Association/Nonprofit PR


Glamorizations of public relations usually show a chic woman in a big city, working one-on-one with clients. She attends swanky parties and always gets her clients the right attention without much more effort than snapping her fingers.

That’s what I thought would be in store for me with a career in PR when I first started studying. I daydreamed about working at an agency, managing client accounts and pitching new ideas in meetings and stories to media, mainly because that was the only real path that was discussed at length. PR people work for agencies, serving clients, right?

Wrong. There are so many other paths, so many other adventures you can go on. A quick look at PRSA’s website shows 14 different professional interest sections, representing just a handful of specialization options out there for pros to find the best fit for their skills and interests. As it turns out, nonprofit/association communications was the best fit for me.

Working for a nonprofit or association is a great way to get experience in a lot of different areas. Most nonprofits operate with limited resources, meaning an organization’s communications department may literally be a one- or two-man shop. It can be a little frightening to step in and be responsible for so many moving parts – social media, media relations, content development, creation, management and marketing, event planning, stakeholder relations, fundraising…the list could go on and on – but its equally as exciting.

Including internships, I’m currently at my fourth nonprofit/association and no two days have been identical yet. Since nonprofits and associations are typically topic- or issue-oriented, there’s a diverse array of organizations to choose from.

Here are five things I’ve found exciting about working at a nonprofit and three lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Five things I love about nonprofit/association communications:

  1. Room to take on new responsibilities
    Since most nonprofits and associations have smaller staffs with limited resources, there’s often an opportunity to take on more responsibilities than initially assigned – and you should! Communications roles in particular tend to have pretty general position descriptions focusing on the day-to-day and tactical. And while everyone does have to pitch in on the administrative work, there’s no reason you can’t set your sights higher and on something to boost your own career. Want to get more experience with the media? Suggest pitching in with the pitching. Is your organization lacking a clear communications strategy? Take the lead and volunteer to lead a couple brainstorming sessions before taking the first crack at a comprehensive strategy to define SMART goals and deliver results. When you find an opportunity to enhance your skills in a way that will ultimately benefit your organization, speak up about how you think you can help.
  2. Room for innovation
    With limited resources and budgets, there’s a lot of room for trying new things. There’s no monopoly on who can come up with great ideas, so flex your muscles and make sure you’re making time to brainstorm and keeping track of your ideas for when they might be useful. Those ideas are great to pull out of your back pocket when issues arise – true no matter the industry you’re in, but the smaller the organization, the more open they tend to be to trying new, sometimes exciting, ideas.
  3. No two organizations are the same
    While many nonprofits or associations share similarities – small in size, low operating budgets, limited resources – no two are identical. Some are issue-based, some are industry-specific and others are more general. Working in the nonprofit space doesn’t mean that your organization’s issue has to be your most passionate cause, but it’s important to care about the work you’re doing. Going in with an open mind and an interest in what you’ll be focusing on will go a long way, but understand that your experience may differ from organization to organization.
  4. You can learn a little about everything
    In my experience, there are plenty of opportunities to help with other organization functions outside of communications. No matter the organization or industry, communications touches all other departments in some way, shape or form. Whether you’re working together on projects or crossing disciplines entirely, there’s plenty of room to learn a little about everything your organization does – from operations all the way down.
  5. Flexibility
    Since there’s usually not much wiggle room as far as salary goes, there’s sometimes a bit of room to negotiate on other things. Remote work, comp time and professional development opportunities are just a few of the things you may be able to more easily ask for. In a past job, my responsibilities often included work outside of the normal 8-to-4, meaning I was working and not getting paid for it. As a way to accommodate the need to work at odd hours sometimes, I was able to negotiate flexible hours that allowed me to leave earlier in the afternoon and work later in the evening, when things would often come up.

