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Making the Most of Your Public Relations Internship

Internships play a vital role in helping young professionals make professional contacts, improve their skills, and see the real world links between what they are learning in the classroom and the real world. Here’s some tips on how to make the most of your internship with a nonprofit organization or an association:

Talk with your supervisor about what you’d like to learn – emphasize skill areas, not just tasks. Understand that what the organization or association needs may be very specific and well-defined, but let your supervisor know the areas you are most interested in. Even if your role involves a lot of prescribed tasks, he or she can keep an eye out for opportunities for you to work on those special areas of interest.

Don’t be a prima donna. Public relations can be a lot of hard work – and even drudgery when we are sorting thru media lists, doing database entry, tabulating media totals, and fretting over the minutiae of an event. Yes, there are moments of glory when we get to be in the spotlight as PR pros, but more often than not, we are shining attention on someone else – be it a cause, organization or industry. Don’t expect to be interviewed and in front of the cameras yourself.

Embrace hands-on learning. Offer to help when it’s obvious there’s a need for extra hands. Be willing to pitch in and get yourself a little messy if needed. Many nonprofits and associations are fairly small and staff pitch in to help on many projects, even those outside their area of expertise.

Write, write, write. One of the best skill sets you can walk away from an internship with, is the ability to write well under pressure. Nothing builds that type of skill set better than the real world pressure cooker of deadlines in the workplace. Ask your supervisor to help you in this particular skill area if possible. It may be-newsletter copy, tweets, brochure copy or a news release – but try to write if you can.

Journal about your experience. Reflect on what you are learning and write at least one paragraph a week in a journal about your internship. Record your observations and note the linkages between what you are doing and what you hope to do as your career progresses.

Get a reference letter. Always ask your supervisor to write a reference letter when you finish your internship and if you can list him or her as a reference. This will help you when you want to apply for other jobs.

Maintain a portfolio. Keep samples of what you worked on during your internship. Screen shots of a website, blog or social media posts can be helpful. Copies of printed materials you worked on are also useful.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Marketing Volunteer Opportunities to Baby Boomers: Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

Baby boomer volunteers have a lot to share.
Thanks for the photo.

A recent article by the Associated Press noted that many nonprofits are hoping to inspire baby boomers to volunteer. These plus 50 adults are highly sought after nonprofit workers because they are well-educated, healthier, and have tremendous experience.

These boomers want to contribute in a meaningful way but they’re also busy people with a lot on their plates. Some are caregivers for other relatives and many will continue to work full or part-time. It’s important that volunteer opportunities being marketed to baby boomers be be skill-based, allow them to use their expertise and experience, and offer flexible hours or work arrangements.

Examine your volunteer brochures, web pages and materials. Are all of the images only younger people? Consider making a change so older adults can envision themselves as part of your nonprofit’s mission and vision. Make sure your staff understand the value of baby boomer volunteers and the energy they can bring to your organization.

For more helpful tips, see Keeping Baby Boomers Volunteering: A Research Brief on Volunteer Retention and Turnover from the Corporation for National Service, or the Resource Center.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Matching Donations: How Do Small Organizations Do It?

Thanks to Beth Kanter for this great YouTube video featuring a Foundation staffer discussing how their small organization met a $50,000 match in less than 30 days. The Petersburg Community Foundation is devoted to improving the lives of the young, the elderly and vulnerable populations as well creating recreation, education and safety programs.

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Matt Damon’s Toilet Strike: Will Water.org’s Awareness Campaign Go Viral?

I first heard about Matt Damon’s toilet strike campaign to raise awareness about the need for clean water from PR Newser – a great score for a nonprofit fueled by Damon’s celebrity involvement, since PRNewser usually worries more about big corporate PR failures and dust-ups in the media than nonprofit campaigns.

The YouTube spot announcing the campaign (which cost in the five figures for nonprofits thinking about emulating it) features a spoof press conference (the journalists are way too tidy to be real) where Damon announces he is going on a toilet strike and delivers some key statistics about toilets and clean water which can save lives. More than 780 million people worldwide don’t have access to toilets and more people have cell phones than have access to toilets (and good sanitation).
The campaign website invites users to get involved by loaning their Facebook statuses or Twitter feeds for a few weeks to share key information in the buildup to World Toilet Day on March 22nd. It also asks them to share photos supporting the strike using hashtag #strikewithme and streams photos onto its campaign site, and promises more videos and follow-ups.

According to an article in the UK Guardian, the campaign was influenced in part, by the success of nonprofit Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign (which I wrote about here and here) which is still getting hat nods in conversations about whether or not ads can be manufactured to go viral. The Kony 2012 video got tons of views and people talking and watching a LONG video – even if the grassroots organizing component around a day of action didn’t work so well.

Will the combination of celebrity, humor, connections to media giants Google and YouTube, and social media involvement fuel the campaign going viral? Maybe. The spot strikes an almost oppositional tone, but it has gotten people talking about something none of us normally would talk about – which is at least the point of starting a campaign. A Google news search for “strike with me” yielded 81,200 results.

Water.org has designed their campaign with easier involvement pieces than the Kony 2012 project and a shorter video, with the benefit of star power and powerhouse online media pushing the campaign. This campaign may take off where Invisible Children’s project didn’t. I’m rooting for it to go well.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.
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Media Controversy: CNN Draws Ire of State Dept. Over Treatment of Late Ambassador’s Family

The late Ambassador Christopher Stevens

CNN drew a sharp rebuke from the State Department this weekend, which called the network’s behavior “disgusting” after the network broke a promise to his grieving family to not report on the existence of a journal kept by slain US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who died in Benghazi, Libya.

Erik Wemple from the Washington Post gives a detailed description of the negotiations the network undertook with the family. The late Ambassador’s family never had the opportunity to build trust with CNN, because CNN made several critical errors in how they approached and talked with his family – which stand out to me even more so because I have worked with Anderson Cooper’s team at CNN and many others at CNN who have demonstrated sensitivity to grieving military families within the past year. Here are the problems I see that perhaps other journalists and advocates could learn from:
Mistake #1: Not using a higher-up person at CNN to talk with the family. The State Department said it was a relatively junior staff member who called the family, not a higher-up executive. Meredith Edwards is credited on CNN’s website with news-gathering often in tandem with others, but is not a well-known correspondent, on air personality or upper level news executive. A google search about her turns up little information on her role at CNN, other than reporting credits shared with others.
While several media outlets, including CNN, have postulated that the State Department was interested in squashing the journal because it showed the Ambassador’s fears about security, the reality is that the State Department employees entered into a role as a middle man between CNN and the late ambassador’s family without any knowledge of the journal’s contents. State Department officials have said that they never read the journal.
Most trauma survivors, like this bereaved family, are not public figures with news media savvy and PR people to help them. They are private and ordinary people, thrust by tragic circumstances into the public eye. It would make sense that the family would reach out to the State Department for help in negotiating with CNN, when they got a phone call from CNN saying the network had their slain loved one’s journal and wanted to report on it. While plenty are now trying to read political intrigue into the State Department’s involvement, my sense is the PR officials got involved to try to help the family of their late colleague.
A better option would have been to deputize a senior level network executive or a known personality to talk with the family and should have carefully thought about what to say when it called the family to ask for permission to report from the journal. While CNN quickly involved upper level staff when the State Department got involved, CNN staff should have realized at the very outset before placing the first phone call, that calling the late ambassador’s family required the utmost sensitivity and care.

