Posts tagged relationship management

PR and Development: Let’s be friends

Thesis update: I just found out last week that I can’t publish any results of my thesis research on my blog if I want to be eligible for future publication in an academic journal. I was looking forward to sharing some of my insights but I guess I’ll have to hold off on that for a bit. What I can do is share some of my secondary research from my literature review and also talk about my process. This Friday I defend my thesis and find out whether or not my work is up to the Honors College standards. My fingers are crossed.


One thing I’ve drawn from my experiences writing my thesis and exploring career opportunities is the absolute inter-relatedness of public relations and development. Although scholars cite development as a function of public relations, it appears not to work out this way in many nonprofit organizations. Instead, public relations and development operations occur in separate departments. In fact, Kathleen Kelly, a highly-regarded researcher in the field, found that subordination of the public relations function by the development department occurred frequently in nonprofit organizations. In other words, development staff were controlling or influencing public relations activities, which could result in an unbalanced focus on donor relations at the expense of building relationships with other valuable stakeholder groups (i.e. clients/customers, legislators, community members, volunteer groups, etc.). Any way you look at it, public relations and development can’t exist exclusively of the other; they are bound to interact because both departments share (or should share) similar goals: building beneficial relationships with stakeholder groups through communication and behavior.

In my personal experience, my public relations education in the School of Journalism and Communication has been questioned or at least misunderstood by a few people in its applicability to development work. To me, it seems a perfect background to prepare me for development work, but others are confused: “Journalism? Don’t you want to work for a newspaper?” some people ask. But if journalism is essentially about communication, and communication is essential to successful relationship building, and relationship building is essential to successful public relations, and good public relations includes the function of development THEN it follows that a PR major is a great tool for going into development work.

Clearly, I’m starting to rant a bit but bear with.

In the end, what I mean to convey is that it’s all about relationships. Not just relationships between different operational tasks (like fund raising, donor relations, media outreach, etc.) but, perhaps more importantly, the relationships we cultivate between various communities. Successful development strategies MUST include relationship building in order to create long-term connections with people. Growing relationships between individuals – who have their own unique needs, desires, motivations, and interests – and organizations is incredibly valuable, nay, essential, to encouraging the sustainability and fruition of nonprofit (and for-profit, for that matter) organizations.

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It’s almost here…

My thesis deadline and defense.

Getting a job!



Moving back to Portland (granted I can find an apartment).

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Probably nothing, because the traffic on this blog has dwindled to next to nothing so chances are nobody’s reading this. Sad. But I PROMISE I will be back (but not with a vengeance) come June. Think of all the exciting things I’ll have to share! Yes, shamelessly plugging my future posts…

(my mind is whirling with thoughts)

Anyway, what’s happening now is I’m editing the first draft of my thesis to submit to my committee on Tuesday. I’m sitting at about 70 or 80 pages – much to my own surprise. I’ve uncovered some really remarkable stuff and I wish I could sit down with each one of you event planner/pr pros/students/anyone who will listen because that’s easier than trying to write it all. Wait, I am writing it all. But, like I said, it’s 70-80 pages and nobody wants to read that. But when I have a second I will post on young professional donors, donor motivations, benefits of special events for nonprofits, relationship management and special events, and so on. Basically, it’s about kick-ass strategies to make friends with your publics/audiences/guests/donors/communities and develop mutually beneficial relationships rather than just asking for money or telling people what they should think, feel, and do. It’s better in the long-term and much more fun.

So I hope the little teaser piqued your interest. Stand by for more.

P.S. The job search is going well; I’ve got my first big interview in 2 days. Thrilling!

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Back from Mexico

After 10 of some of the most exhausting, fun, and rewarding days of my life, I find myself back in Eugene, sitting in front of my computer, feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of jumping back into the blogosphere after an almost completely internet and technology-free week and a half.

Mexico was amazing. Never before have I been honored to help lead such a remarkable group of high school students and adults. The kids this year were truly unique. To be honest, I think high school and college comprise periods in our life in which we are possibly the most self-centered and oblivious to the thoughts and needs of others. I don’t mean this to sound as bad as it does. I just mean that in my experience, ESPECIALLY in college, we are taught to think primarily about ourselves – who we are as individuals, what it is we want to do with our lives, and what we must do to achieve our own personal goals. We don’t yet have spouses or families to be responsible to; nor do we own homes or hold steady jobs. We don’t HAVE to think about anyone above ourself. In some ways, that’s good. It’s important to discover and establish ourselves in the world. Putting yourself first isn’t always wrong.