Three lessons I’ve learned

  1. Learning how to prioritize and balance everything
    Nonprofits often have a lot going on and sometimes it can feel like you’re expected to be a jack-of-all-trades – or a court jester with all the things you’re juggling. Learning how to prioritize can be tough. Sometimes it’s difficult because there are just not enough hours in the day. Sometimes it’s because everything becomes an emergency when there wasn’t enough time or energy put into planning. Or maybe you’ve just been too busy putting out fires that something just fell to the wayside. Whatever the reason, learning to keep track of where everything that you’re responsible for stands and a method for prioritizing responsibilities in a way that works for you can go a long way in easing the stress.
  2. Making sure professional development is still a focus
    Building right of of learning to prioritize and manage your responsibilities, it’s just as important to make sure that you’re continuing to grow and learn. This can be difficult at a nonprofit, or any smaller organization really, because time and money are often both limited. Not all employers will pay for memberships in professional organizations like PRSA or for professional development opportunities like courses and conferences. If continuing to grow professionally is important to you – and it should be – you may have to take it into your own hands and make time for it outside of or around work. This isn’t always an easy thing to do and it can be frustrating to feel like your organization doesn’t support you (which it may feel like sometimes), but the connections you make at events and the opportunities that may be open to you with every new skill you learn or fine-tune will be worth the time and energy.
  3. Professional growth and knowing when it’s time to go
    If you’re continuing to grow professionally, there may come a time when your organization is no longer the best fit for you. It can often be difficult to grow within a small organization because there are a limited number of positions to fill and the only role to aspire to may be your boss’s. If you’re ready to take on more responsibilities, it’s worth having a conversation with your organization’s leadership about what you’d like to be doing and why you think you’re ready for it. There may be room to adjust, maybe a new position can be created for you and an intern or new employee can be hired to pick up some of the slack. If that’s not the case, and you feel like there isn’t room for you to continue to grow, it may be time to look for new opportunities. This shouldn’t be something done sneakily if you’ve had these conversations about being ready for more. There are plenty of tactful ways to leave for a new opportunity without feeling like you’re abandoning ship.


Image uploaded from iOSIn her third year on PRSA’s New Professionals Section’s executive committee, Robyn serves as 2018 chair-elect. She’s a native of southern New Jersey and currently resides in Washington, D.C., by way of Pittsburgh and South Carolina. Robyn currently works for Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), a trade association representing North America’s airports, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a master’s degree in media arts and technology, with a focus on creative media practices, both from Duquesne University. She likes to spend her spare time cooking, reading, exploring, crocheting and spending time with her tail-less cat, Izzy. Learn more about her on her website or find her on Twitter & talk to her!

Maximize Your Career Potential by Managing Up


Picture this: you’ve just started a new job, but your new manager isn’t as hands-on as previous supervisors or professors. Instead, you get 30-minutes of one-on-one time with them every other week and—before you can even learn how to use the printer—they expect you to show results. Yikes! Other managers may report into someone that is too hands-on—an entirely different challenge. Whatever your situation may be, learning how to work with your direct supervisor can make or break the early days of your career. The right manager can be your mentor, guide and biggest cheerleader, and it all comes down to how you manage up.

Changing Workplace Dynamics and the Keys to Managing Up
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials (ages 21 to 38) have overtaken Baby Boomers in the workforce. Did you cringe at the word “millennials”? It’s Ok. I hate that word, too. Younger generations get a bad rep – we are often pegged as needy, entitled, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy – the list goes on. What’s interesting is that we see ourselves as motivated and purpose-driven, trying to make a difference in the world.

Simon Sinek’s video about Millennials in the workforce highlights a key point that unlocks a lot of our problem here: Millennials tend to have difficulty developing meaningful relationships—especially in the workplace. They also tend to be impatient about getting to where they’re going.

The reality, as stated by Sinek, is that the key to managing up is found at the intersection of patience and relationship development.

We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave managers, not companies.” According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” (Source: Inc.)

But what makes a good manager? In my experience, the best managers are available when you need them, capable of sharing quality feedback, and able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others. While it’s easy to demand those of others,  best way to bring these characteristics out in your manager is to portray them yourselves.

Millennial psychology aside, there are some clear ways to “hack” managing up—no matter which kind of manager you have.

The Power of Quick Wins
If you’ve worked at an agency, you’ll be familiar with this concept. This is the first rule of onboarding a new account—deliver quick wins. However you define a “win,” immediately delivering on your promises and showing success can go a long way in getting the right attention from your manager.

This doesn’t only work for new relationships. In fact, this works after every performance review, weekly one-on-one meeting and more. Remind them of why they hired you and remind them that it was a good decision.

How to Ask for Feedback
How many times have you felt criticized or unappreciated at work? In those situations, I would say it’s probably because you were lacking quality feedback. There are hundreds of articles and books about giving and receiving feedback for a reason—it’s the key to every good relationship.

When giving feedback, first make sure they’re open to it. Ideally you would have already established a relationship with your manager so you can go to them with your questions and concerns. If you have a weekly 1:1 with your boss, then it’s easy—that’s your chance to talk about things that are/aren’t working.

If not, then you need to ask. It’s easiest to do that in the context of your work with them. When they come to you with a new project ask if you can discuss your concerns one-on-one. Some helpful phrases to try out:

  • “Would it be helpful to have another perspective?”
  • “Now that I’ve gotten my head around this assignment, can I talk to you about how things are going?
  • “Do you have a minute to discuss ____? I need more clarity from you on [my role, my responsibility, how we are approaching the assignment].

The key with this is to be specific and don’t get personal. If you start making generalizations or start attacking them as an individual, you could put them on the defensive, and lose your chance to be effective.