Mistake #2: Not realizing how much the family didn’t trust them and considering the perspective of the family. It’s a minor detail in the Washington Post account, but an important one – the fact that the family declined to give CNN an email address so it could read the transcript of the journal immediately. The State Department served as a middle man to relay the email file to the family because the family didn’t trust CNN enough to provide an email address.

This was a highly publicized death that sparked public statements from the upper most levels of our government and even became fodder on the presidential campaign trail. Horrific images of the dying ambassador were broadcast worldwide and a media maelstrom erupted around his grieving family. This is a family who loved someone who died violently, suddenly and publicly while serving his country.
My sense is that the family had to be reeling in shock and grief – and was just trying to find some footing, when CNN came knocking with news that it had his journal in its possession. To know that a news agency has ALREADY TRANSCRIBED your loved one’s journal and wants to report on it – would add to your feelings of violation. For people who have gone through a traumatic loss and are not accustomed to working with or responding to the media, it may feel easier to trust an intermediary or the organization your loved one served with to assist with a media request.
If you were the grieving family of Ambassador Stevens – would you want to have his journal – as soon as you could? Would you have provided an email address right away? Even if you didn’t want to read it immediately – just so you would have it? I know that when my brother died in Iraq while serving with the US military – I found it important – but hard – to look at his papers and images on his camera that came back months after his death – but in part I felt driven to do that because I wanted to understand better what he did before he died. But others in my own family did not feel that way nor find comfort in it. Each family and person is different, in terms of how they cope with loss.
For the last ambassador’s family the journal presented a gift – but also a conundrum – for how could they grant permission to publish something they had not read? Perhaps the family surmised that CNN might use email contact away from the  eyes of State Department officials  to continue its conversations with the family – which had not gone well to that point – so they were willing to wait and use the State Department as an intermediary. At a certain point, grieving people just can’t take any more and focus on the loss of their loved one – something that news agencies and their timelines often struggle to relate to.
Mistake #3: Asking the family for permission to report on the journal, and then not complying with the family’s wishes. If CNN ultimately planned to report on the journal’s existence and use it for reporting regardless of the family’s response, CNN should have asked the family a very different set of questions than it did, and been very clear about its intentions.
Frankly, one might think that a news agency would simply start reporting from the journal immediately – and not notify the family at all. News agencies can do things like that. CNN didn’t do that – not in the least. They did call the family. I have sometimes talked with families who had no idea how the media got information about a deceased loved one and had to hunt it down for themselves or call the media to try to get access to the materials. There are no good choices in a lot of these scenarios – often only really painful ones.
According to media accounts, CNN told the family that they wanted to report on the contents of the journal and asked the family’s permission. The family declined to give permission, and asked for the journal to be returned so they could read it privately and make a decision about what to do. The family asked CNN to not report on the journal’s existence (which would surely fuel more requests and media pressure on a grieving family) and to not report on its contents. CNN promised to not report on the journal’s contents or its existence to the family.
While CNN has refrained from quoting from the journal or showing it on air – last week Anderson Cooper reported on the existence of the journal and said that CNN had used it in its reporting.
Mistake #4: Getting the short story when the long one might ultimately be more meaningful and insightful for reporting. What did CNN really gain from its reporting about the journal and breaking a promise to the family, that it could not have found in some other way? CNN’s statement makes no reference to the journalistic imperative of the content – rather that it reported on the journal due to questions about the network’s behavior.

The reason CNN ultimately reported Friday on the existence of the journal was because leaks to media organizations incorrectly suggested CNN had not quickly returned the journal, which we did.

Let me get this straight – CNN – an international news network with considerable stature – felt it had to report on the journal because of what other people were saying about it? One would think CNN was getting bullied from this statement.My suspicion is CNN knew that its dealings with the family had gone so badly – that it feared another news media outlet would “scoop” it on the journal because the family would never want to deal with CNN again – and those fears overrode the promise to the family. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I would hope as this terrible chapter in journalism wends its way into case study status – others might learn from it and not repeat these mistakes when dealing with trauma survivors.
 I am sure that there are many good people who work at CNN who found this treatment of a grieving family deplorable. I have worked with many journalists at CNN and call some of them friends. Many times, I have seen CNN journalists really work to share the stories of grieving families in ways that are respectful and appropriate – which is part of why this whole episode is so bizarre to me.
This episode has likely also cost CNN what might have been a valuable relationship with the family. I would not be surprised if the family were to go to another news outlet down the road, when they are ready to talk.Updated 6:27pm – September 24, 2012
Links 
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.
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Media Ethics: Is It Appropriate to Publish Images of Dead or Dying People?

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens

I followed the news this week about the killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as well as their Libyan guards, at the consulate in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Yesterday I was horrified to see images online of the injured and dying ambassador, which many outlets opted not to run (although some did – including the NY Times which ran an Agence France-Presse image in their online gallery of the dying ambassador and prompted criticism from readers and a commentary from the reader representative). NY Times staff felt the photo had “journalistic imperative” and proceeded to splice hairs on how the photo was labeled saying:

It’s notable that the caption stopped short of saying it was a photo of Mr. Stevens’s dead body. The caption reads, “A man, reportedly unconscious, identified as Mr. Stevens.”

As if people would not know who it was. Or this absurd splicing of nuance would blunt the pain felt by this man’s family and friends. The NY Times reader representative went on to say the news outlet was justified in running the photo, because it has run photos of other dead people as part of its news coverage.

Often those photos though are run without a name and show war deaths or civilian deaths en masse – it is not a situation where a major media event is reporting that four people died, with only two names available – leaving little doubt as to who the dying people are.

To make it even worse – the NY Times proceeded to argue that had only a more graphic image was available, they might not have run it:

“I can understand why people feel it’s more disturbing to see a photo of an American, particularly an American diplomat,” he said. For that reason, he said, editors chose a relatively distant image of Mr. Stevens, and placed it in the last position in the frequently updated gallery, where it would be less prominent. If only an extremely graphic photograph had been available, it might not have been used, Mr. Fisher said.

I was appalled by the photos online and the comments by the NY Times staff about them – especially given that the image they are running in the gallery on nytimes.com is not “relatively distant” but one of the more up close images available.

Graphic images like these define a person by the moment of their death – not the years of life and service. I couldn’t help but think of the Ambassador’s family and friends who were just finding out about this horrific tragedy – knowing that these images taken of the Ambassador in his last moments or after his death on the Internet would add to their sorrow and grief – and that the photos would live forever online.

The professional bereavement community counsels that seeing images like these can often complicate grief further for families and friends.  Bravo to the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal for choosing to not use the photos.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Media Relations & Suicide Prevention: What I’ve Learned

Two months ago I went to Florida to support media relations for the TAPS National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar. It was a time of healing, sharing and comfort for hundreds of people grieving painful losses.

