Colfax Community Network (CCN) is local a nonprofit that advocates for and works on behalf of children and families residing in low-income, residential motels along Colfax Avenue. I have been a board member for about a year and a half and I am continuously inspired by the difficult but critical work they do in the community.
Being on the board has been a rewarding experience but I have wanted to do more. Specifically, I have been hoping to find a more concrete way to translate my communications experience to CCN’s PR and marketing needs. Therefore, when executive director Jennifer Herrera indicated that she wanted to “get a lot of press” out of the 2013 summer food program launch, I knew I could make a real difference.
Soon I found myself in charge of the PR launch for the summer food program with the help Jennifer and of another board member who is deeply connected in the Aurora civic leadership community. It can be very easy to bite off more than you can chew when volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, and on some days I felt I had inadvertently crossed that bridge.
For any readers who are communications professionals volunteer regularly and/or sit on one or more boards, I’d like to share my recommendations for how to do your best work for a nonprofit on a volunteer basis:
- Set expectations early with the nonprofit board, executive director and any other key players. In the case of CCN, I counseled Jennifer from the start that a media event with a two-hour window for media attendance and strong visuals would be a better fit than a formal press conference. This lowered the pressure to have compelling speaker support for formal remarks and negated the need for any audio/visual equipment or a podium/stage, none of which would have been covered in CCN’s tight budget.
- Counsel your executive director or similar contact on all the approvals you need secured before any conversations with the media can take place. For CCN, that meant having Jennifer update numerous summer food program partners – including Hunger Free Colorado, Food Bank of the Rockies, Lunchbox Express and We Don’t Waste – on CCN’s specific PR outreach strategy and secure approvals on a joint press release that was shared with media and city council members.
- Conduct a media training session or refresher, even if it’s fairly informal. Executive directors for small nonprofits often will not have had the time or resources to go through a formal training and when top tier media begin to bite on interviews, it can be easy to get nervous and stray from key messages. A fellow board member helped conduct a short refresher for Jen prior to her interviews on 9News and despite a very rushed morning segment, Jennifer delivered all of her key messages clearly and concisely—resulting in a huge win for CCN early the week of the launch. The training continued to come in handy when The Denver Post, Channel 7, Channel 8 and the Aurora Sentinel all came to the media launch event and asked to get sound bites from her.
In the end, being able to tap into my local media contacts on behalf of CCN proved to be invaluable for the organization and I am extremely proud of the work we did as a team to launch the program. CCN gained new volunteers from the positive press mentions and the program partners also received considerable exposure, at no cost to them.
It can seem impossible to step back from the client grind and find “down time” to write and pitch on a volunteer basis. But a little can go a very long way for an important cause. I urge you to get involved!