Why You Don’t Burn Bridges…or You Try Not To

A bridge burning in flames

Image pulled from Google search. Source:http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/burning-bridge

 

Sometimes, you have something to say but for the good of confidentiality, you have to say it carefully. I thought long and hard about not saying anything at all, but I think there’s an important lesson to be shared from my experience. So here goes my best explanation at how I moved from organization A, or, The First Real Job, to my new role at the education organization.

I’ve been experiencing, fortunately and unfortunately at times, a lot of endings lately. Sometimes, life gives us easy, good endings that are jubilant affairs (like my recent ending of a long-term hospital stay after a rare and SCARY heart problem). Other times, they’re ugly, painful endings that hurt and scar us. Other times still, the endings are painful and hard, but endings that need to happen in order for you to move on to the next big thing.

For those of you who are astrology creeps like me (I blame my mother and Hollins for this), you might find it interesting to learn I’m a Capricorn. For all my fellow goats out there; you’ll get this next statement. The rest of you, maybe not. I don’t adjust well to rapid change. It takes me a long time to process through emotions and then these emotions oftentimes bite me in the tootsie at inopportune times. Suddenly the grief comes pouring out  over xyz thing randomly over my morning coffee or a stubbed toe. It’s quite annoying.

So I left the disabilities services organization last August, after much agony over the decision that frankly,  involved a whole lot of praying. I was also serving on my church’s pastor nominating committee at the time, so let’s just say lots of introspection time and praying brought me to the decision that it was time to go. I felt I had given all I could reasonably give to the organization and it was no longer in my best interests to continue in the position. Time to find bigger and better pastures. Sometimes, this happens. You have to move on from jobs that no longer fit you and your abilities, if there is no room or opportunity for growth and/or reason to stay and find out if there is. I also think that non-profit pros especially should not trick themselves into believing a problematic organizational culture is the standard “norm” for non-profits. Yes, non-profits struggle with management of resources (staff, volunteers, donors, etc.) and have budget restrictions and limitations that for-profits do not, but they also have a TON of rewards and opportunities that I believe, personally, for-profit work does not. For me, I need to be able to do what I love (PR, writing, working with people) and feel like what I’m doing is creating or fostering meaningful, positive change in the world.

Without going into dirty details, let’s just say: It was not an easy departure.

Someone took my place after a few months. I was helpful and friendly, making sure the social media transitions happened and answering any questions about the position-holding my tongue often to try not and taint this person’s view of the org. from the get go- and generally tried to be a good predecessor. Because we’ve all been stuck in those positions where someone crappily left and you are left dealing with the mess of fixing someone’s laziness, out-right sabotage, and other drama angry people do when they leave jobs angrily (and you know, sometimes, the anger is justified so I try not to judge..but come on….). It ain’t fun. I had also heard that some pretty deregatory, untrue things were being said about me by some former co-workers and management.

What did I do in response? I said nothing.

I also don’t know that these things were truly being said, being that I was no longer there,  so I cannot say with any certainty this is what happened.  I was angry and hurt but I thought at the time;  don’t go there. Don’t dig it up or hash it out unnecessarily because that will seal the deal in never being able to reference back to that job. I’m pretty sure I could have fought back on some of the issues and would have been within my rights to do so, but I didn’t.

The person who took my position after me also recently left that organization, or so I was told by a note from LinkedIn from her and then a subsequent note that literally brought me to tears. This person had zero obligation to say the incredibly kind, flattering things to me about my work there, in her eyes, and gave me a closure she couldn’t have possibly known I needed to feel better about leaving behind some very vulnerable people whom I truly wanted to stay and sacrifice all to try and help.

Always, always, always try to avoid burning bridges, especially with jobs and with contacts and with networks. ESPECIALLY as a PR person. You’re whole job and work is built around relationship-building, and if you crash & burn your relationships needlessly…well, you never know when you may need to make a connection and that connection is someone you screwed over, talked badly about or a previous first employer who was not the best place for you. The message here, folks: When you have to go, leave with grace and then, stay gone with grace.

PR Girl…still on a Mission

Hey there y’all. Well, it’s safe to say, it’s been a minute since I last updated this blog.

Being that I’m in public relations, I find myself wanting to give you the best, most honest and concise summary of my life and why the blogging fell apart, and why I abandoned this blog for so long. However, every good PR girl knows what information is necessary to move forward with a public and what information is erroneous and just confuses the argument further. So, after hemming and hawing over how to best dive back in to the blog, I decided to go about it this way.