I still remember the first time TAPS held the event in San Diego in 2009.  It was the first time the organization devoted an entire weekend program to the needs of military families grieving deaths by suicide. In 2009, the congressionally-mandated Department of Defense Task Force on Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces arrived ahead of the event and held a field hearing to listen to families grieving these terrible losses and gather data on how the system could improve and prevent future losses. It was like a huge ball of pain sat in the hotel that weekend with us – the pain of these families was so present that when I called my husband, I said it felt like the walls of the hotel were crying, there was so much pent up sorrow pouring out of these families. My role included prepping families to share with the task force, working with media on-site, and even working with Sesame Street which was creating a video about the experiences of grieving military children. I arrived home to Virginia emotionally wiped out.

Over the years. I have supported dozens of military families grieving deaths by suicide in sharing their stories with the media. And I learned a few lessons that I think are insightful for anyone working in media relations with trauma survivors.

You have to feel it. You can’t do PR for something like this, if you don’t empathize. I had suffered my own loss when my brother died in action in Iraq in 2007, but my experience was very different from the experiences of these families grieving deaths by suicide.  My pain was mine, and theirs was theirs. I wouldn’t begin to say I understood how they felt. I knew loss and my brother was killed in action while serving in Iraq with the military, but I didn’t know the stigma and shame that so many of them carried because their losses involved suicide. And I could see how that stigma affected their pain and perspectives.

I was deeply struck by these military families and their pain. It was so palpable. The  speakers, workshops and support groups at the events clearly offered them a lot of help. But it was in the quiet moments – when I sat with a family in the art therapy studio, or encountered a young widow smoking outside who was angry at her late husband, or saw a family sob a river of tears over a photo in a slide show – that their sorrow came surging forth, threatening to drown us all.

It would be easy when faced which such emotion and sorrow to shut down. But I don’t think you can antiseptically detach yourself completely from suffering. No matter how thick an emotional barricade you erect – these stories would still get to you. You have to walk alongside them in it, even if you don’t fully understand it. That doesn’t mean you have to sob with them, or spill your own sorrows out, but walking alongside them to support their stories means you will listen, understand and honor their stories by seeking the right venues to share them (or protect them from intrusion when it’s not desired). Being entrusted with a story of sorrow and pain is a unique trust.

Give people options that always give them control. So often with trauma, people are living with a horrible feeling of lost control – often something happened to them, or to people they care about, that they had no control over personally. It was not their choice for a loved one to die in a terrible way. This is incredibly disorienting for the survivors left behind to grieve.

In talking with families about sharing a painful story that involves a death by suicide publicly, I try to give people a sense of control. We talk about realistic options, goals in sharing (what do they want to see happen as a result of sharing publicly), and making choices that help them feel comfortable and contribute to dialogue, if that is what they want to do. Families can talk to press without limits, can talk to press with some limits, can talk only to one reporter, can talk through intermediaries, or can avoid talking at all. Even in what many public relations experts would call a no-win situation, there are always choices that can be made by families. And choices give people back a sense of control, who may feel that so much in their lives is beyond their control.

But media attention by default, involves a loss of control. Because the story is entrusted to a reporter who will interpret it, write it, probe it, and position it. It is important for these families to understand that. And once a story is in the public eye there is even less control. The story can be criticized, dissected and broadcast. This is especially hard for people who are already dealing with a feeling that life is out of control in their personal lives because of a tragedy.

You have to provide support. While the media can provide a powerful lens that focuses public opinion, it can also hurt people. The responsible approach helps families think ahead of time about what they should consider before going public. They should consider whether other relatives know about the nature of the loss and how they will react. They should weigh how going public will affect other family members or children and their healing. And they should evaluate their own personal health and strength and how that might be impacted by additional stress.

It is always their story, and it’s important to emphasize that to people who feel like they have lost some control in their lives. Talking to a reporter, especially about personal matters, is sometimes uncomfortable and nearly always unfamiliar to people who have suffered trauma. It can help to practice and also to humanize the reporter and talk about how an interview is typically conducted.

Families often need someone to help them look at their story and consider how to put elements together.  The family sees an entire life spread out before them – how do you summarize that in 10 minutes for a talk in a community forum? What do they know? Are there elements that relate to others?  Do they know prevention information to share? Is the goal to inform others about mental health care and prevent other deaths by suicide? Can the story be told in a way that is understood and clear? Can they handle the fact that an element of the public may post hurtful comments ore negative comments about their loved one if the story appears online, or that the story will be online for the rest of their lives?

And during an interview – it’s important for survivors of trauma to feel comfortable and supported. That might mean having a grief counselor in an interview with them, or a close friend for support. It could mean doing an interview in a location away from home, or in their home, depending on their comfort zone.

You have to educate yourself. There is evidence that certain types of reporting about suicide can contribute to contagion, or copycat deaths. Research indicates that contagion is more likely if reporting glorifies the manner of death, shares intimate details from the scene of the death or about the manner of the death by suicide, or presents suicide as inevitable, and as if there is no hope of not completing suicide. Even the language we use – when we say commit suicide, we are passing judgment on the manner of the death – contributes to stigma about suicide. It’s important for public relations professionals working with survivors of suicide to educate themselves on the research and best practices. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has issued a great resource with recommendations for reporting about suicide.

You have to believe that walking in pain ultimately leads to something better. I don’t think you can work with trauma survivors doing media relations if you do not believe that the result of sharing a story that includes pain and sorrow can lead to something better – whether that is better understanding, improved legislation, more willingness on the part of the public to seek mental healthcare, etc. You have to believe there is a greater purpose that can come from sharing. You also need to take care of yourself if you are walking alongside people who have suffered in sharing their stories. Sometimes that belief in an effort leading to something better can be all-consuming. It’s important to take care of yourself so you don’t burn out.

Note: Photo courtesy of Harold Lloyd, who was kind enough to offer it through a Creative Commons license. Source available here.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Media Relations 101: Don’t Make Spam, Build Relationships Instead

Having good intentions to improve the world, is not an excuse for sloppy media relations. One of the most common media relations mistakes I hear about is using a blast email list to distribute a news release. The nonprofit may have an email list from the last communications director on file or subscribe to one of the media databases with access to thousands of email addresses for journalists.

Before you start hitting send, consider who you are sending your news release to and what result you want. You should only send your release to reporters or assignment editors who are covering this type of event of topic. If the news release for an upcoming event in your community, local media assignment desks should be top priority.

I’ve heard many a reporter complain about having to mass delete dozens, if not hundreds, of news releases that are completely irrelevant to what he or she actually covers. Don’t add to the spam news release logjam. Wanting to solve society’s ills does not excuse mass-email bombing.

Don’t send your release or story pitch to the sports desk, if the event has nothing to do with sports, or to the station meteorologist if it has nothing to do with the weather. Clogging email inboxes of reporters with news releases they don’t need, only wastes their time and causes them a lot of headaches and aggravation.  It may also guarantee you and your organization’s domain name a fast track listing on a spam filter.

Instead, you want the opposite reaction. In the harried world of today’s 24-7 feed the beast media outlet, you want to stand out as a helper, not a pest. You want to provide a story idea (typically by email or phone) that is compelling, newsworthy and interesting, to a journalist who covers the topic or shows some degree of interest. You don’t want to overwhelm with information, but provide enough material so they have a sense of what’s possible. If your topic is timely or links to a national trend or story, you’ll want to mention those too.

The goal should not be just a story about an upcoming event. The goal should also be building a relationship for your organization with the reporter. Over time, a relationship with a journalist who understands your organization and the issues you work on can be incredibly valuable. He or she may ask your opinion when a story breaks, cover events your organization is holding, introduce you to other reporters and also explain what types of stories will work for the media outlet.

The only way to target your media pitch to the right journalist – is to do research. That means you need to read the newspaper, watch the local news at 6pm, or listen to the morning newscast. Listen to how the reporters are identified in the stories and what topics are covered.

If you subscribe to a media database, use this as a starting point. Even if you don’t, news media websites often list reporters and their beats with contact information. Search the online story archive or google a reporter’s name to see what types of stories he or she covers. If it looks like you have a match, add the reporter to your list. Note how often this person is publishing stories and what topics are covered. Send him or her your story idea or news release. Follow up with a phone call.

Is this time-consuming? Yes. But 5 good relationships with reporters, are worth way more than 5,000 off-target spam emails that infuriate the recipients.

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Media relations and surviving families

I try to be upfront with reporters about what may be possible, in terms of locating a family or expert to speak with them. On some topics, like suicide, it can be harder to find a family that is open to sharing. But many families see sharing about their loved one is a way to honor their service and life. So some families are open to it.

When I reach out to a family and ask them to share their story in a public setting, I am vouching for that reporter with my credibility, and often asking the family to make a decision about sharing something that is deeply personal to them. So it’s important I know what the journalist is planning and the angle he or she is going to take, so I can talk with the family about what to expect and they don’t feel surprised.

I had a photographer contact me recently with some questions. He had been embedded with a unit in Afghanistan and while the unit was in a firefight, was taking photos. He realized later that he had captured images of this family’s loved one’s final moments. He never published those photos, but he wanted to talk with the family, offer to share his experience if they wanted to ask him any questions, and offer them the opportunity to see the photos if they desired to do so. This was not for media coverage – just a private talk he wanted to have, that he felt he ought to have, with this family. He was making a special trip to visit them, but wanted to know from me what kinds of questions he should be prepared to answer from them. He wanted to know what he could say that might comfort them or be helpful for them in coping with their loss.

Unfortunately, in this line of work, sometimes we do get a few challenging requests from journalists. The biggest challenge is usually time and deadlines in the news business, that are beyond everyone’s control. Sometimes it’s hard to find a family on a quick deadline that is in a few hours that is open to talking. Families often need a little time to consider a story request. Occasionally a story concept will be unrealistic. And sometimes, the journalist has a pre-conceived script in mind or is just focused on the story angle and oblivious to the fact that there are people involved.

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Media Relations When Tragedy Strikes

I have to admit, I didn’t set out to develop an expertise in media relations for organizations working with trauma survivors. Missing and exploited child issues, domestic violence, wounded warrior mental health, veteran disability issues, suicide, and the traumatic bereavement of military families are not cheery topics. And I have worked on all of them. And continue to work on many of them.

But the reality is that if no one knows about the nonprofit organizations that serve these populations, survivors will not find them, donors will not support them, and these resources will not exist for trauma survivors. So having good public relations support in place – that supports trauma survivors and facilitates engagement with the media – is critical.

Conversations in Public Relations recently interviewed me about my work with TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which helps families who lose loved ones who serve in the military. Here’s my interview discussing some of the challenging situations that come up and what it was like during the Fort Hood tragedy:

I know unfortunately, in an all too personal way, the very difficult decisions that often face surviving families when it comes to sharing their stories and the crush of media and public attention that can invade their private space. I’m a military survivor myself – my 22-year-old brother, US Army Spc Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. As a spokesperson and public affairs representative, I often work with surviving families as they think through the implications of sharing their stories.

Ninety-five percent of the journalists I work with are great people who respect surviving families and want to share their stories with dignity. I’ve had journalists say that they want for the family to feel  proud of the story and that they don’t want to betray the trust of the family. They know the family opened themselves up to share, and want for the family to feel like sharing their story was worthwhile.

I may have come across in the video as more closed to media coverage than I truly am. I know a number of surviving families who are open to talking with a reporter in their home, because it often allows them to share items left by their loved one or special mementoes. But I also don’t like to hear a request for an in-home interview within the first 20 seconds of my initial conversation with a reporter. Reporters need to realize that they are working with families – who have often experienced and are living out a trauma in their home – and so sometimes that is a lot to ask.

I’ll be upfront with a reporter and explain that especially with military loss – where families are often notified of their loved one’s death by the arrival uniformed officers arriving on their front stoop – images of the family’s home – especially the outside – are often haunting and traumatizing to families.

It may be appealing to the videographer to photograph the outside of a home so they can do a voiceover, but often families have very legitimate concerns about safety – both emotionally and physically. Widows with children and surviving parents sometimes worry about their homes being identified in the media or singled out. It’s well-known that families of our fallen receive life insurance funds – and some worry they will be targeted for crime or scams.

If a reporter is invited to go to a family’s home, I’ll often talk with him or her about having a conversation (ahead of time, before the camera is rolling) with the family about what is ok to film.

I enjoyed talking with Mary Fletcher from FletcherPrince at the TAPS office. She is very personable and easy to talk with. I think she was worried she might traumatize me by asking me about my brother, and even asked if it was alright to bring it up. We talked about him and my own experience with loss and media relations at the interview, although that didn’t make the final video cut.

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Meet the Media: AP Religion Reporter Tom Breen

Associated Press (AP) religion reporter Tom Breen recently gave a lengthy interview to Get Religion, about his perspective on covering faith and religion for one of the largest news agencies in the world. He was originally drawn to the religion beat by genuine interest in the types of stories waiting to be told and shared.

He was helped along the way by editors who appreciated stories about religion – a rarity amid a newsroom landscape that often seems to ignore faith and devotes minimal amounts of shrinking resources to it. About his editors, Breen wrote:

“One of them put it to me in a way I’ve always remembered: compare the amount of resources the press spends on covering primary elections, he told me, with the number of people who vote in primary elections. Now compare the resources spent on covering religion with the number of people who attend a weekly worship service.”

In the interview, he talks about the growing role of social media and blogs in helping him locate story ideas and reach out to sources. Any faith community or faith-based nonprofit that wants to be part of critical stories that impact our society should take note of his comments, and realize that social media engagement is one piece of an outreach strategy. One of Breen’s most helpful comments goes to building bridges of trust between faith communities and reporters:

“I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve called a member of the clergy or a layperson for a story on a religious topic and as soon as I identify myself as a member of the press, they react like a babysitter in a 1980s horror movie hearing the words, “The calls are coming from inside the house!” One of my fondest wishes is that I will one day be able to make people understand that the vast majority of reporters want just two things: to tell a good story and to get it right. And the only way reporters can tell good, true stories about religion is by developing relationships with people who know faith and aren’t afraid to trust their story to someone.”