It’s worth noting that some relationships will not allow for feedback. In those situations, it’s usually a senior executive so empower yourself to do your best to see things from their perspective.

Receiving feedback is simple—all you need to do is ask:

  • “Do you mind providing feedback on this project? I’m interested in getting your thoughts so I can learn and make adjustments next time.”
  • “Did this meet your expectations?”
  • “Am I getting closer to your vision for this project? If not, where should I focus?”

Feedback should be honest (not brutal, but direct) and real-time. If you only get feedback once per year, then you only have one chance per year to improve. If you get generic responses to your questions, follow up: “Tell me more about that.”

How to Discover “Unwritten Rules”
I’m a fan of discovering “unwritten rules” by befriending the gatekeepers—like the receptionist or your boss’s assistant. You should also work to get to know the people that have been at the company longer than you—they will be a tremendous asset to you as you get to know the “way” of a company’s culture. They can also share tips for working with certain individuals (like your manager).

Unwritten doesn’t usually mean secret, so also don’t be afraid to ask. You’re probably not the first person to do so.

Why Personalities Matter in the Workplace
In Meyers-Briggs, I’m an ENTJ. That means I’m extroverted, intuitive, a thinker and judging (i.e., logical and decisive). The better you understand yourself, the better you can help others to understand you. And for someone to truly manage me, they need to understand me—it works the other way, too.

Understanding how your manager processes information is something I’m still learning—my manager internally processes information and needs more time to think before coming back to me with feedback. I, on the other hand, externally process everything—meaning I like to talk it out with you right then and there until we come to a resolution.

Get to know your manager and be curious about how they think. Learn to anticipate their questions based on their priorities. Understand that everyone is different, and it would be unreasonable to assume otherwise.

What it Means to Set Expectations
Understanding what your manager wants from you—and vice versa—comes down to how you communicate expectations. Be clear about what’s expected up front so there are no surprises (or disappointments) down the road. How do you do that? Have a process. First, ask questions and repeat what you’re hearing. Then, put it in writing (e.g., in an email) and get them to agree to it.

Communications for Communicators
Practice what you preach. Sometimes we can be so client-focused that we forget to utilize our own best practices. Try creating your own formal strategy, just as you would with any client, for how you communicate with your manager. Pre-empt their asks by being proactive. If your manager ever has to come to you and ask you for a status report, you’re too late in getting it to them.

Learn to anticipate the questions of your manager: what are they being held accountable for? That’s what they’re going to ask you about. Find a way to let them know the status of what you’re working on so they don’t have to come looking for you.

In closing, managing up is a challenge because managing people is hard. Be patient with yourself and with your manager. Everyone is on a journey and learning at their own pace.

And the key to any management relationship—up or down—is not management, but the relationship. Take your boss out for coffee and get to know her. That relationship will be the key to your success.

Scott ThornburgAbout the Author
Scott W. Thornburg, APR, is an accredited marketing communications leader with nearly a decade of global agency and in-house experience. Passionate about his work, he is known for thoughtful management of complex issues, careful attention to detail and high-impact leadership. Scott has been a strategic communications adviser for top global brands like Oracle, ExxonMobil, Dell, Cirque du Soleil, Hard Rock, Nasdaq, (acquired by LinkedIn) and more. He now works as a senior public relations manager for Sojern, a travel marketing and advertising technology company. He’s a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi (2010), with a degree in journalism, and an emphasis in public relations. Scott is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and serves on the organization’s national board.

Join PRSA New Pros at PRSA ICON


The PRSA New Professionals Section is very excited to announce our networking session during the upcoming PRSA International Conference in Indianapolis from Oct. 23-25!

PRSA New Pros will host a networking breakfast and discussion on Oct. 23 featuring:

  • Updates from the New Pros Section leaders
  • Information on how you can get more involved
  • A guest speaker from the PRSA Board
  • 30-minute networking and Q&A session to meet new pros from around the country


We would love our members’ input on what you would like included during the networking time. Please comment below with any ideas around what would be most beneficial to you during the networking session. Feel free to also pre-submit questions you would like to ask during the Q&A portion, which will include discussion with other New Pros to help solve challenges you’ve faced professionally. You may also submit ideas and questions via email to Jess Noonan, Heather Harder and/or Ruthann Campbell or tweet us @PRSANewPros.

Please RSVP for the breakfast here.

We look forward to seeing you at #PRSAICON!

 —The New Pros Committee Chairs

5 Tips to Generate Engagement in Your Chapter’s New Pros Committee


There are plenty of things you could be doing right now besides reading this blog. Working out, binge watching House of Cards, or going to a happy hour with friends. Those are things new professionals in your local PRSA chapter could also be doing. Wouldn’t you rather have them attend PR events you host?

