Volunteer participation has been declining for decades and fell further during the pandemic, the Associated Press reports. The long-term trend undercuts corporate volunteer programs and nonprofit organizations that depend on volunteers.
But even amid these sharp declines in volunteerism nationwide, the PRSA Colorado Chapter has seen an increase in volunteers for its community program called PR Paid Forward.
The pro-bono initiative matches local nonprofit organizations with PRSA Colorado members who can provide the nonprofits with communications services. The program is designed to help nonprofits strengthen their communications efforts and achieve their organizational goals.
How PR Paid Forward works
Through the PRSA Colorado website, local nonprofit organizations are invited to submit their most pressing current communications challenges. Volunteer PR pros are then matched to consult the nonprofits on how to tackle those challenges. In the past four years, nearly 200 PRSA Colorado volunteers have shared their expertise with almost 100 nonprofit organizations through the PR Paid Forward program.
Among the services those PR professionals have offered on a pro bono basis have been press materials and media relations for fundraising events, media training, brand messaging, website copywriting, social media support and communications planning.
Requests for pro-bono assistance that Colorado nonprofits can make through the program focus on a current communications challenge the organization faces. A nonprofit may need to reposition itself to new audiences, boost ticket sales for a fundraising event, or shift perceptions regarding an advocacy issue. PRSA Colorado then matches professional communications volunteers to work together with selected nonprofits to complete these projects.
Part of what makes PR Paid Forward a successful, sustainable program is that expectations for volunteers and the nonprofits they help are clearly outlined from the beginning. PRSA Colorado has seen many new and younger members gravitate to this opportunity.
PR Paid Forward allows nonprofits and volunteers to decide on the process, skills and tools that will best meet their individual needs. “Each year, we work hard to build relationships with new volunteers through our Chapter’s membership and marketing efforts,” said PRSA Colorado Chapter President Liz Viscardi. “PR Paid Forward provides the strategic thinking, creativity and flexibility that many PR professionals seek when looking for ways to give back today.”
Setting up for success
No matter where and how you volunteer, your time and talent are sought after and highly valued. To attract new and recurring volunteers, organizations can follow this framework:
Look for alignment between the volunteer’s interests, skills and capacities, and the nonprofit’s communications needs
Offer a variety of volunteer times, causes and needed skills
Find fun ways to build collaboration, networking and a sense of community for volunteers
Recognize each volunteer’s contributions
Above all, there must be a reason for people to volunteer that goes beyond the overall need of the organization. PR Paid Forward makes volunteering simple, social and rewarding.
In one example of how the program has benefitted nonprofit groups over the years, PR volunteers helped a homelessness nonprofit develop a media relations strategy that dramatically increased the organization’s media coverage.
Volunteers for PR Paid Forward also helped an environmental nonprofit create a social media campaign that raised awareness about an important issue. In another example, volunteers helped a nonprofit that provides job training for people with disabilities build a new website that improved the nonprofit’s online visibility and accessibility.
The PR Paid Forward program also performed a communications audit for an LGBTQ-advocacy group, a service that helped the organization decide to rebrand itself.
Registration for the 2023 PR Paid Forward program opened May 1 for PRSA volunteers and will close May 31. For nonprofits that need communications assistance, registration opens June 1 and will close June 23 (or earlier, pending availability). Pairings of volunteers and nonprofits will be announced in July and consulting will take place in August. Communications projects will be completed in September.
Leslie Horna is an integrated communications professional who supports government, corporate and philanthropic organizations with branding, strategic communications and marketing. Based in Denver, she serves on the PRSA Colorado PR Paid Forward Committee and the PRSA Awards and Honors Committee.
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