Non-Profit Communication: Challenges, Triumphs, and How to Get Your Start
With over 1.5 million registered non-profit organizations in the United States, there are a myriad public charities, private foundations, and civic organizations in need of professionals who can develop messages and put together strategic communications plans to further their missions and reach their goals.
At this discussion, SMPA alumni who work in non-profit communications spoke about how they got started in their careers and what challenges they face on a daily basis. Our panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session and a reception. This event is open to all GW students. Presented by the Shenkman Career Services Fund and the School of Media and Public Affairs.
Ninio Fetalvo @niniofetalvo (B.A. PCM '14) | As the Republican National Committee's Asian Pacific American Media Press Secretary, Ninio works on the Republican Party's engagement with Asian and Pacific Islander media outlets. Prior to serving as a press secretary, Ninio served as the APA Press Assistant, shortly after graduating from SMPA last May. During his time at GW, he interned for the RNC as a Press and War Room Intern.
Mike Naple @mnaple | Mike serves as press secretary at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence where he handles media relations and messaging across traditional media, social media, and digital channels. With Brady since October 2013, Mike also served as communications manager handling projects and communication strategies around the organization's public policy initiatives. Previously, he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice, Edelman, and PBS’ “Washington Week With Gwen Ifill.”
Madeleine O'Connor @mhoconnor (B.A. JMC '12, MPA '13) | Madeleine has been with national nonprofit Keep America Beautiful (KAB) since she started interning as a senior at GWU, and now manages communications and supports program management for KAB’s recycling programs. Her responsibilities include planning social media and website strategy and content, writing press releases, newsletters, and blog posts; and strengthening relationships with corporate partners.
Lyndsey Wajert @Lwajert (B.A. JMC '12) | is a program manager at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Washington, D.C. She administers multiple fellowships and programs for U.S.-based journalists. She graduated magna cum laude from the George Washington University. She served as an editor for GW's independent newspaper, The Hatchet, and interned with organizations including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and Philadelphia Magazine.
Moderator Peter Loge (Professional Lecturer for the School of Media and Public Affairs) | Peter is currently the Vice President of Communications for the US Institute of Peace. Prior to accepting that position, Peter ran Milo Public Affairs LLC from 2007-2014. He was a Senior Vice President M+R Strategic Services, a public affairs and political consulting firm. At M+R, Peter directed the Media Relations team and provided strategic counsel to a wide array of clients including the Save Darfur Coalition, Human Rights First, American Farmland Trust, and many others.
Each panelist offered some concluding tips for students who were looking for careers in non-profit communication:
Ninio Fetalvo | Republican National Committee’s Asian Pacific American Media Press Secretary
Tip #1: Network network network. A lot of jobs hire internally, so don't be afraid to connect with someone via Twitter, LinkedIn, events, etc. It's important to get yourself out there.
Tip #2: Don't be afraid to take risks. I gave up my paid internship for a non-paid one, but the non-paid one turned into the job I was offered for post-graduation.
Peter Loge | Vice President of External Relations for the US Institute of Peace
Tip #1: Read more good fiction than you read about politics
Tip #2: If you think you're the smartest person in the room, you're either wrong or in the wrong room
Lyndsey Wajert | Program Manager at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)
Tip #1: Never be afraid to send a "cold" email -- if you are interested in an organization or have followed the work a particular person has been doing, try to connect via email, LinkedIn, or Twitter, and explain that you want to know more about what they do. Then, ask for an informational interview or to grab coffee. You'd be amazed at how receptive people can be to these meetings!
Tip #2: I wish I had known to send "thank you" notes after an interview. An HR representative suggested I do this after making it to the final round of interviews for a position, and in this case, a "thank you" email wasn't enough. Given that I interviewed with the president of the organization, she had come to appreciate handwritten notes from candidates. That personal touch goes a long way and can show them that you really want the job.
Madeleine O’Connor | Communications and Program Manager for Keep America Beautiful’s recycling programs
Tip #1: Know when to pick up the phone. It sounds simple, but it's a skill that will help you work so much more efficiently. I know that my fellow journalism majors will not fall victim to the "phone phobia" that some young people suffer from in an increasingly text and email-centric world (does anyone leave voicemails anymore?) - but it is so important to resist the temptation to take the passive route when a phone call will get the job done more quickly. If you're planning an event, hammering out complicated logistics, trying to book a meeting with someone who's calendar is crammed - pick up the phone. Looking for feedback on a written piece, or providing it to someone else? Email all the way. Along those same lines - don't be shy about reminding people to respond to your emails - it's easy to do so politely and it's commonplace. If you miss deadlines because your email got lost in someone else's inbox, your boss is going to tell you to pick up the phone.
Tip #2: Become an expert in your field. As a communications professional, that's two fields - communications and your nonprofit's cause or issue. Subscribe to email newsletters, read blogs, listen to webinars, and get to know your stakeholders. To be a credible communicator in the nonprofit world, you should know more about the issue or cause you're advocating for than just the reports, programs, or work that your organization is doing. You may not know the answer to every question, but you should know the landscape of your industry enough to know where to find it. That's where networking can be helpful (yes really!) — contacting someone you met at an event to ask for their expertise is a great excuse to make contact — and they will likely be flattered that you thought of them, so what better way to start a professional relationship?
Mike Naple | Press Secretary at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Tip #1: Do the follow-up. When somebody says they want to connect you with a contact in their network or send out your resume, don't forget to follow-up with them. Don't make the mistake of thinking that person wasn't serious.
Tip #2: Be a strong utility player. Given that non-profit organizations are usually lean, the communications staffers may be expected to cover multiple bases. Lean into that scenario and use it to expand your skill set.