But on the trip this year, the collection of selfless, compassionate, accepting and respectful souls blew me away. Despite it being a group of nearly 50 high schoolers, I didn’t see any cliques! No alienation or social ostracism. Everyone genuinely seemed to engage with everyone else. And everyone benefited from that.

My role on the trip this year was also a step up from the past. It was my first year as a “site foreman,” which means I was responsible for the construction of a standard Amor home (11′ x 22′, 2 windows, 1 door). I was the second female site leader and the youngest ever in our group’s 20 year history of doing the trip. As such, I had high expectations for myself; I wanted to prove to myself that I had the gumption, leadership, and expertise to do a good job. I’m proud to say we finished it, with time to spare! In 4 years we haven’t finished a home, but this year 3 of the 4 site leaders finished. A testament to our group I think. As a site leader, I was surprised by how mentally exhausting the process was, but also surprised by how naturally much of it came to me. I’m glad I accepted the invitation to serve the group this way.

With regards to my professional interest in events and relationship management, I think I learned a lot from this experience. Too much to relate here. But here a few quick tidbits:

  • Engaging in hands-on activities is great for building relationships. The necessity of cooperation and teamwork allows individuals to interact positively in pursuit of a common goal. Students and adults who might not have spoken to one another otherwise developed friendships through challenges like building a wall together.
  • Be honest and open about setbacks. When our bus broke down on the trip down through California, the students were less put-out by the inconvenience of it than by the leaders’ lack of communication about the problem. Admitting a mistake garners respect; hiding it hurts trust.
  • Put faith in others (but don’t be afraid to check-in, advise, and supervise). I was nervous about trusting the completion of certain elements of building the house to students; then I reminded myself that as a high school student I was capable of many of these tasks. I was not disappointed in the work of the students under my supervision but under their own leadership. The finished house looked great!
  • Love conquers all. Okay this one’s pretty cheesy. But all I mean is that, at the end of the day, it’s who we are as people that matters. If we are loving, ultimately we will do good. The talent, the brains, the experience – that’s all important. But the first, last, and most important quality we must have, in order to truly succeed, is love. Love to make us understanding of others, responsive to their needs, patient and respectful, and invested in their personal outcome.

I think that’s enough for now. Stay tuned for my updates on the job search. Hint: it’s most definitely still on.

Here are some more beautiful images from the trip, courtesy of Spencer Mason Roberts:

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Brr! This PR blanket isn’t working

Using “PR” as a blanket term can be problematic for several reasons. Unfortunately, it seems like people either associate public relations with specific tactics such as press releases or they think of it as a means to attracting publicity (as in “publicity stunts”) and controlling reputation. Worst of all, public relations is sometimes vilified as “spinning” the news in order to protect client interests. 

Many leading thinkers in public relations research, however, define PR as “the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends” (Cutlip, Center, and Broom. Effective Public Relations. 1985). In other words, public relations is about managing relationships, not spitting out generic press releases or creatively explaining why a certain starlet was photographed sans undies.

With this definition of PR, it is easy to see how activities like fund-raising, maintaining a blog, hosting events, or publishing podcasts can all fit under the public relations blanket. Matthew Stibbe, editor in chief of Articulate Marketing, however, does not follow this definition of PR in his recent post “27 Proven Freelance Marketing Tips”on his blog, Bad Language. I was checking out this post in hopes of gaining some advice for marketing myself as a job candidate and potentially later if I start my own business. In his post, he argues that PR “doesn’t work,” along with fancy business cards, cold-calling, and mail shots. He lumps PR – a management function – in with specific tactics. I agree that business cards and brochures can not stand alone as a method of marketing your freelance business. But I found it interesting that Stibbe listed blogging and website maintenance as good techniques but clearly separate from PR. In my Advanced PR Writing class, blogging and social media was the focus of a significant assignment. Why? I think because they are great ways to manage relationships with stakeholders/publics (including potential clients).

In another post from his blog, Stibbe wrote that “PR stands for public relations but it could also stand for press relations.” I disagree, at least with the fact that press relations could explain the entirety of what public relations is. The press is a public and it also provides a vehicle through which messages to other publics can be disseminated. But I do not think that PR practitioners should limit themselves to media relations.

I did get some good advice from Stibbe – I think one of my favorites was number 14: “Your obvious is your talent.” Do what you’re best at and fill that niche rather than trying to wear 20 hats. Lately I’ve been looking at Preston Bailey – the It guy of fabulous wedding and event design (he blogs too!). He started in the event design industry as a floral couturier, but used his talents to build a reputation as one of the world’s leading event designers and a celebrity favorite. His work has inspired me to focus my interests and specific talents: style and design AND strategic, creative thinking and planning AND relationship building.

