Roles Changing Dramatically for PR Pros in Nonprofits

Christine Rowett was working as Media Relations Director for the nonprofit Maryland Science Center last year when the axe fell. With tourism down sharply in the D.C. metro area because of the war on terrorism, as well as the D.C. area sniper attacks, something had to give. So Rowett, along with nine others, including the promotions manager, was let go. Several months later, Rowett landed as PR manager at The Enterprise Foundation, a Columbia, Md.-based nonprofit that supports and creates low-income housing nationwide. She's content with the new gig but still thinks the Maryland Science Center made a big mistake in wiping out its PR staff. "As a nonprofit with a long history - it was founded in 1975 -- it needs someone to promote full time," she says. "I was very successful when I was there at establishing great relationships [with members of the media] and created a lot of exposure for the center's events and people. I don't think they are getting the kind of exposure they would be getting if they had a full-time PR person." Rowett's story points to the dilemma currently faced by nonprofit and associations alike when deciding how much to invest in PR. On the one hand, they're struggling to compete for charitable dollars and membership dues, which have become even more difficult to come by post-September 11. And when push comes to shove, financially PR departments are often the first to go. On the other hand, both associations and nonprofits understand that if they want to maintain their visibility they need to offer competitive salaries to attract and retain the kind of PR pro who can take a communications plan and make it fly. "Some nonprofits have become very sophisticated in understanding the role of a PR director and are keeping that in mind as they grow," says Gayle Brandel, president of New York-based Professionals for NonProfits Inc., which provides both temporary and permanent staffing to the nonprofit sector and whose clients include the Safe Horizon, the National Council on Economic Education and the American Red Cross of Greater New York. "But most nonprofit organizations are not that sophisticated and see [PR] as a luxury, so they'll cut it when budgets are tight." The percentage of communications executives Brandel's firm has placed in nonprofits the last few years has been between 10%-15% of the overall business, down significantly from the go-go years of the late 1990s. But things are apparently picking up. "As institutions bring more staff in, those positions that had been most vulnerable, like PR, will be brought back into the fold," Brandel says. New Demands The demands nonprofits and associations are putting on PR pros are changing drastically. In addition to having the right PR chops, PR execs now have to familiarize themselves with the organization's entire DNA. "Five years ago, nonprofits would find a person with solid communications skills and were less concerned about the industry they came from," says Jim Zaniello, an executive recruiter for Alexandria, Va.-based Association Strategies Inc., an executive search firm specializing in nonprofits. "Now they require both. If it's a financial institution they're going to want a [PR person] with experience at other financial institutions." Indeed, PR execs working for nonprofits and associations now have to learn yet another skill that would have been unthinkable even three years ago: how to be a rainmaker. "There's been a change in focus [among PR jobs] at associations and nonprofits where PR people are being asked to help build the business," says Ted Chaloner, president of Chaloner Associates Inc., an executive search firm based in Boston specializing in marketing, communications and public relations. Clients include Children's Hospital in Boston and Millenium Pharmaceuticals. "Everyone has gotten serious about selling, including nonprofit organizations. And the PR role now includes development and fundraising." Another change: with so many PR pros from the rough-and-tumble world of commercial PR walking the streets these days, their appeal has started to increase among nonprofit firms and trade associations. Bill Heyman, president-CEO of Heyman Associates, a New York-based executive search firm in PR and communications, says nonprofits are a bit more open- minded about recruiting PR executives who aren't from the nonprofit world. "They're saying if it costs a bit more for someone who is market-savvy, they're willing to raise the [salary] bar...The PR jobs at nonprofits and associations are much more strategic, where they need to meld the overall message of the organization with general communications." Salary Levels Across the Board Looking at the other side of the coin, compensation for PR pros working in the nonprofit and associations worlds depends on how the organization is dealing with a still- slackening economy. A lot also depends on geography and size of the organization. But most important is the amount of the overall budget. For instance, nonprofit budgets around $5 million garner salaries for communications executives ranging from $50,000-$55,000; budgets in the neighborhood of $10 million garner between $65,000 and $80,000, while nonprofit organizations with budgets exceeding $20 million can offer upwards of $100,000 to PR directors and managers. Although they don't earn as much as PR execs working in the commercial space, PR execs at nonprofits and associations haven't suffered the depletions in salaries compared with the commercial side, say industry observers. Alan Greilsamer, director of communications for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, says salaries for the fund's two-person PR staff have increased about 4% in the last few years compared with anywhere from 5% to 12% during the boom times. For the most part, salaries at the corporate and agency levels are flat or barely registering an increase. (See PR NEWS, July 28, 2003) But in return for maintaining their salaries, PR execs who want to work for a nonprofit firm have to be prepared to take on communication responsibilities for an organization's entire food chain. The PR skill sets demanded seem to be increasing exponentially. "At a nonprofit you really have to be jack of all trades," Greilsamer says. "You have to learn all facets of communication, from writing a press release all the way to distributing it through different technologies...The job is a lot more multidimensional." Job Scorecard Do-goodism no longer cuts it for communication executives who want to get work in the nonprofit arena. The PR skill sets demanded by non-profit organizations these days are not unlike the PR skill sets sought in the private sector, reflecting the intense competition in the marketplace. Following is a job scorecard created by Chaloner Associates Inc., a Boston-based executive recruitment firm, for a neighboring non-profit organization in the market for a PR manager.   Yes No Comments Sufficient nonprofit and business experience to manage HH operation Strategic thinking with solid grounding in tactics A collaborator who can build consensus at all levels and can contribute to a senior management team Entrepreneurial, with a track record of success in development Leadership skills; can sell ideas Executive presence; able to work effectively with board of directors Energetic and enthusiastic Deep knowledge of the industry and its future Has managed and developed staff so that they contributed more to the business A style that will work well in the HH culture Source: Chaloner Associates Inc. Contacts: Gayle Brandel, 212.546.9091,; Ted Chaloner, 617.451.5179, x22,; Alan Greilsamer, 202.393.0090,; Bill Heyman, 212.784.2717, Christine Rowett, 410.772.2433,; Jim Zaniello, 703.683.8052, Editor's Note: For Part I of our salary survey focusing on pay for PR execs working in the corporate and agency arenas, please go to the article archives at

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