The last two years of my life have been turbulent. I ended relationships that were dear to me and difficult to leave. The biggest one being my first job, the disabilities organization I reference in the previous posts. It’s never easy to decide to leave a job and move on to the greener pastures, but the decision for me was particularly difficult because it was made under duress and I struggled with whether I was really ready to move on from disabilities services as a field.

My health has been in jeopardy. I’ve struggled also with some major health issues in the last two years, which recently came to head as I was most recently hospitalized for myocarditis. Yeah, that’s a big ol’ word, and it pretty much means my heart muscle became inflamed. No good, y’all. No good at all. Thankfully, I caught this earlier, received excellent care at some stellar DC hospitals (big shout out to Washington Hospital Center!) and am heading towards full recovery. Lemme tell ya, nothing sets your priorities straight like near-heart failure.

My faith has become a major part of my life. I spent 18 months on a pastor nominating committee at my church, Rockville United Church, looking for a new pastor. You may be thinking, “18 months is a long time to pick a pastor.” Trust me, I thought so too. Turns out though, the process was making major changes to my heart and mind and faith in God. Changes that kept moving and shaking around in my life until recently. Some of you may know, I occasionally give God or my spirituality a shout out on Twitter. I have to admit, I’ve always been apprehensive about being fully open about my beliefs. This is in part because I’m all too aware of the barriers people put up when they think you’re coming at them from a Jesus place. So, I want to make clear that while I will likely be posting about my faith in the future, because it’s integral to why I do the work I do, I never intend nor wish to ram anything down anyone’s throat. Y’all are entitled to your own beliefs, your own thoughts, your own ways of living. All I ask (really, beg, actually) is that we respect each other in those spaces equally.

I’ve gained some clarity and some direction. When PR Girl on a Mission first started out, I intended to use it as a way to communicate my experiences as a newbie PR girl, fresh in my first role, struggling to make miracles happen on a non-existent budget. I learned a lot and along the way I began defining myself and the issues I care about. I’ve changed jobs, changed apartments, changed lives. I’ve gained some clarity and direction I had been seeking two years ago, when I fell away from this blog. I’m hoping that in the next few months, I can backtrack a little and catch you up to where I am now; still with the purpose of sharing this PR Girl’s efforts at communicating for good.

I’m still a PR Girl on a Mission, y’all. The mission looks different than it did when I started, but I’m feeling confident we’ll have a much more consistent conversation with one another, if you want to hang on and see what I’ve got to say.

Love love love,

ABP

Fumbling in the Dark? How to create a strategy for your organization/department (Part I of II)

Courtesy of t-florie from stock.xchng

Picture this: You’ve just started a new position as a communications director/manager/coordinator at a non-profit or small business. You meet with your supervisor/boss and find out your duties & tasks and it’s a lot, to say the least. Are you there? Have you been? I was, and I knew that if I wanted to make progress and a difference in my org (don’t we all?!), I needed to have plan, or a strategy.

I like to think of strategy and planning as a roadmap for where you are going to go. You have several routes laid out and know which turns you will make and when, with a little flexibility of course for traffic jams, delays, and other unforseen circumstances, but you follow your route or map until you reach your destination. Without a map or some sort of route in mind, you’d just drive around for hours on end trying to find your location and probably end up frustrated (to say the least), dejected, and lost. Sometimes when you are facing a mountain of work or a new role, it’s easy to get bogged down in all the day -to- day tasks and get lost when it comes to the overall direction you wanted to move in/were moving in. That’s where the strategy/plan comes in- it helps you map out your actions so you reach the destination without a lot of fuss, confusion and wasted time.

My strategy-making can be broken down into three parts, or steps, which sub-steps, so because of that (and because the length of this post would be unmanageable if I wrote out the whole shebang all at once) this is broken up into 2 posts- right now you are in Part I!

Step 1: Preliminary/Ground Work

The first thing you want to do, before you write up a fancy, spiral bound plan, is some background work. Does your organization have an overall strategic plan? You may have to do some digging for this…and if you’re really lucky it might not exist at all (ahem!) but you should reference it to see if there’s any mention of communication, marketing, outreach, etc. or any keywords that pertain to your department/area. If it does, you’ll want to incorporate these points into whatever plan/strategy you develop.

The second step is taking a few moments (or a few hours, depending on your size, etc.) and doing a 3 question survey of your area/department.

  • Where are we? What has been done thus far? How many media placements has your org. had in the last year? Ever? If you are in development, do you have a database? Any established development activities/staff? What is your current donation totals/percentages? Look at what has been happening in your areas before you came along.
  • Where do we need to be? And I mean NEED- this is taking a hard look at what is dire/what is not and making decisions about what needs to be done. Is your contact database frighteningly insecure? Incomplete? Did you inherit a problematic media relations situation? Look at the bare bones basics you need to be effective/get by in comparison to where you are at now. Address these issues first.
  • Where do we want to be? This is where you get ambitious- you look past where you need to be and where you’ve been and you aim high- but not impossibly high. With all your goals you want to keep it within the realm of possibility. If you’re organization only raised $10,000 last year in donations setting a development goal of $1 million for this year is setting yourself up for failure and will steal the steam/thunder right out of you. You have to manage your own expectations just as you would your ED/Board/constituents.

The third step in your Ground Work stage is soliciting input from others in your org. about what you’ve gathered so far. You can do this with your supervisor/ED/boss, but if you have some resistance or non-chalance there, don’t be afraid to also talk to your co-workers, board members (if you feel comfortable/it’s appropriate), and other support network. I’m lucky to have a stellar parent support group that I’m able to tap whenever I want to get additional input/thought about ideas and goals, and that’s been a great resource for me in planning and executing communications activities/work at my org.  If you are new to an org. this is SO important- sometimes you need to get several opinions to really have a full picture of what has been happening in your organization and what direction should you be moving in going forward. It’s also important to have this input as a system of checks/balances to you- especially in the beginning. You may have a really great idea/goal of a gala, but what you might not know is that your org tried that 2 years ago and it flopped for reasons xyz, and this info is really key to saving yourself time and trouble with your supervisor/boss and helping create the most applicable, accurate strategy possible.

Next up: Step 2- Make that plan! and Step 3- Following up.

New blog series: “How to create your organization’s outreach/communications “department”/strategy from scratch!”

OK, so maybe your strategy isn't going to look like this cake (although somedays I feel like it could, but that's just me), but you get the point!

Hello again!

After much life upheaval I’m re-settled into the “new normal” of my life and ready to crank out some PR/Communications/Development advice/rambling for your enjoyment!

When I started this blog, it was originally with the intent to share my experiences in what (at the time) I thought was a niche experience- I was effectively the manager of a “department” that had never existed in my organization before, and really starting all of our communications/outreach/volunteer management programs, processes, and activities from scratch. There’s gobs of information on the net from all sorts of sources about the varying techniques, tips, strategies, tools, etc. you could use for any of these areas, but it seemed to me there was very little that addressed what I was looking for: how to be effective on a virtually $0 budget, how to convince your management that these ideas/strategies would “pay out” in the long-term, and how to decide what would be best for my particular situation given my somewhat limited expertise/experience.

So I spent a year and a half charging through all these things, making some mistakes along the way, but also finding success in the different things I had decided to invest my time (and my org’s time) into. Unfortunately though, with all that charging, I had very little time for the blogging and I didn’t do much sharing with you. However, that’s about to change!

After some thought, I’ve decided to launch my first “series” on this blog, and it will be 2 solid weeks of non-stop “how to” posts. As the title indicates, the theme is “How to create your organization’s outreach/communications “department”/strategy from scratch!”, so there’s a few things you should keep in mind here:

  • These posts are geared towards PR/Comm/Development pros/staff at non-profit organizations (or small businesses, depending on your situation) who are literally starting with a blank slate.
  • Who are also starting with no “real” (think $1000 or less/year) budget for your tasks/job.

If you’ve got a big ol’ budget and Cision’s media database shortcut on your desktop, you’re probably going to feel like half the stuff I’ll say is a whole lot of running around for no good reason, but I didn’t have any tools or support systems in place when I started and after spending quite a lot of time with my nonprofit peers (thanks to YNPNdc and other networking adventures) I’ve come to believe I am/was not, in fact, a “niche” experience, so I want to put my story out there in the hopes that it might save the sanity of some other PR girl (or guy!) on a mission.

So, without further ado, here’s what you have to look forward to:

“Fumbling in the Dark? How to create a strategy for your org”

“Adventures in Volunteer Management: 5 things you should do RIGHT NOW if you plan on having volunteers at your org”

“Guerilla Media Relations”

“Marco? Polo? Establishing a network”

“Numbers and data and math, oh my! Development De-mystified”

I would so love to hear any suggestions for topics/questions you might have. Next up: “Fumbling in the Dark? How to create a strategy for your org”

I’m a survivor (and where I’ve been for the last month)

I found this on a friend’s G-chat status about a month ago, when I was at the very precipice of grappling with some serious life changes. The line that resonated the most with me at the time was :

“This is your life. Do what you love and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it.”

