A little publicity can pay big dividends


April 9, 1999

by Mark J. Grossman

Lamenting about the constant need for publicity in government and politics, my old boss, Mario Cuomo, used to say, “In this business, if you don’t blow your own horn, there’s no music.”

He’s right, and it’s not just politicians who need blow their own horn. In a world where not-for-profits compete every day for a limited pool of generous donors, energetic volunteers, highly competent staff, and quality board members, a little “music” can pay big dividends.

That’s where an ongoing, comprehensive public relations program can help not-for-profit organizations in several of these key areas:

It keeps the agency’s name and programs in front of the people who provide funding, including big corporate sponsors, philanthropic benefactors, government officials, and individual donors.

Publicizing an agency’s accomplishments and events shows these contributors that their money is going to good use, and that the agency is worthy of future support.

Develop a mailing list of key donors and mail them news clip packets monthly or quarterly. And when a donor comes through with a particularly significant level of funding, offer them a big public “thank you” by arranging for an over-sized check presentation along with a photo and press release.

It helps recruit and retain volunteers. Many non-for-profit organizations rely heavily on volunteers for both back-office support and the day-to-day delivery of services. By including volunteers in news releases and publicity photos, they know that their efforts are appreciated. It also signals to potential volunteers that their services will be valued.

Organizations that publish house organs or newsletters should make sure volunteers are on the publication’s mailing and distribution list. Consider including a “Volunteer Profile” column as a way to show the high value placed on those who donate their services.

It helps recruit and retain staff. Not-for-profits rarely have the resources to provide the kind of employee compensation packages that the for-profit business sector provides. So agency heads need to find ways to retain good staff members and attract quality candidates for vacancies. A little bit of publicity can go a long way towards enhancing employee morale, installing pride in the valuable work they perform.

Plus, in this era of record-low unemployment, an agency that keeps its name in the public eye will have a better chance of attracting the right people from today’s tight labor pool.

Board members need to be nurtured, too, and a well-designed public relations program can help make sure that an agency’s board remains well-stocked with quality people. In fact, one of the most common concerns heard among not-for-profit agency directors is the difficulty attracting quality people to their boards.

And while people join boards for a variety of reasons, they all recognize the benefits — for themselves and for their business — of being personally connected to the agency in a public way.

That means making sure that board members’ names are included in all collateral material, websites, and letterhead. It means issuing news releases, with a photo, when they join the board or are elected as an officer. Board members should be included in events, photos with VIPs, agency newsletters and news releases. Like those who volunteer, board members are often busy business people who take time out of their active lives to donate their time. Publicizing their board involvement will not only show them that their efforts are appreciated, but it will greatly help board recruitment efforts.

For many not-for-profit organizations that run lean-and-mean operations and are busy carrying out the day-to-day mission of the agency, public relations efforts can be perceived as an unnecessary distraction.

But ask anyone in the private sector, and they’ll confirm that marketing efforts deferred for too long can have a serious negative effect on the long-term structural foundation of an organization. And not-for-profits are no different. A modest but sustained publicity effort can not only help shore-up fundraising efforts, but shore-up an agency’s people resources as well.

Mark J. Grossman is president of Grossman Strategies, a government and public relations consulting company in Holtsville. The firm has a client concentration in not-for-profit organizations, human service agencies and associations.