Pro Bono Work: Professional Development for a Good Cause


By Elizabeth McGlone

My pro bono work for nonprofits started with a rejection letter.

I had applied for a position at a PR agency but wasn’t selected. I was disappointed but also determined to learn from the experience. My first step was to get advice about how to become a better job candidate for future opportunities. A contact at that same PR agency suggested

pro bono work as a great way to build my own skillsets while also helping an organization that was probably short-handed when it came to PR.

It was one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

Finding the right organization.

I began researching nonprofits in my area that do work for causes I am passionate about. One non-profit in particular stood out to me, National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Indiana, and with my top choice in mind, I reached out to the organization.

NAMI was thrilled that I was interested in doing pro bono work for them! In fact, my point of contact had been a PR volunteer who later transitioned into a full-time role in their communications department.

Getting the right experience.

In my first conversations with NAMI, I made it clear that I was looking for an opportunity to gain experience in areas of PR that I hadn’t previously had exposure to, namely media relations.

Fortunately, this fit with NAMI’s needs and my timing was perfect. Their annual mental health and criminal justice summit was approaching and they needed help writing promotional content and getting media coverage.

The summit has since concluded, but it was incredibly satisfying to see the results of my hard work. I was tasked with finding media coverage of the event and secured a local reporter who published an article on the mental health program discussed in the workshop. This is publicity and attention that the program may not have received otherwise.

Working through the challenges.

Although my pro bono work for NAMI was extremely rewarding, it hasn’t been without its obstacles.

One of the biggest challenges was nurturing the relationship with NAMI and meeting the deadlines and goals that I set for myself. This wasn’t easy with a full-time job, other volunteer commitments, and my own hobbies that I also had to balance. NAMI’s employees also had their own responsibilities and it was my responsibility to maintain open lines of communication. I had to be proactive and persistent, providing updates on my tasks and asking for new ones. Each week I blocked out time on my calendar to work on NAMI-related items so I could make steady progress and meet deadlines.

Overall, my experience was enjoyable and invaluable to my professional development. It is fulfilling to know that my expertise is helping a cause I am passionate about, and it’s exciting to watch my skillsets grow. I’m excited to see how this opportunity grows and changes, and also what other opportunities the future holds.

What do you do to volunteer your PR services to nonprofits? What is most important to you when you look for a volunteer opportunity?


Elizabeth McGlone a native Hoosier and a Digital Marketing Coordinator at Pinnacle Solutions Incorporated. She is an active member of the PRSA Hoosier Chapter, serves as a committee member of the Professional Development Special Events/Networking Committee, and is a co-chair for the New Pros Committee. In her spare time, Elizabeth does pro bono PR work for local nonprofits, including NAMI and Phi Beta Kappa Alpha Association of Indiana, and also enjoys biking and backpacking. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Transitioning Beyond Being a “New PR Professional”

The years I’ve spent on the New Professionals Section Executive Committee have been some of the most valuable to me as a budding PR pro fresh out of college. I find it hard to believe that more than five years have passed since I graduated and even harder to believe that I can no longer call myself a new professional.

“Fake it until you make it” has been my personal and professional motto for quite some time, but after experiencing quite a few PR agencies and finding a niche industry I really enjoy, I no longer feel like I’m faking it. I feel ready to move on from the “new professional” label and onto the next chapter.

What is that new chapter, though? Mid-level positions can feel like limbo – maybe you’re managing a few junior staffers at an agency and leading client accounts or acting as a one-person communications team in-house. You’re still absorbing knowledge from those above you, but you have enough expertise to coach and guide both team members and clients alike. Mid-level positions come in all different shapes and sizes, which often makes it difficult to arrange a formal group for folks passing the five-year mark in PRSA.

However, you are not alone as you transition out of the New Professionals Section. PRSA offers many other opportunities to stay involved:

  • If you’ve found a specialty within PR that you enjoy, consider joining another PRSA Section. Finding professionals with the same interests as you helps you exchange ideas and discuss current trends, with professional development opportunities directed specifically for your industry.
  • One of the biggest requests we get in the New Pros Section is the opportunity to connect on a local level. PRSA Chapters are an excellent way to network within the city you live or would like to live, recruit talent or find a new position and meet industry influencers in the area.
  • Free online training and professional development is one of the most valuable benefits of PRSA membership. If you aren’t taking advantage of the library of on-demand and live webinars/teleseminars on, you’re missing out. Browse the site when you have free time and you’ll discover a wealth of topics to dig into deeper and continue your personal growth.
  • If you have the chance, PRSA International Conference is the annual event to learn, network and grow in the PR profession. Sessions range from nitty-gritty tactics to bigger picture strategy advice for mid-level professionals who may straddle both sides of the practice. PRSA International Conference visits Atlanta this year and will surely be an event to remember!