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Millennial Women Go for Work-Life Effectiveness, Change How We View Work

There’s a great article in the November 28th Washington Post looking at how millennial generation women are changing how we think about work. More than 9 percent of millennial women in the DC area are working full-time from home offices, which is higher than the national average.

An education consultant interviewed for the story said how her family didn’t initially believe she worked for a “real” organization because it is a virtually run firm. Taking a more fluid approach to work allows people to focus on their jobs and the other things in their lives that are important to them – helping them achieve what the other calls “work-life effectiveness.” An interesting observation in the story is that work-life balance can leave people feeling out of balance, simply because with today’s working hours and always-on technology, it’s impossible to really devote 50% of your time to something other than work.
While millennials may be normalizing working from home as acceptable, in my opinion, many of the women who came in the generation before them who started telecommuting or consulting from home were the trailblazers who bucked the water cooler socialization system. Technology has been a huge driver in fueling new ideas about work and how we collaborate with each other.

Another nugget I liked, was when an executive for nonprofit fundraising software maker Blackbaud, talked about why she chose to hire a young woman named Emily Goodstein.

“I can teach systems and process, but I can’t train someone to care,” Gressler told me one morning at her office. “I wanted Emily even if she only stayed for a short time.”

The emphasis in hiring people who don’t just view work as “just work” but who view work as an extension of themselves and their values – is a huge shift. Many people bring great skills to jobs, but demonstrating caring and commitment to a job or a cause set some apart.

Millennial women are changing the way we think
about work and confident in the future, says this article in the Washington Post

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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My Most Popular 2012 Blog Post: Lowering Your Stress Load, One Working Mom’s Ideas

My most popular 2012 blog post was Lowering the Stress Load: One Working Mom’s Ideas, with nearly a thousand page views. This particular blog post got a head start on the others in racking up page views because it was posted on January 6, 2012, so it had all year for people to find it, but I’m still pleased to see others found it interesting enough to look at. It’s not surprising, given that balancing work and family life remain one of the biggest challenges working parents face.

Many of my own suggestions written for this post in January 2012 were linked to my New Year’s resolutions. In giving myself an honest assessment of how 2012 went with these ideas – I have cut back on the higher caffeinated lattes and we are eating at home a lot more frequently these days. I try to cook one large item (e.g. lasagna, pan of enchiladas) on Sunday that we can “eat on” during the week to take some of the stress out of cooking an evening meal on days I am downtown.

The volume of email coming in continues to be a challenge to manage – I am doing a new round of “un” subscribing for the New Year. I am also trying to work more efficiently, searching out ways to better manage social media, keep tasks under control, and trying to use down time to get work done, instead of staying up later.

I can’t say I did well at getting back to the gym in 2012 – my efforts were half-hearted, but staying more physically active (and going back to the gym on a regular schedule three times a week) are on the list again for 2013. I have found that our local Methodist congregation’s daily email morning devotionals are one of the easiest ways for me to retain my spiritual anchor. Scheduling “stuff for me” has worked to some extent – although I did bail on book club a few times this year just because I wanted to spend time with my family (but thankfully I didn’t ditch book club because of work obligations).

Perhaps the greatest challenges we face as working parents are:
(1) to say “no” occasionally to things we don’t really need to be doing or don’t have time to do, and
(2) to opt for the simple route, rather than the most complicated.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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New Recommendations on Reporting About Suicide

I work regularly on issues related to suicide in the military and support trauma survivors. While awareness about suicide as a public health issue seems to be emerging and expanding, we still have a long way to go.

Journalists can play a key role in educating the public about suicide prevention, but sensitivity is needed. More than 50 research studies around the world have demonstrated that certain types of news coverage can actually increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable people. Sensationalizing the death and explicitly discussing the method of suicide can increase the likelihood of copycat deaths.
Many decades ago, it was not uncommon to find newsrooms with policies that avoided covering suicide. Nowadays, it’s not off limits. But journalists need to be educated about how to report on this sensitive issue.
Thankfully – there’s some new guidelines and information available to help journalists facing coverage on this complicated topic:

Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – see the checklist with Do’s and Don’ts if you are in a rush and trying to get copy filed quickly.
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New Year’s Resolutions for the Nonprofit Public Relations Pro

It’s that time of year again when so many of us go on diets, pledge to quit doing things that are bad for us, and face a new year full of promise and hope. If you’re a public relations professional or communicator working with nonprofit organizations, what can you resolve to do differently in 2012 that will help you improve?

Establish one new habit that will help you work smarter, not harder. It might mean investing time in learning how to really use your smartphone, committing to scheduling more of your day and not just meetings so you can be more efficient, going thru your regular e-news subscriptions and unsubscribing from two dozen and declining to get on any more lists, or investigating new software that will help you manage social media more effectively. But do something in your work practice – how you work – that will make your working life better.

Forge connections – real ones. Resolve to always sit down at your desk 24 hours after returning from a meeting to enter new contacts, send requested follow-up information or make calls to schedule appointments. Be an authentic networker – not a fake. Set up appointments for casual coffee or tea dates with other PR professionals – especially if you work on your own as a solo PR shop.

Invest time in building relationships with reporters, not just media databases. Anyone can buy a list of reporters or subscribe to a media database and sned out news releases. But it takes authenticity, persistence and passion to build good relationships with reporters and to understand the stories they are working on and how your organization or cause might fit. Share information and be helpful, even if it doesn’t directly benefit you or your organization directly. Thanks to social media, many reporters today are more approachable than ever.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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NextCause: Changing the Way Nonprofits Use YouTube, Applications Due Feb. 27

YouTube NextCause has just announced its new program to help nonprofits – NextCause!

This new program is designed to help innovative organizations that are already changing the world learn how to better use online video to drive action.

At an exclusive one-day summit in San Francisco on April 2, 2012 selected participants will get access to everything from training in YouTube fundamentals to advanced promotion and community engagement tips to one-on-one consulting sessions to grow their YouTube presence.

This group of thought leaders will lead the way in changing the way nonprofit organizations use YouTube to grow awareness, interest, funds, volunteers, and global engagement. Applications are due on February 27, 2012.

Organizations that are part of the YouTube Nonprofit Program are eligible to apply for YouTube Next Cause. 

Program Guidelines: https://sites.google.com/site/nextcause/

Apply here: https://sites.google.com/site/nextcause/application-page

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Nonprofit HR Survey: Why Good PR Starts With Your Staff

The 2014 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey offers some helpful data for public relations professionals working at nonprofits and associations to consider.

The good news – there is job growth across the nonprofit sector – with plans to hire in organizations dealing with international/foreign affairs, health, public and societal benefits, arts/culture/humanities, regional-related/faith-based.

And more good news – they are letting fewer employees go – and they are more likely to hire new staff to support new programs (45% vs. 58% in 2009) than to expect for existing staff to add a new program to their already full plates.

Bad news – one in five nonprofits say employee turnover is the biggest employment challenge they face. The 2013 turnover rate was 16%. Forty-five percent of nonprofit professional report leaving their organizations to work for other nonprofits – fueling speculation that salary is not the only motivator in turnover – but that other factors may also play a major role when employees depart. Thirty-two percent said they could not pay competitively, 19% can’t promote or advance staff, and 16% say they have excessive workloads.