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Are nonprofit-donor relationships just a click away?


Last week’s BusinessWeekonline article ‘Click Here to Save Darfur’ by Catherine Holahan explains how online social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace have enabled charity and activist groups to quickly rally support and turn it into real dollars and feet on the street.

For example, Camp Darfur in Second Life(a virtual reality world where users live through an avatar) allows visitors to tour a simulated refugee camp to educate them about the conflict in Sudan. It also provides visitors with ways to get more involved in raising awareness about the Darfur genocide.

My question is, how do online social networks translate to the fundraising and marketing world? Are the online relationships initiated through sites like Facebook or Second Life replacing traditional relationships, or are they filling a new niche? Personally, I  believe that the proliferation of such online opportunities does not signal a decline in demand for real-world interaction with brands (be they nonprofit organizations, politicians, activist groups, or corporations). The ease of bringing charitable or other causes to the Internet also impacts the public’s perception of their credibility. When any Joe Schmoe with a domain name can set up a fraudulent charity, it’s hard to judge the authenticity of a legit organization. It’s like the e-mail from the Nigerian Prince, but more sophisticated.

This is why I think it’s still paramount for ‘brands’ to cultivate personal relationships with their publics – whether they are donors, customers, or voters – on a physical level. But they shouldn’t ignore the popularity and success of online tools. Instead, I think the answer lies in forming a strategy that integrates online social networking with real-life, personal encounters. In cases where this is impossible, due to monetary or physical constraints, then Web 2.0 seems to provide an excellent solution. Either way, we’re talking about a means to an end – if the desired outcome can be best achieved purely through online interaction, then that’s what the organization should do.

In the end, for the same reason that brick and mortar stores have not been demolished by online retailers like Amazon, I doubt that online social networking will replace all traditional relationship management strategies. But, in the same way that online shopping has changed consumer’s habits, this new opportunity will certainly influence the next generation of donors.

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I can’t escape my thesis any longer


Alright, I admit it. I’ve been stalling on my thesis for the Honors College here at the U of O. I’ve spent the last 4 years dreading it and doing quite well at putting it off. But the time has come and I am finding myself piled elbow-deep in stacks of books and papers. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I have discontinued my long-cultivated habit of procrastination. In fact, I have found this blog to be an excellent way for me to simultaneously avoid working on my thesis and still feel as though I’m being very productive. It’s like I work for the Ministry of Silly Walks – I’m expending a lot of energy, but I’m not really getting where I need to go.

In case you’re curious, my thesis topic is still somewhat smushy in my mind, but pretty much it has to do with relationship management, nonprofit fund-raising, and the use of special events as a method of cultivating young professional donors. I think it’s cool.

If all good things come to an end, then my time of blissful dalliance seems to be up. I’m making a promise – I’m going to get my rear in gear. Please, for my sake, hold me to it.

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Branding with emotion: A human encounter

I just checked out Seth Godin’s recent post on “Fear, hope, and love: the three marketing levers” on his blog, Seth Godin’s Blog, and it got me thinking. My aspirations as an event planner go well beyond wanting to manage caterers and table arrangements. I want to work strategically with brands (nonprofits are brands too) to create opportunities for touchpoints – experiences that allow relationships to form between the brand and the individual.

Call it what you will: marketing, branding, relationship management, development, etc. Regardless of title, it’s a moment of tangible interaction between the organization and the individual. This encounter can end up painfully impersonal – think bland slideshow presentations, cookie-cutter decor, a cavalier attitude, etc. Or it can be a remarkably HUMAN moment. What makes such an event human? I would venture that it has something to do with distinctive personality and emotional connection. Godin explains that brands succeed in persuading consumers to take action via one of these three basic emotions: fear, hope, and love.

“Every successful marketer (including politicians) takes advantage of at least one of these basic needs.

Forbes Magazine, for example, is for people who hope to make more money.

Rudy Giuliani was the fear candidate. He tried to turn fear into love, but failed.

Few products or services succeed out of love. People are too selfish for an emotion that selfless, most of the time.”

He goes on to explain that sometimes love arises from hope, usually only after a brand has sufficiently endeared itself to the consumer. Tom Belford for The Agitator responded in his post “Hope & Love…Yeah, Right!” by writing about the “Super Seven” emotional drivers, identified as:


Either way, we can agree that emotion is paramount in appealing to consumers and creating meaningful relationships with them. The long-term success of fundraising depends entirely on the quality of relationships built between organizations and donors. Events, as I see it, are prime opportunities to introduce brands in an emotionally relevant way, by creating physical, memorable, multi-faceted, and PERSONAL interactions between two entities.

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