Of course, don’t forget about your New Pros roots! Feel free to keep enjoying our monthly Twitter chats at #NPPRSA, blog posts here and conversations on Facebook and LinkedIn. All of us were new professionals at one point in our careers, and our members learn from your experiences and advice. Please continue to share it.

Are you passing the five-year mark and wondering how to stay involved? Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@hsliwinski) or LinkedIn. Wishing you the best of luck in the next stage of your career!


Heather Sliwinski

Immediate Past Chair, New Professionals Section

Joining your local PRSA Chapter: Consider the benefits

Is it just me, or is the term “new pro” often synonymous with “person in transition”?

306214_10150791409076513_1976218223_nMany reading this post are soon-to-be graduates, preparing to leave their college comforts and launch their careers. Others may be nearing their first or second work anniversary, trying to master the ins and outs of post-grad life. Some may be transitioning from entry-level positions to mid-level ones, seeking guidance in their new roles.

It’s difficult to believe nearly four years passed since I transitioned from college student to new professional. Although I was an active PRSSA member throughout college, I chose to postpone PRSA involvement. I waited one year to join PRSA on a local and national level, and looking back, I truly wish I joined sooner. I missed out on so many opportunities to network and gain the support I desperately needed as a budding new pro in an unfamiliar city.

If you’re a soon-to-be grad or new professional considering whether to join your local PRSA Chapter, please consider the benefits local membership provides.

Finding mentors

Think of your local PRSA Chapter as a trusted support group that wants to see you succeed. It’s laden with seasoned professionals who can offer guidance as you begin your career.

My local PRSA Chapter connected me with peers and seasoned pros who helped me navigate the post-grad waters. Throughout my career, I’ve met several mentors via social media: but in the end, there’s nothing better than chatting with professionals face to face. Local mentors offer so many opportunities to engage, whether it’s discussing topics over coffee or connecting at a PRSA event.

Seeking new opportunities

Considering a new gig? Trying to land your first post-grad career opportunity? Your local PRSA Chapter is an amazing place to start. In addition to career tools (such a job boards,) your Chapter offers endless chances to build relationships vital to your success. Networking is all about cultivating relationships, and your local Chapter is a valuable resource.

Continuing education

College students often take learning for granted. Once the coursework is complete and you receive your diploma, it’s up to you to gain new skills and pursue higher education.

PRSA offers programs that help sharpen your skills and expand your public relations toolkit. Considering earning your APR? Wondering if an MBA is right for you? Your local Chapter can offer support as you shape your career path.

Cultivating friendships

When I moved to Columbus, Ohio in May 2010, I could count the Columbus residents I knew with my two hands.

When I graduated, no one warned me how difficult it can be to foster new friendships after college. Making new friends demands a little extra effort and a proactive approach.

My local PRSA Chapter gave me so much more than opportunities to learn and network: It gave me a chance to turn professional acquaintances into friends. Many of my local Chapter peers initially bonded over common career goals and interests, but our professional relationships eventually grew into friendships.

PRSA Chapter members: What’s your favorite local PRSA Chapter benefit?


f84bd73ce090253a0d12b7e23f8ddd65Rebecca Odell manages marketing and communications at Big Red Rooster: a multidimensional brand experience firm. She’s an active Central Ohio PRSA member and co-chairs the Chapter’s New Professionals Section. You can reach her via email, Twitter or LinkedIn

Introducing Your 2014 Section Executive Committee

We’re excited to introduce your 2014 PRSA New Professionals Section Executive Committee! This team has committed to a year of helping you develop as a public relations professional. We’ll do this by connecting you to valuable industry resources, providing thought leadership across disciplines and offering opportunities for you to network with peers across the country.

To kick the year off and get to know them a little better, we’ve asked our Committee members to share their favorite benefit of being a PRSA member. Check out their responses and get involved!

Heather Sliwinski, Section chair
PRSA has added immeasurable value to my early PR career – not only have I found every PR job I’ve had through connections I’ve made through PRSA, but the opportunities for professional development through free webinars and in-person conferences are tremendous. If you’re on a budget, there are a host of Twitter chats, like our #NPPRSA, and online content to browse through to keep upping your PR game. PRSA people and programs are such a fantastic resource for all new professionals.

