How to make the leap from journalism to nonprofit PR

Do you dream of making a successful jump from news to nonprofit communications? This advice will help.

What does it take to switch from journalism to nonprofit PR?

To answer how I landed in the nonprofit world, I borrow a sentiment from a former co-worker who also started in news. He said, “Kathy, we used to write about these things and photograph them, and then we would sit and hope someone would do something about it. Now, we find these stories and we also have the power to do something about it.”

That’s it, I thought—that’s what I want to do.

How do you make the leap, though?

Most of us who pursued journalism did so because we felt we were going to change the world with our words and images. Concerned parents and counselors warned us that the pay was bad, the hours were obscene and that the gratitude would not be free-flowing, but we believed in the noble pursuit of truth.

You need a similar drive, commitment and belief to find a happy home in the nonprofit realm. Volunteer for a while, if you can, to see what cause captures your heart.

Once you discover your passion, use the skills that helped you succeed in the first place. If you’d like to pursue a career in nonprofit PR, I’d recommend cultivating these abilities:

Know how to write a thousand different stories. Yes, you will have a press release template. Let that be your only boundary. Do the reporting, leave the desk and go to the scene—just like you did covering the cop beat, the courts or Congress.

At Food For The Poor, we are fortunate to travel to the countries we support and meet the people we serve. Their lives are rich with stories, but it takes skillful, flexible reporting to bring them to life.

Love a deadline. The pace of PR work differs from a newsroom. The workday is more segmented, which means assignments must be managed more efficiently. There is no ebb and flow of a daily news cycle.

Be the one who steps forward to say, “Yes, we can get that researched, written, approved and distributed by 5 p.m. today.” Then do it, and keep doing it.

Did they ever hold the presses while you finished your story? I didn’t think so.

Remember what pitches piqued your interest. Don’t commit the mistakes you once criticized on the other end of the email, phone call or text message. If you didn’t like it, this editor probably won’t either.

In other words, don’t turn into the PR person you used to avoid.

Be tenacious. The river of information flowing through the nonprofit world can be more of a gently rolling stream than a waterfall, but don’t fall for the myth that it’s a soft and easy landing spot. You will work as hard as you ever did, and you will have to wear multiple hats.

It’s easy to get lulled into “That’s enough information” or “This will do.” Always ask more questions, seek that best photo and write that extra blog post. Serve your donors just as you used to serve your readers.

Think on your feet. In nonprofit PR, you never know when you’ll be summoned to give a presentation, meet with a major donor or respond to a crisis. Be prepared for thoughtful give and take. In quiet times, read nonstop so you are full of facts and background. Work your sources just like you did in the newsroom.

Display energy, passion and a great attitude. You are the cheerleader, the comforter, the great encourager and the one who makes everyone else look like a rock star. Write the thank-you notes and send the get-well wishes.

You also have to be the one willing to tell people the hard news they don’t want to hear.

If you do all these things, you will have more satisfying days than not. Better yet, just like you dreamed in journalism, you will leave the world a much better place.

Kathy Skipper is director of public relations for Food For The Poor.

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