Take Advantage of Community Relations Opportunities
In the nonprofit world we interface with representatives of corporations, foundations, organizations and associations on a daily basis. Some representatives are extremely easy to contact. In fact, they want the engagement so they can learn more about your organization and to meet changing staff representatives. Other corporate contacts are impossible to reach, as you must work through a maze of gatekeepers in order to possibly leave a message.
One time, I was amazed at one community relations “professional” at a company that worked with my organization on an annual basis. I sent emails, letters, made phone calls and even dropped in the corporation office with a gift, just asking for a brief face-to-face meet and greet. I was never able meet that phantom community relations person. If you work in community relations, focus on building community relations. We all need each other, and we cannot work in silos. People come and go constantly in the nonprofit world. That said, the organizational mission, vision and values should remain constant. When you fail to work in the community it reflects on you and the organization you serve. In fact, good public relations can turn bad in a heartbeat.
How often do you try to connect with someone at another organization? I bet you attempt to connect with others at least once a day. Sometimes you need an opportunity to call on others without seeming too aggressive. If you have an opportunity to make a positive impression, do it. A great opportunity presented itself to me in my role with The Salvation Army recently. The event was called National Donut Day. Most of us have no clue as to how this day started. Many believe a donut company created the day just to sell donuts and to provide visibility for their company.
The fact is National Donut Day was founded in June of 1938 by The Salvation Army in recognition of The Salvation Army serving donuts to World War I soldiers while they were waiting to board trains. Salvation Army donut girls would cook the donuts in soldier helmets, and also serve coffee and talk about home to encourage our brave military to defend our freedom. The donuts were free, and if you talk to a family of a veteran today, they remember The Salvation Army donut program with fond memories. Doing the Most Good is what The Salvation Army is all about.
So, how can you take advantage of a public relations opportunity? One example is to secure donated or purchased donuts on this day and have a plan to distribute free donuts to the public at an obvious central place. Plus, take a dozen or more donuts at a time to targeted corporate and media prospects. For example, The Salvation Army has a mobile feeding vehicle called a canteen, placed in a downtown Indianapolis circle on National Donut Day.
Anyone can come up to the canteen and eat a free donut and drink a free cup of coffee. When I pulled up to this circle at 5:45 a.m. on National Donut Day, media television trucks from every station in town were doing live broadcasts. Hundreds of donuts were given out during the 6 a.m.-to-10 a.m. time frame. In addition, radio stations were broadcasting from our donut feeding location. The media drew a large crowd.
Just as important as the downtown, feeding the public approach was taking dozens of donuts to targeted companies. For example, I made about 10 different stops in the city, complete with annual reports, business cards and other material. I sought out the CEOs of targeted organizations and had a Facebook photo opportunity where possible with them and the donuts. The visits were brief, but in some cases encouraged a future visit. My favorite stops were to police and fire departments. These individuals loved the visit and deeply appreciated the relationship. In my opinion we cannot do enough for our public safety heroes who just do their job to selflessly help others on a daily basis. I used the donuts to make contacts with several hard-to-reach CEOs. Everyone said thanks and welcomed the visit.
Whether it is donuts or some other reason, at times you need to make an opportunity to reach key contacts. Ask your board or volunteers to open doors on your behalf. Everyone owns community relations. It has to be in the blood of a nonprofit professional or they are in the wrong business. You are only as good as your next relationship. Remember, it is always about time, talent or treasure! Create your own opportunity today.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.