The authors point out in a related blog post that disengagement costs nonprofits money. The authors use an example of a disgruntled intern who leaves an organization and tells others about his or her experiences, and costs the hypothetical organization $1250.

What about the disgruntled staffer who causes a PR problem that goes far beyond impacting a few individual donations?  Overworked and disgruntled employees can also impact public relations and how the nonprofit or association is viewed or perceived by the media, other organizations or agencies, key partners, major donors, etc. They can take way more than some institutional knowledge and personal relationships with them. They can impact who gives money and how the organization is perceived.

The study authors note, “Happy, engaged employees are your best brand ambassadors because they will tell anyone and everyone how great your mission is, how much they love their work, and how effective the team is.”

Good PR starts with your staff. Staff who are enthusiastic about the mission and know they are valued speak authentically about your mission and work when asked. They become valuable connectors who bring in other supporters, volunteers, and donors. Providing reasonable work expectations and not burning out staff can go a long way to building up your staff and volunteers – so they can be your best brand ambassadors. Even if they opt to leave to pursue a new project or advance at another agency – a happy employee who leaves can still help your organization and be a key ally.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media and work-family balance. She also reviews books on her blog. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Nonprofit PR Awards by PR News: Entry Deadline Nov. 23

Communications professionals at nonprofits and associations worldwide face a variety of challenges in their jobs every day. The PR News’ Nonprofit PR Awards Program honors talented communicators and teams in the nonprofit sector. Entry deadline is November 23, 2012 and the late deadline is November 30, 2012 (for an additional $199).

The entry fee is $300 (dropping to $200 if you enter a second or third category with the same project) so smaller nonprofits and associations will likely forego participating. But the larger foundations and nonprofits have the budget to participate – and they do accept entries from PR agencies and corporate teams partnering with a nonprofit organization (so this might be a good opportunity to mention to an outstanding corporate partner you are working with, even if your nonprofit can’t afford to enter multiple entries). You can get more information and apply online. See a list of previous winners.

There’s a ton of entry categories:
Advocacy Campaign and Lobbying Efforts – This category recognizes a campaign or ongoing initiative using a wide range of strategies (e.g. media, special events, Web content) where outcomes demonstrate change (e.g. legislation passed, funds raised, key support and/or endorsements from other groups, legislators, etc.)
Annual Publication or Brochure – Submissions will be judged on design and content, and success at connecting with a target audience and producing desired results.
Blog/s – Recognizing an outstanding, influential business-related blog or online journal written by a representative of an organization with the goal of espousing a cause or a certain message. Blog should be written with flair and personality.
Branding/Re-Branding  – Entries should be clear in stated goal of branding/re-branding and show measurable results proving that these efforts resulted in more donations or increased corporate involvement or more community/employee involvement, etc.
Corporate/Nonprofit Partnership/s – Recognizing outstanding alliance/s with a corporate entity in the past 12 months, with an eye toward exceeding the stated mission of the partnership. Note: It is recommended that you enter partnerships separately, not as a single entry.
Crisis Management – Communications surrounding any crisis, from an industry crisis to internal executive malfeasance, are eligible in this category.
Digital PR and Marketing – The winner of this category will have shown outstanding use of digital media (Web, e-mail, etc) to communicate a message/s. This can include a marketing campaign on your Web site or a partner’s; outstanding e-mail communications and other capitalization of digital media for PR/marketing.
Email Newsletter/s – Entries should demonstrate consistent delivery of varied content relevant to target audience; engaging design; superior open and click-through rates.
Employee / Internal Communications – Recognizing outstanding internal PR efforts at nonprofits/associations, including employee communications campaigns and ongoing initiatives to motivate, inspire and retain employees.
Event PR – Entries should include PR conducted at an industry, association or other event/conference, or a series of events conceived and implemented by your organization (for instance, awareness of an issue). Note: this can include the entering nonprofit’s annual conference, for example, or a public relations efforts at an industry event.
External Publication or Report (online or print) – This category recognizes an external publication produced by or for a nonprofit. Publication can be a one-time effort or an ongoing publication. Hard copy and electronic publications are eligible; please include 5 hard copies of the publication with your entry. Also include pertinent information from our standard campaign entry.
Facebook Communications Campaign –  Unique use of Facebook to communicate aims of a nonprofit organization or campaign; winning entry will also be judged on focused, stated aim of Facebook use and measurable results.
Fundraising – Recognizing outstanding communications surrounding a single or ongoing drive to raise funds or increase membership. Must demonstrate the role of PR in the outcomes.
Green PR/Marketing – Entries will be judged on originality of green PR/marketing initiative, how closely aligned it is with an organization’s overall goals and measurable, desired results.
Internal Publication (online or print) – This category recognizes an internal publication produced by or for a nonprofit. Publication can be a one-time effort or an ongoing publication. Hard copy and electronic publications are eligible; please include 5 hard copies of the publication with your entry. Also include pertinent information from our standard campaign entry.
Marketing – Recognizes proven success with PR and marketing techniques for a nonprofit organization – judges will look closely at how well you integrated PR and marketing into your communications plan in general or for a specific campaign.
Media Relations – Recognizes outstanding strategies and outcomes with either a singular media relations campaign surrounding an issue or a proven media relations strategy whose outcome improved the nonprofit’s standing among its stakeholders.
Member Communications – This category salutes outstanding public relations efforts targeted at an association’s membership year-round or for a particular campaign.
New Member – Recognizes creativity of a new member campaign and quantifiable results of campaign.
Member Retention – Recognizes timing of campaign, originality in reaching out to membership, quantifiable results and positive feedback resulting from campaign.
Natural Disaster Communications – Entries will be judged on breadth of cross-platform communications, timing of communications, success at reaching the desired audience, overall usefulness of communications and feedback from target audience.
Nonprofit Partner of the Year – Recognizes corporation that has forged a deep and creative partnership with a nonprofit in an alignment that enhances the reputation of both parties.
PR on a Shoestring Budget – Recognizing outstanding examples of a nonprofit achieving success with limited funds/budget, whether it’s for a single campaign or ongoing PR/public affairs. While “shoestring” is subjective, the winners in this category are those who have done more with less, and have been creative with the limited PR dollars they have.
Press Release – Recognizes one or multiple press releases for writing quality and achievement of desired results: ie, hits to Web site; responses to a call for action; inbound inquiries stemming from the release, etc.
Promotional Items/Merchandise – Recognizes successful results of using merchandise to promote the aims of a nonprofit organization or initiative.
Public Affairs/Issues Management – Recognizes successful promotion of a cause or social issue via public sector organizations and political channels.
Public Service – This category recognizes effective television, print, online and radio PSAs for a nonprofit, or produced by a nonprofit. PSA must have run in the past 12 months.
Social Media – This category recognizes campaigns that connect people and allow them to be integrated into a product or company. Social media campaigns can include: Internet forums, message boards, blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video.
Social Responsibility Campaign/Initiatives – This category recognizes a particular campaign in which the association’s initiatives/brand is aligned with a cause.
Twitter Communications Campaign –  Unique use of Twitter to communicate aims of a nonprofit organization or campaign; winning entry will also be judged on focused, stated aim of Twitter use and measurable results.
Video and/or Podcast Program – Entries in this category should focus on the PR efforts surrounding a podcast and/or videocast, whether in the consumer or business-to-business arena.
Volunteer Program – Either a new or ongoing volunteer program from an organization (corporate or nonprofit); entries should be clear in stated aim of program and in number of volunteers involved, as well as results of volunteer efforts.
Web Site – Recognizing outstanding Web sites among nonprofits, from a design, communications and navigation standpoint. Entrants must demonstrate the Web site’s effectiveness in building membership, raising issue awareness and the ways that PR has played a role in the site’s success.
People Categories
Nonprofit Communicator of the Year
Association/Nonprofit Team of the Year
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.
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Nonprofit PR: Creating a Definition

