Giving Back With Your Communications Degree

The following is a guest post from Allison Kaplan, communications consultant and 2005 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She can be found on Twitter at @allisonjkaplan and on LinkedIn.

When you imagine a communications professional on the job, what do you see? It could be someone in a power suit, heading up a meeting at a large PR agency, or maybe a VP of corporate communications at a publicly traded corporation talking on the phone with a reporter.

These roles tend to be the communications positions we think of based on what we’ve seen in movies or on TV, but careers in this field don’t all fit this mold. In fact, there are many organizations, small and large, that need strong communicators to reach their audiences, effectively share their message and reach their goals.

Nonprofits—organizations that focus on something other than solely making money—fit this criteria. They often focus on furthering a social cause or advocating for a particular point of view, and include organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Girl Scouts of America and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). There are nonprofits that focus on the arts, libraries, natural resources and human rights, as well as associations for groups of professionals in specific industries, such as the American Medical Association (AMA).

If being part of team that contributes to the greater good sounds appealing to you, you’re not alone. Many people want to have a strong connection to their workplace and be truly passionate about their job. In fact, in a 2016 Deloitte survey on millennials in the workplace, six in 10 respondents said a “sense of purpose” is part of the reason they chose their current employer. 

What Does a Nonprofit Communications Job Look Like?

There are a variety of nonprofit communications roles that don’t require special certifications or education. All you need is an eagerness to learn about the cause at hand. Depending on the organization and its goals, job titles include communications manager, marketing manager and public relations associate. Some agencies have a nonprofit division or are set up to cater to nonprofit clients; these, too, are worth checking out.

While a lot of nonprofits are set up like traditional for-profit businesses, with a leadership structure, marketing department, finance team and so on, they are often working with a tighter budget and, therefore, a leaner staff. This can be challenging because communications professional at nonprofits may be required to wear many hats, which can include handling social media and member communications, along with writing press releases, blog posts and fundraising communications.

As in most communications jobs, nonprofit professionals must have a strong and clear understanding of their target audience—the group they are trying to reach with their message. Audiences often include potential donors, existing members, the general public and industry influencers.

Another huge part of a nonprofit communications job is handling the organization’s annual report, which is one of the most important pieces of communication they release to the public. These projects often take months to complete and definitely require a skilled communicator. You can read through some examples of nonprofit annual reports on the National Council of Nonprofits site.

How to Get Started

Once you decide a nonprofit may be the best fit for your communications skill set, there are a number of ways you can set your sights on working at one.

Leverage Online Resources

What would we do without the Internet, right? No matter where your interests lie, there’s a ton of helpful nonprofit information online.

  • Guidestar.com: Want to know just how many nonprofits are out there? This site allows you to search by category and location to gather basic information on thousands of nonprofits.
  • Idealist.org: A hub of nonprofit information, including job postings, you can head here to see what types of roles are available in your areas of interest and expertise.
  • NPO.net: Mostly focused on job opportunities in nonprofits, this site boasts a large list of openings that you can search for geographically, as well as job-seeking tips and information.
  • PRSA: The Public Relations Society of America hosts a variety of helpful nonprofit content on its nonprofit and association industry page, including seminars, webinars, online newsletters and networking opportunities.

Volunteer

What better way for you to learn more about nonprofits than by volunteering at one? If you are currently employed, or are a student and looking to expand your skill set, consider contacting a local nonprofit to see how you can put your communications skills to use. Many would be thrilled to have your input, and you get the opportunity to see how the organization operates and perhaps create samples for your portfolio.

Think Big

Ask yourself, where do my passions lie? Step outside of your day-to-day life and contemplate how you can use your communications background to improve the world.

No matter how you envisioned your communications career, there are a multitude of ways you can leverage your degree to help the greater good.