Times are tough for charitable nonprofits, but the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) did its part to ease the burden by sharing public relations strategies, tactics and tools to a capacity crowd of more than 100 metro D.C. nonprofit leaders, representing 80 small and mid-sized charities, who participated in PR Day for Charitable Nonprofits.
PRSA-NCC launched its first PR Day, which was held last week, as a way to give back to the community. “We often get phone calls from individual organizations that are looking for PR support,” explains Brigitte Johnson, APR, president of the National Capital Chapter, the largest chapter of the Society, which represents more than 22,000 public relations professionals nationwide. “PR Day is a way for us to share our expertise and help charities be strategic, develop a plan and execute their communications professionally and economically.”
Robert Egger, the founder of D.C. Central Kitchen and a “rock star” in the nonprofit world, kicked off PR Day with an inspiring keynote speech entitled “Public Relations: The Difference Between a 10-Cent Cause and a Million Dollar Mission.”
“Take a look at your organization,” challenged Egger. “If the people you surround yourself with aren’t 100 percent dedicated to your cause, if they aren’t 100 percent there for all the right reasons, if they aren’t passionate, then they shouldn’t be part of who you are.”
“One of the most important things for any nonprofit is total transparency,” Egger said. “At D.C. Central Kitchen, anyone can come in and talk to anyone on the staff, or to any of the volunteers. Everyone in the organization is a PR person.”
He also talked about a fundamental shift in PR away from traditional media outlets to communicating directly with consumer through social media. “Everyone is a super consumer now. They can find out about you in a minute, and talk about you just as fast.” Holding up his smart phone, he said emphatically, “This is an ethics meter.”
PR Day’s co-sponsors addressed the crowd, talking about how to succeed in a tough economy and to use PR more effectively to reach donors. Anthony De Cristofaro, senior vice president/chief marketing communications officer with America’s Charities, discussed how all areas of philanthropy are down, with the exception of workplace giving. But, he said, “We have to engage the Gen X and Millennial generations so that they are as committed to charitable giving as the Traditionalists and the Baby Boomers have been.”
Pamela B. Haberstroh, president and CEO of Community Health Charities of the National Capital Area, noted “Nonprofits should use these challenging times as an opportunity to examine our standard practices, our missions, our ways of doing business. Think of it as hitting your ‘reset button.’ Gone should be the days of doing things simply because we’ve always done them.”
Other co-sponsors were Hogan Lovells, which provided the meeting space at their Fulbright Center, and Causeware.net, which provided graphics and photography. America’s Charities offered scholarships to 20 registrants, making it possible for even the most underfunded and start-up organizations to attend.
The six-hour program featured 20-minute sessions led by local PR experts on topics such as strategic planning, messaging, media relations, special events, social media and crisis communications.
The speakers included: Stephanie Bowen, director of media, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; Ric Dragon, CEO, DragonSearch; Sandra Wills Hannon, Ph.D., APR, founder and principal, The Hannon Group, LLC; Andrea Keller Helsel, strategic communications director, Western Conservation Foundation; Shakirah Hill-Holley, senior digital media specialist, Equal Justice Works; Judy Mayka, PR Chair, Alzhemier’s Association’s Blondes vs. Brunettes, National Capital Chapter; Ami Neiberger-Miller, partner, Steppingstone, LLC; and Ben Zingman, CEO, Ben Zingman Communications.
PRSA-NCC has a history of public service and support of local charities. A survey among members last year revealed that half the membership contributes between 5-20 hours of pro bono public relations work each month to local charities.
Johnson said with such overwhelming response to PR Day, PRSA-NCC is committed to making this an annual event. “We are already making plans for next year,” she added.
Pictured above (L to R), PRSA-NCC PR Day Chair, Helen Sullivan, APR. Fellow PRSA, PR Day co-sponsor Pamela Haberstoh, Community Health Charities of the National Capital Area; Robert Egger, DC Central Kitchen and PR Day Keynote Speaker; PRSA-NCC President Brigitte Johnson, APR and PR Day co-sponsor Anthony De Cristofaro, America’s Charities.