What is PR? In any given day, a nonprofit public relations professional can be found doing a myriad of tasks – e.g. responding to reporters, updating websites, managing video shoots, revamping tired old brochure copy for donors, architecting a new outreach campaign, updating social media and providing counsel or training to staff, volunteers or members.

The PR pro’s role can feel like a jack-of-all-trades comm shop in the nonprofit world – where small staffs mean that load-sharing is broadly interpreted. I especially hated being in charge of the photocopier, the Internet T1 line, and the phone system at one nonprofit (being responsible for communications in all facets, truly) – where all those things seemed to break down at the worst possible moments – in addition to member communications, publications, media relations, the website and public policy work.
 But it begs the question – what exactly do we DO? Really? A definition of nonprofit public relations provides greater definition to our frenzied professional lives, reminding us that strategy has to guide the mayhem. The Public Relations Society of America recently partnered with allied organizations to invite crowdsourced definitions of public relations.

Clearly, the old definition is out dated – having come of age when computers were just beginning to transform our profession. The new definition’s formula is simple:
Public relations (does what)
with/for (whom)
to (do what)
for (what purpose)

You can submit your definition for public relations to PRSA. I toyed with a few options, but kept finding the corporate and client side of PR monkeying with my mojo. It might be easier to come up with a definition, if we segment PR into practice areas. 
I finally came up with a definition for nonprofit public relations:
Nonprofit public relations builds understanding
with targeted audiences
to raise awareness about a nonprofit organization’s services, work and programs
for building a greater good.

What would your definition of nonprofit public relations be?

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Nonprofit Quarterly Opens Content Access to All, Great Info Available

For a year early in my consulting practice, I subscribed to Nonprofit Quarterly, but found my print subscription (which was very pretty, often qualifying it for top of the pile status) sat in a corner of my desk, where it was occasionally nibbled on by dust bunnies. So I didn’t renew, even though the content was great. It was just one more thing screaming for my attention after a long day on the computer tending to client needs.

Magazines and print publications these days that require a thorough read are likely to end up consigned to the woefully dusty magazine bin in the foyer where my toddler likes to hide her pacifiers.
Digital content consumption though is a whole other can of worms for me. In the off hours, I can surf my iPad for information, write an advance post for my blog, forward an insightful story link to a client, or program advance tweets for my Twitter feed. I’ve gone back to Nonprofit Quarterly, thanks to their daily Newswire emails and Twitter engagement. They often have relevant public relations, marketing and branding articles.

Earlier this week, I was happy to see Nonprofit Quarterly announce in its daily Newswire that the publication is switching to an open access model online for its content. They’ve also upgraded their publishing regularity and are seeking to engage journalist more on behalf of the nonprofit sector. And they’re trying to cover more of the broader issues that matter to a valued sector employing about 10% of the nation’s workforce and producing 5.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.They are asking readers to consider making a donation to support their open access model, so all nonprofits can benefit. And they still have a print version quarterly for those who need to see the beautiful cover and great articles that way.
Kudos to Nonprofit Quarterly for opening up access, and let’s hope their great experiment in content sharing succeeds for the nonprofit sector – because it means more nonprofit professionals will be able to get great information to help them do their jobs better, at a time when professional development dollars may be particularly squeezed.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.
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Nonprofits: “Donate Now” Button Rolls Out on Facebook Today

Facebook is adding a “donate now” button for nonprofit organizations and nonprofits can sign up now to express their interest in getting a button. Donations play a key role in helping nonprofit organizations meet their missions, and Facebook has become a key platform for many nonprofits seeking to connect with new audiences, grow relationships with members and build awareness.

Nineteen nonprofits have partnered with Facebook on the roll out and have “donate now” buttons in place on their pages today – here’s a list of those getting the buttons:

American Cancer Society
ASPCA
Blue Star Families

The new "Donate Now" button on the Donors Choose facebook page.

The new “Donate Now” button on the Donors Choose Facebook page.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Donors Choose
Girls Inc.
Kiva
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
LIVESTRONG Foundation
Malaria No More
The Nature Conservancy
Oxfam America
RAINN
The Red Cross
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
UNICEF
United Nations World Food Programme
Water.org
World Wildlife Fund

Eight of the 19 appear on the top 100 top-grossing charities of 2012 issued by Nonprofit Times, with two reporting revenue of over a billion dollars a year. A few of the charities, such as Blue Star Families and RAINN, are smaller and report much lower revenues of well under $2 million dollars annually.

It appears they won’t be the only ones with “donate now” buttons for long. Facebook invites any nonprofit that is interested in adding a “Donate Now” button to its Facebook page, to fill out an interest form.

Appearing with the “Donate Now” button is a link to FAQs about donating through Facebook.

While some have greeted the news skeptically – CNET notes that this will help Facebook build its database of credit card holders, others have heralded the “Donate Now” button as a great help for nonprofits and TIME notes the button can help combat slacktivism – the tendency to like a cause online but do little else to help it.

In the announcement, Facebook notes how this tool can help nonprofits: ” with a community of over one billion people on Facebook, every local cause can become a global one — and every global cause can become a personal movement.”

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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Nuggets from the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference 2011: Stacey Monk of Epic Change

Stacey Monk, CEO and co-founder of Epic Change delivered an emotional keynote address for the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference.

I had never heard Stacey’s story before, and was surprised to hear some parallels with my own. Stacey left her management consulting job after her brother died suddenly from a drug overdose. Taking time off for a life-changing trip to Africa, Stacey came back to the States ready to transform her life. The transformation was not easy. She got divorced and rebuilt her life.

While I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for many years, I must admit, my own life course has been impacted by tragedy. After my 22-year-old brother’s death in Iraq in 2007, like Stacey, I was forced to confront some of the big questions in life too. And while I’ve continued consulting with nonprofits, my practice has shifted to include more organizations helping veterans and families of the fallen. And I would say my pr work has gotten more personal. It matters more to me now. I tweeted as Stacey shared her story that post-traumatic growth opens new doors for many of us and that “your pain is about the breaking of a shell that conceals your understanding.”