Nick Lucido, Section chair-elect and membership co-chair
My favorite part about PRSA is being able to connect with fellow members across disciplines and regions to build my network. Having a strong network is essential for new professionals and PRSA is an incredibly powerful tool to aid you in building this cohort.

JR Rochester, membership co-chair
My favorite benefit from PRSA is the availability of mentorship and professional development. PRSA is made up with thousands of professionals who have a wealth of knowledge in all areas of PR and can guide you as you grow in your career. The PRSA Mentor Match is a great resource made available as well.

Jessica Noonan, blog co-chair
I enjoy attending PRSA events in person, especially the PRSA International Conference. While engaging online is always available, nothing is more valuable than face-to-face interaction with industry leaders. We also have some specific opportunities to engage as a new professional at the annual conference!

Lauren Gray, blog co-chair
The best parts of being a PRSA member are the professional connections and professional development opportunities. It’s been very valuable to connect with other professionals to build my network and attend national events, webinars and other learning opportunities as I continue to grow.

Robert Martin, newsletter co-editor
The webinars are something that I value about my PRSA membership. The on-demand archive has a helpful webinar for nearly every industry topic you can think of, and participating in a live webinar (many of which are free for members) is a great opportunity to network and share ideas with other PR professionals.

CNJ HeadshotCandace Johnson, newsletter co-editor
I appreciate PRSA’s commitment to helping new professionals transition from college life into the work force. Besides the very useful professional development webinars available, my favorite benefit of PRSA is the opportunity to cultivate mentorships. The supportive, professional connections are invaluable. I am continually inspired to develop into my best professional self by the members I have had the opportunity to meet.

Janelle Huelsman, programming co-chair
My favorite benefit of PRSA is meeting, networking and learning with fellow members. PRSA offers great opportunities for New Pros to collaborate with their peers on industry trends and insights, and it also allows us to learn from more experienced practitioners who are constantly setting high standards for our field and the Society.

Hilary Jurinak, programming co-chair
I love that PRSA offers access to thousands of industry experts in the PR field which allows for endless networking, industry insight and new career opportunities. The networking opportunities have been valuable for my professional development and I enjoy making new connections through national and local PRSA events.

Amy Bishop, social media co-chair
Professional development experiences are one of my favorite parts of my PRSA membership. Attending PRSA International Conference, listening to webinars on-demand and attending district events are an excellent way to continue to learn about the industry and connect with other professionals.

Lauren Rosenbaum, social media co-chair
My favorite PRSA benefit is the vast amount of resources we have access to as members, whether it be publications like Issues & Trends, Public Relations Tactics, The Public Relations Strategist or the opportunity to look through award-winning campaigns. I appreciate the team that puts these resources together so we can all continue learning and growing together as a Society, and so I can always be a student of my craft.

Nicole Bersani, mentorship co-chair
In college, PRSSA was a great way to network. Now, in PRSA as a new professional, that is still true but it is at a whole different level. What I love most about PRSA it that it gives us the opportunity to connect with and learn from hundreds of new to senior professionals – and all around the globe.

Mike DeFlippis, mentorship co-chair
One of my favorite PRSA membership benefits, among others, is the free online webinars throughout the year. As public relations practitioners know all too well, we have hectic schedules.  These webinars (available on-demand after their first run!) are a fantastic resource to keep up with industry trends, helping you bring even more value to your clients every single day.

Simon Oh, diversity liaison
My favorite benefit of PRSA is the abundant networking and learning opportunities that give me a better sense of how I can become a competent public relations professional. From meeting with professionals in person to attending PRSA International Conference sessions, there’s always something new and insightful to learn that can strengthen your professional profile.

Jessica Lawlor, PRSSA liaison
How can I choose just one PRSA benefit?! Besides the fantastic networking, conferences and leadership opportunities, I really love the PRSA Issues & Trends e-newsletter that hits my inbox each morning as I sit down at my desk to start my day. The useful stories, links and tips included keep me up-to-date on the latest happenings and trends in the PR industry in a quick and easy-to-read format.

Scott Thornburg, PRSSA liaison
Like many people, the concept of “public relations” was a little fuzzy until after I had some work experience under my belt. Even then, PRSA taught me most of what I know about my current profession. The mentorship, connections and professional advice have been invaluable to me.