Even With Cuts Looming, PR Is a Worthy Expense for Nonprofits

Although Congress continues to wrestle with the 2011 budget, there’s one element that seems certain: there will be cuts. According to the Washington Post, in order to avoid a complete government shutdown, there are talks of $30 billion in spending cuts, which is just half of what conservatives are asking for.

Nonprofits that depend on federal funding are feeling the pinch. Despite or because of the inevitable cuts, PR has become even more important.

“We don’t have the resources to pay lobbyists or to buy TV ads or things that perhaps a corporation or a wealthier organization might be able to do,” says Jennifer Rison, program coordinator with the Children’s Leadership Council (CLC), a coalition of about 60 advocacy groups.

The CLC has recently started working with a PR firm, Slowey/McManus Communications.

“We need the ability to get messages out that resonate with constituents and lawmakers,” Rison adds.

Rison is the only comms staffer with the CLC, so hiring a firm is actually cost-effective for them. Social media is also an effective and efficient way to reach audiences.

“A lot of legislators are using social media and even those who aren’t, their staff are fluent in using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube,” says Jim McManus, principal partner at the firm. he also says bloggers have become more influential over the last five years. A New York Times article over the weekend addressed some of the changes in Washington media.

Also important for a nonprofit is reaching out on the local level. Rison recommends developing relationships on the local and state level. From there, constituents can convey their concern to those in Washington.

“No elected official got into politics to hurt people,” adds McManus. “Nonprofits need to put a human face to show that constituents are being harmed.”

Cone’s EVP of cause branding and nonprofit marketing practices Craig Bida agrees that the concerns are felt acutely at the local level where there’s fear of cuts to services that nonprofits provide. But perhaps more than others, nonprofits know what it’s like to work with a tight budget.

“Nonprofits have been conditioned to a cycle, these ebbs and flows, and need to always be thinking of where the next dollar is coming from,” he told us. “Perhaps there’s more to come, but I think these questions are things they ask all the time: How to be efficient and how to be sure resources are in place for social impact goals.”

McManus agrees that cuts are nothing new. And if the budget squeeze gets too tight, Washington may face backlash.

“We haven’t had the ‘ketchup is a vegetable’ moment yet, but we do I think you’ll see the momentum shift against some of these deep domestic spending cuts because [these programs] are popular.”