Epic Change is a startup nonprofit that amplifies the voices and impact of grassroots changemakers. The organization began its work in Arusha, Tanzania, where Stacey met Mama Lucy Kamptoni, a former chicken farmer who used her income to build a school in her village.  Epic Change has rallied thousands of people across the globe to invest nearly $200,000 in the school so far to build a locally-led primary school for over 400 children that is now completely self-sufficient and consistently ranks among the top 3 out of over 120 in its district.  The school’s founder, Mama Lucy, has already repaid over $15,000 of that investment, and funds have been recycled to invest in Nepali changemaker Subhash Ghimire who is currently building a school – to be open this summer – in the village where he was born and raised.

Monk’s work is about micro-change, working at a grassroots level to organize volunteers virtually (most of whom she has never met) and inspire community change and growth. So needless to say, to professionals working at nonprofits with “big mind” mentalities, she had some fascinating, inspiring, and controversial things to say:

  • Start from the heart. Resources flow from love, don’t start with the intention of raising money.
  • Look at your language. When is the last time you wordled your site? Are the words that pop up about gloom and doom, or about hope and love?
  • Giving should not just be a transaction. Nonprofits need to cultivate more meaningful giving experiences. It should be about cultivating love and gratitude.
  • Supporting a cause should give people joy. Conscious giving gives people radical joy.
  • Giving is personal. “Giving is a sacred act that we diminish when we think of our jobs as getting people to click a donate button.”
  • Embedded giving may be a wonderful idea – but does it take away something, or give us more? Does embedded giving (10% of my coffee purchase goes to a cause) diminish “regular” philanthropy? If so, what does this mean for future?  
  • Our donors and the people we help through our nonprofit organizations should not be kept segregated in discrete cones of communication. Our donor and beneficiary communities should not be kept apart as discrete entities. Linkages between these groups can be good for both.
  • Trust others. You can’t be a type-A control freak if you are innovating. You must be able to trust others to steward the vision.
  • We may be losing something in getting too big. Goods can be commoditized but human lives can’t be. Nonprofits should re-evaluate scale and the social entrepreneurship model.
  • Use the tools available to you that help you connect and share your nonprofit’s vision. Social media is a tool to build relationships, but not an end in itself.
  • We have to trust the people we work with. Radical trust can be inspiring on a small scale.
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One Day for Design: Join the Conversation!

Great design can draw attention to a cause or nonprofit. AIGA, the professional assocation for design, is hosting “One Day for Design” today and you can participate from anywhere in the world!
Designers and design enthusiasts will come together for “One Day,” 24 hours of open, real-time conversation about the future of the design profession and the organizations behind it.

Intrepid moderators—Alex Bogusky, Doug Bowman, Liz Danzico, Debbie Millman, Erik Spiekermann, Armin Vit, Alissa Walker and Katherine Walker – will be posting provocative questions on Twitter throughout the day. Questions and replies will be aggregated on onedayfordesign.org, where anyone can comment—with or without a Twitter account. The day starts early with questions from moderators in Europe, so as soon as you sit down with a cup of coffee on April 13, you can participate by tagging your tweets with #1D4D.

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Pepsi Refresh Challenge $250K Winner Speaks: How to Assess if Contesting is Right for Your Nonprofit

Online contests with opportunities for nonprofit organizations to win funding and raise awareness abound. But how do you know if contesting is right for your organization? Mark Neidig, Sr., executive director of the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, spoke recently in Washington, DC about winning $250,000 through the Pepsi Refresh Challenge and how it helped his organization.

How does a small foundation working to eradicate cancer, win a major online contest and stand out in a world dominated by much bigger fish, such as the Susan G. Komen Fund or the American Cancer Society? Being gutsy, putting a face on the disease, and commiting to win the contest, pay dividends.

“If you are in a contest, you’ve got to commit to winning it. You put everything into it,” said Neidig. For the Pepsi Refresh Challenge Contest, the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation did no direct mail appeals or paid advertising, and did not issue a call through a newsletter. At the time of the contest, the foundation had one employee – Mark.

Mark Neidig, Sr. discusses winning $250,000.
Photo courtesy of Association Bisnow.
Media exposure can be critical to success in a contest – but you may have to do something extreme – gto get attention. Mark and two volunteers went to Times Square in New York City, to give out 10,000 fliers asking people to vote for the foundation in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge Contest.
The story of their gutsy trip to New York City, landed Neidig and his volunteers on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Fox and Friends. By the time they got back to Pennsylvania, they had risen from 70th place to third.
Because they talked about what a treatment without side effects would mean to people – even strangers, who had never heard of the foundation, found their appeal compelling. And the foundation’s local community was also inspired by their media blitz. Located in a smaller media market (Erie, PA), community newspapers, radio stations and TV stations encouraged the public to vote. Local schools allowed people to vote during the day, loosening a firewall to permit voting. Proclamations were issued, and social media and email appeals were drivers for the campaign.
Admittedy, there are some downsides to particpating in these online contests. The labor invested by nonprofit volunteers and staff, can be intense. Not to mention slightly obsessive-inducing. Neidig admitted that he would get up in the middle of the night to check their rankings, while the contest was running. But the foundation also improved its email lists and social media followings because of the participatory marketing thrust. They won the challenge. The foundation now has a budget of almost $2.5 million and a staff of six people.
Neidig encouraged nonprofits attending the workshop he was speaking at, to be strategic when considering a contest and to invest wholeheartedly in trying to win. While competition is often a dirty word in the nonprofit community, which values collegialism and consensus, the reality is that nonprofits compete every day for limited funding and attention.
The Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation has also won $25,000 from the Ellen Degeneres PinkWell Award Challenge, and is looking forward to the PinkWell Challenge in early 2012. Neidig spoke at “PR Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations,” sponsored by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
Blog

Photos: A Must Have Part of Your Social Media Strategy

Research shows that photos need to be a serious part of your social media strategy, if you want to improve your user engagement.

FacebookSimplyMeasured’s recent data on the third quarter of 2014 looking at the mega brands found that photos account for 62% of all brand posts and 77% of all engagement. By contrast, in the second quarter of 2013, photos accounted for 75% of all brand posts, and 95% of all engagement, but brands have stopped relying as heavily on visual content. Since Q2 2013, the use of links has grown from 13% to 27% of all brand posts, and from 1% to 16% of total brand post engagement.

Key take aways – Photos are still an important part of your social media strategy on Facebook, but links are also driving engagement and should be part of your strategy.

Twitterresearchers for Twitter’s media blog looked at 2 million tweets sent by verified users. On retweets – they found that photos give verified users a 35% bump in retweets, compared to what they would have normally received. By comparison, a video link bumped their retweet meter by 28%, a quote by 19%, a digit by 17% and a hashtag by 16%.

Key take aways – post more photos on your Twitter feed. Include tags on the photos. And issue more than one (Twitter will allow up to 4)

LinkedIn – one of the interesting things about LinkedIn, is one status update can reach 20 percent of your followers. That’s staggering, compared to other social media platforms. It also sends nearly 4 times more people to your home page, than Twitter or Facebook.

Key take aways – to stand out, craft compelling updates (include photos, you already have them from some of your other social media activity) and update your LinkedIin company page as often as you update your company Facebook profile.

Thanks to Re:Publica on FlickR for this photo, licensed via Creative Commons.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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