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.

#ThrowbackThursday: Jo Ann LeSage Nelson, APR


Editor’s note: This is part of our monthly #ThrowbackThursday series, which features a prominent, successful PR pro taking a look back and sharing tips from his/her days as a new pro. Thanks for helping us out, Jo Ann!

This #ThrowbackThursday, we get to know Jo Ann LeSage Nelson, APR

Jo Ann LeSage Nelson May 2014

Question 1: What was your biggest challenge as young professional, and how did you overcome it?

I had the good fortune to have had a first boss who had been in the business for a long time and who was willing to teach me by example. He didn’t offer feedback often, however, and I came to understand that if I didn’t hear from him then I had to assume he approved of what I was doing.  As a young professional that was difficult for me for the first couple of years, but after having a conversation with him about his managerial style, it made more sense to me. I should have had the conversation sooner.

Question 2: How did you learn to network comfortably at large events like PRSA ICON?

I learned early on that showing an interest in what others are doing or thinking is a surefire way to get people to open up.  Ask questions, be curious and listen actively.

If you’re nervous about meeting new people, go into a networking event with two or three topics that you can talk about. Did you read an interesting news story today? Is there a community organization you are involved with that you want to tell others about? Did you learn something new and interesting about a client that you can share?  If you go into an event armed with some ideas it will help put you at ease.

As for large PRSA events… honestly, I think networking with other public relations professionals is easy!  Most of us like to talk a lot.

Question 3: When looking for potential employees, what young professional traits are most valuable to you?

I want to work with young professionals who are curious, creative and smart.  I firmly believe that a smart person can learn anything, even if at first the concept seems foreign or hard to grasp.  Having an intellectual curiosity goes a long way towards being successful in nearly any field, and that includes being curious about the world around you and what is happening in it.  Another trait that impresses me is a willingness to work hard, and long if necessary, to make sure something is done right.  And having personal and professional integrity is a must! (But don’t ignore the basics like strong writing skills.  You can’t be a successful public relations professional without them.)

Question 4: When did you get involved with PRSA, and what tips do you have on young professionals just joining for the first time?

In 1995 I joined a small group of professionals who were working to revitalize a dormant PRSA chapter here in New York’s Capital Region, and I’ve been involved ever since.  If you’re new to PRSA, volunteer for a committee or help out with an event.  Getting involved locally at the chapter board or committee level is the best way to get hooked on PRSA.  You’ll grow professionally through all the terrific resources and programs PRSA has to offer, meet some outstanding colleagues and make some lifetime friends.

Question 5: If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself during your first year on the job, what would you say?

I’d tell that 24 year-old starting her first public relations job that she shouldn’t doubt herself, that her instincts were often right on target.  As I said above, my boss didn’t offer a lot of feedback and so that sometimes led me to wonder if I was on the right track.  With more experience I gained more confidence and realized that I could handle any situation presented to me, as long as I did the appropriate research, asked the right questions and enlisted the help of people who had a stake in the matter.

More about Jo Ann:

Jo Ann LeSage Nelson, APR, vice president of client services for Pierce Communications, an Albany-based public relations/public affairs/crisis management firm, is responsible for strategic public relations and communications counseling for Pierce Communications clients.

Jo Ann is a member of the National Board of Directors of the Public Relations Society of America, serving a two-year term beginning January 2015. She is also a past Northeast District Chair of the PRSA, serving as the national association’s liaison to seven chapters in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. In 2010, she served as the co-chair of the Northeast District’s annual conference. Jo Ann is also a past president, Assembly delegate and accreditation chair of PRSA’s Capital Region chapter.

In November 2008, PRSA’s local chapter presented Jo Ann with the first Outstanding Public Relations Practitioner Award, given to a Capital Region public relations professional who has achieved exceptional success, displayed the highest ethics and is dedicated to serving the community and the profession.

Connect with Jo Ann on LinkedIn.