to draw attention to the social issues.
 
Useful tips. In October 2015, a media center was opened on the grounds of the Saint Petersburg city government. The media center is a modern multimedia platform where various events can be held for free, including round tables, teleconferences, and press conferences on social issues. Perhaps such a platform is available in your city?
 
INTERACTIONS WITH THE GOVERNMENT
 
“A PR Specialist, an HR Specialist, and a GR Specialist met at a cafe,” an anecdote might begin, about how abbreviations came into our lives. But in all seriousness, according to the Associate Professor of Political Management at the Department of Political Science at Saint Petersburg State University, Tatiana Kulakovaya, government relations is a communicative management strategy that creates a positive impression of something to increase the amount of trust one has and to establish mutually-beneficial relations resulting from business corporations, social institutes, or community organizations working together with state agencies (the government).
 
Government relations is a separate wing of work in non-profit organizations, most frequently the most important one considering that the government makes laws which can directly affect the work of non-profits and the fate of the clients and at the same time, can act as a source of funding.
 
To explain it briefly, the crux or working with government agencies is patience. Be prepared that the initiative may ‘get stuck’ at the confirmation phase at different levels within one department and then gather attention and require explanation, clarification and revisions. One example that comes to mind is the national strategy to combat the spread of HIV infection in the Russian Federation, which wasn’t being discussed what-so-ever for the past several years, but when the Prime Minister instructed that it be expedited, literally in a few months it was ready.
 
Useful tips. In December 2015 the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, in his annual message to the Federal Assembly urged regional authorities to “gradually direct up to 10 % of regional and municipal programming resources to non-profit organizations to enable non-profits to participate in providing social services which are financed by the local budget.
 
In the conclusion, once again I quote the authors of the collection The Voice of Non-Profits: Public Relations, “If you work in the world of social philanthropy, if means you consciously gave up any ambitions of a quiet life. Because your mission is to fight against stereotypes!  Working in the non-profit sector is always work to change others’ mentality, to wipe out stereotypes. This work is charged by lofty ideas which means that in some ways it is missionary.”
 
It’s true. Having a calm life is definitely not the case for a Public Relations specialist in a non-profit, and thanks to these specialists, the life of the non-profit is also unlikely to become calmer. On the other hand, it can become more organized and structured. And in the current political and economic conditions, it’s worth it.
 
This article was published in the Public Relations in State Institutions journal №3 of 2016. This is the only specialized journal about PR for employees of state organs, local governments, law enforcement agencies, courts, ministries, departments and state corporations, state and municipal unitary enterprises, and budgetary organizations. The authors share their experience in the field of promotion: practical advice, cases, research results, all allowing representatives of press services or PR subdivisions of state institutions to systematize their activities and take the best from others’ experiences.
 

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