Managing PR Volunteers for Your Nonprofit: 8 Things to Know
When you work in nonprofit public relations, you often get asked to help with pro-bono projects, where you assist a nonprofit agency free of charge. This is often a great public service, allows a public relations professional to volunteer for a cause that he or she cares about, and provides a cash-strapped nonprofit organization with public relations support. But it’s not always a rosy experience.
If you want to keep your PR volunteers happy, there’s a few things you need to do:
Share with them accurate information and keep them informed. Keep PR volunteers informed and engaged. Let them know what’s going on with your organization and be clear about how they can help. Be judicious about inviting them to lots of meetings if they have limited time available.
Ask how they want to be involved. Find out how they want to be engaged with your organization. Is it support for a one-time project like publicizing a special event? Or a longer-term project like assisting with messaging, media training, a longer term campaign, or branding?
Give them professional materials. If someone has offered to help you, give them good quality professional materials to issue on your behalf. I have sometimes offered to issue a press release for a project, but when the organization I am assisting sends me the release – it’s loaded with type-os, inconsistencies, and problems (e.g. the time for press to show up is not clear, the copy is too long, etc.). It might take me 3 emails and calls with back and forths, as well as a couple of hours to fix a really messy release. If I really care about your organization, I might fix this and stay involved. I also might interpret a messy release as a sign of sloppy organization and be wondering if I should continue to assist you or not.
Fact check your event or program information before it is publicized. There’s nothing worse for a public relations person who offered to share information with the press about an event, to realize that some of the information provided is wrong. For example, I was assisting an organization with publicizing a community event, and the address they had printed on the event fliers was wrong. Unfortunately, this was discovered after I had already contacted area press. This meant I had to go back and correct the information.
Change the event details after the event or program is publicized. Because so often community calendars, newspaper event listings, and press deadlines are well ahead of an event, last minute changes can really hamper publicity. If you asked for a professional to publicize your event. then you need to run your event like a professional. This is one of the worst things you can do because it means additional work for your public relations volunteer – they have to go back out to the press and let them know things have changed, or adjust on the fly if you are surprising them during the event with these changes. You should not change information about the event that has already been distributed to media outlets without a good reason.
Respect any boundaries they have set about time, tasks or future involvement. If the volunteer has set up some boundaries about how much work they can do, in terms of time, what they will do, or how they will be involved in the future, respect that. This level of respect will be returned, and they may volunteer with you again.
Be clear on timelines and your own availability. I once had a group of public relations students volunteer to assist a nonprofit that I managed publicity for. They were wonderful and had great ideas, but their professor structured their project so that most of the execution of their ideas was near the end of the semester. So the last week of school was really stressful not just for them, but for me, as I had to approve copy and materials in a very limited amount of time. Fortunately, I was able to make myself available to do all of this, but it was not easy. Being clear on the timeline up front (this was really the fault of the professor, not the students) would have made things move a bit smoother, and shifting their time frame to spread out execution of their ideas a bit more could have really made things a lot smoother for everyone and likely yielded better results too.
Ask how it went. Talk with them about what volunteering for your organization is like. Thank them for their help. Ask for what could be improved and find out if they will volunteer again.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.