What can we do to make our events as valuable as possible in our efforts to create positive, professional engagement? Make no mistake, we are the future faces of PR in our communities – it’s important to build relationships with each other now and grow professionally. Engaging our local new pros is a great way to facilitate that. PRSA-NCC, the Washington, D.C. chapter, has a few tips for growing attendance at your new pros events:

1) Secure sponsors. Your members are a valuable audience. We encourage you to take advantage of that. Many companies are eager to strategically partner on events where their audience will be in attendance. We recently hosted our second annual “Headshots and Happy Hour” at Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in D.C. Microsoft sponsored the space, as well as our food and beverage. The space came equipped with touch screens of Bing Maps, interactive displays and the latest Microsoft technology. Also, if you have a photographer in your chapter, approach him or her about taking the headshots at a reduced rate. Headshots are normally very expensive, so this is a great way for new pros to update their LinkedIn profile photos to be more professional. And, they can mingle with some new people at the same time.

2) Host events in the evening. It’s difficult for many new professionals to get away from the office during the day. Our networking happy hours typically run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. That way, people who get off work early won’t have too much time to kill before the event and people who get off a little later know they can still make most of it.

3) Take advantage of your city. We host a Washington Nationals baseball game networking event each year. Tickets are inexpensive and it gives people a chance to mingle in a more informal, relaxed setting. It’s often quite expensive to rent pre-game networking space from the ballpark, so just pick a designated location where your group can meet to network before the game starts.

4) Be strategic about venues. A lot of restaurants are more than willing to be accommodating. They may offer free, designated space for your group to mingle. They often have happy hour prices on drinks and appetizers, and even more inexpensive platter options. For professional development events, ask around in the chapter for whose office might have a space large enough to host your group. Maybe they’d even be willing to sponsor appetizers and beverages so you can keep the registration cost low for members.

5) Offer professional development events for a variety of audiences. Our most popular professional development event focused on personal branding—obviously a topic that appeals to new professionals looking to position themselves for career growth. It’s also appealing to more seasoned PR professionals looking to either hire for their organizations or move on to other positions. Offering topics that bring professionals from many levels together is a great way to facilitate networking among professionals representing different career stages.

Thank you for skipping House of Cards to read this blog. What strategies have worked well for engaging new pros in your chapter? We’d love to hear and share them!

KWiggins Headshot


Katelynn Wiggins is co-chair of the PRSA-NCC New Professionals committee and assistant director of staff initiatives at the American Psychological Association.






KPospisil Headshot


Kelsey Pospisil is co-chair of the PRSA-NCC New Professionals committee and client engagement & media relations manager at News Generation, Inc.

Finding a Home for Career and Personal Growth in Your Local PRSA Chapter

It was a cold Tuesday night in January of 2014. We didn’t really know what to expect that night. Would people be nice? Would people want to talk? Will everyone else already know each other? Well, at least there’s free wine.

We met each other that night at the PRSA-NCC Leadership Rally – and within the next year we would become co-chairs of the newly developed New Professionals committee, and one of each other’s closest friends in this beautiful, historical, pant-suit wearing, House of Cards city.Finding a Home for Career and Personal Growth in Your Local PRSA Chapter

As melodramatic as that description might be, PRSA-NCC has provided us both a home in the District of Columbia PR community. It has offered us an avenue to improve and expand our skills and talents and a venue in which to connect with other professionals at all different stages in their careers.

Our professional skills and networks have grown exp
onentially since embarking on this journey of chairing a committee. Planning and executing monthly events, managing a committee of nearly 20 people and constantly being on the lookout for job opportunities for PRSA-NCC’s newest professionals has given us the opportunity to learn skills we might not have ever been exposed to in our day-to-day work.

In the world of PR, a good network can be just as important as a skill set. So while the PRSA-NCC New Professionals committee does host a couple of professional development events each year, most of our events are networking heavy. They enable new professionals of all ages to go through this journey together. We share ideas, challenges, lessons learned – and a lot of laughs.

For example, in 2015 we have planned six happy hours – one with free professional headshots – two professional development events, one networking baseball game and one cross-industry networking event. We could not have done this without the help of the wonderful New Pros committee members and the support of our local chapter, PRSA-NCC.

Don’t have a New Professionals committee in your local chapter? Start one! It’s a great way to get even more out of the already great experience PRSA membership has to offer. If your chapter already has one, join the committee. Get out there, network, challenge your skill set and offer your talents.

Katelynn Wiggins and Kelsey Pospisil are co-chairs of the National Capital Chapter’s New Professionals Committee. Katelynn is the public relations associate at the American Psychological Association and Kelsey is the client engagement and media relations manager at News Generation.