I have often noticed and admired PR professionals who serve on the boards of area nonprofits. This has, as we PR people would say, a “mutual benefit.” PR pros do this as a part of their PR role of community relations. If in an agency, it’s a form of new business development because of the networking with other board members. The organization also benefits from PR counsel at the board and executive level.
But I have also noticed that a lot of nonprofit organizations do not have PR professionals on their boards. So I did what academics do: I launched a study on the subject.
I worked with the assistance of the Johnson Center on Philanthropy to put together a list of the executives of the nonprofits in Michigan with more than 1 staff member. Of the 704 on the list, 215 responded. Their answers to a survey reveal that executives of nonprofit organizations do not view having a PR professional serve on a nonprofit board as a priority, but rather as “nice to have.”
Most executives in the study claimed that they did not seek out board members with a public relations background. Additionally, nonprofit executives do not have an accurate understanding of public relations as a whole.
Specifically, while a majority (76%) said that communications with stakeholders was a role and capacity sought in board members, only 11% indicated it was the most important board member ability. While 52% said they had at least one board member with PR education or experience, this may be due to the fact that 75% define public relations as “getting the word out.”
Clearly, there is a need for more PR professionals to serve nonprofit organizations at the executive and management level. Part of that service would be to educate nonprofit management about the full role and benefit of public relations as a sophisticated effort in relationship building, with multiple publics.
A summary of the result is found below: