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Nonprofit PR (Public Relations) in the Real World

Written by: Sarah Patton, VP of Publication

As we know, PR is relevant in all industries. But have you considered PR work for nonprofit organizations? This may not be as traditional as the agency scene, but it could be an intriguing career path. Public relations at a nonprofit organization consists of many different things, but boredom is not one of them. A day in this field might consist of spreading awareness for the organization and cause, recruiting volunteers and coordinating fundraisers.

To gain knowledge about this career path, Gabby DiCarlo (‘20) and Julia Travagline (‘18), joined us in a nonprofit public relations panel on Jan.18. They shared their tips and advice for any new graduates looking to pursue a career in this field. Both DiCarlo and Travagline are alumni of The University of Alabama and have experience working in nonprofit organizations as public relations professionals.

After graduating from UA, DiCarlo worked for Gifts of Love, a nonprofit organization dedicated to individuals and families facing financial hardships. Gifts of Love helps those facing hardship meet their most basic needs through fresh produce. Travagline works in the nonprofit sector at the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation as the digital communications director. B+ is an organization that funds and supports childhood cancer, families who are impacted by this disease and research.

While DiCarlo now works in the financial industry, she began her career within the public relations industry at Gifts of Love. During the panel, she shared with us that an average day in her career when she was working in a nonprofit consisted of her wearing many different hats. Every day in her position was different and full of adventure. Some of her days were spent tending to the gardens at the Gifts of Love farm. A few of the organization's initiatives are supplying a food pantry, holiday meals and weekend backpack food to community members. She would farm most days and then do a little public relations for the organization in the afternoon.

“Working in nonprofit PR allowed me the opportunity to try every aspect of the communications function, from internal to external comms, social media and content creation and even graphic design and photography,” DiCarlo said.

She also shared how she sharpened the skills she learned in college and gained perspective on how each element comes together to create effective communication. In this position, DiCarlo experienced challenges such as how to get people to care about and consider social causes.

Getting people to understand the organization and care for the cause was difficult for DiCarlo. For college students looking to work in nonprofit organizations, she said to be confident and proud even if this path differs from your peers. She also added that this type of work is beneficial for communication purposes and for elevating, spreading awareness and doing the organization's greater good.

While at UA, Travagline became heavily involved with The Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation. Little did she know this organization on campus would end up being her full-time career.

“Throughout my involvement, I grew connected to the cause and was able to see my efforts as a college student directly helping families battling childhood cancer both in the Tuscaloosa community and nationwide,” Travagline said.

A bit of luck and determination led Travagline to a career at B+, where she is currently using the PR skills she gained from UA. A challenge she has faced in this industry is being a one-woman team. For the first three years of her career, she was the only employee in the public relations and marketing department. Her favorite aspect of the job is effectively telling stories and putting on huge fundraising campaigns. She has helped the organization raise $1.5 million in her five years there.

"The best advice I could give to a college student looking to work in the nonprofit field is two-fold. The first piece is to learn as many new skills as possible. Most (not all) nonprofits have small teams, so being able to wear many hats is imperative,” said Travagline. “My second piece is to learn how to effectively tell stories. This might seem obvious, but there is a true art to storytelling that people underestimate, and this is a muscle that all communicators in the nonprofit field must exercise and flex to become effective at their job.”

As public relations professionals, our main goals are to communicate, build relationships and gain awareness with our target audience. The nonprofit field is full of experiences that will challenge you to reach these goals daily. If you are intrigued and looking for a career in a nonprofit, a good place to start is by looking for an organization that spreads awareness and supports causes you are passionate about.

Check out the PRSA Job Center page to find the most recent job postings within the nonprofit industry!



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