I think sometimes it’s too easy for us to get caught up in what’s comfortable, and overlook the real, gritty things in life that are uncomfortable but reap much greater rewards than complacency, comfort, and being “just okay”. I have never found myself to be a person to be able to accept “just okay.” Sometimes, I think my innate drive towards perfection can be a bad thing. It can make me stressed and anxious and overlook the beauty of the simple things in my life. But sometimes, that drive has a purpose. It tells me, “there is something better than this, and you should be going after THAT.”

I could go into all the juicy details of all this upheaval in my life, but in my personal matters I tend to follow Beyonce’s lead from her hit song “Survivor”

“I’m wishin’ you the best,
Pray that you are blessed,
Much success, no stress, and lots of happiness,
(I’m better than that)
I’m not gonna blast you on the radio,
(I’m better than that)
I’m not gonna lie on you or your family, yo,
(I’m better than that)
I’m not gonna hate you in the magazine,
(I’m better than that)
I’m not gonna compromise my Christianity,
(I’m better than that)
You know I’m not gonna diss you on the Internet
Cause my momma told me better than that.”

And I promise, you can expect to see more posts from me (and more frequent!) on PR, nonprofit communications, and social media very shortly! I have lots of ideas for posts.

Those term papers weren’t for nothin’! Why research matters to PR pros

Image courtesy of hvaldez1 from stock.xchng

Remember those long, grueling hours sitting in your college’s library, surfing JSTOR for sources, revising and cursing at your annotated bibliography and the APA/MLA format you had to write it in? If you were anything like me, you probably wondered a time or two what the heck was the point of writing all those papers. Sure, maybe your professors were into torture and got some sick kick out of making you write a minimum 10 page analysis paper on “A Child’s First Story of Jesus”, but probably more likely (we hope) it was that they were ensuring you were comfortable with the fundamentals of conducting valid, useful research on a topic. Research skills, like the ones you learned and practiced over and over again in H.S. and college, are vital to a PR pro’s success. You may not be writing scholarly articles, but you probably are crafting content, serving as a spokesperson for your organization, and communicating with your constituents, which are all dependent on some of the same research skills.

  • Searching: Chances are, you don’t have enough hours in the day for the tasks on your to-do list. You need to find resources, tools, data, and trends that fit your needs, answer your questions, and help you do your job well. Knowing what you are looking for and where to look for it is critical to saving you much needed time, and delivering you the results you want. Do you have a bookmark file for the search engines, websites, and places you hit most frequently for information? Make one now.  Find engines  that pull not just from websites, but from blogs and social media to cut your keyboard time in half. Some of my favorite places to do research on trends in my field are Addictomatic, Alltop, and Twazzup. Also, Google Alerts sends info to me at the frequency I desire on the keywords I provide.
  • Evaluating: You’ve found some stellar content you think your audience will appreciate, will back up a point/position your org has taken, or would be a great soundbite to include in your ED’s speech you’re writing. Woo hoo! Done!? Not so fast. You want to make sure what you’ve found is truthful and came from a reliable source, like any good journalist does. If you use something that comes up as false, or just a rumor, you are not only misleading your public, which creates distrust, but I imagine you’re going to find yourself in a very hot seat in your supervisor’s office. Check where your info came from. Who’s writing/posting this? What relationship do they have to the content being provided? Were they paid to write it? Do they provide a citation (if it’s a statistic or number, this is SO important)? Did somebody official verify it? If you aren’t sure of something, don’t use it.
  • Citing: Plagariasm will get you more than just an F in the real world. You can go to jail or be fined big money for stealing someone’s work and not giving them credit. Not only is it polite and legal to cite someone’s work when you use it, it’s also smart because it shows you can be trusted- you’ve done your homework and are open to sharing your sources with your audience. Check to find out if the info/pictures/music/video you are using is under copyright, or if it’s considered free use. If you aren’t sure you have permission to reuse something, or how to properly cite/give credit to someone, then take two minutes and pick up the phone or shoot an email and ask.

I use these skills daily- do you? What are your best research tips? Share them in the comments!

I will not stop

(Video of myself, and Latria, a woman supported by my organization, at our annual prom.)

I will not stop advocating for her. For people like Latria.

Two years ago, I started this blog because I wanted to share with you my experiences, both good and bad, as a new nonprofit public relations professional. I knew that I wanted to use my talents and my love for public relations, communications, and outreach to do good in the world. I wasn’t quite sure how that would unfold at that time, and over the last two years, I have discovered exactly what I am passionate about and what my “mission” is. Now I want to share that with you.

I work in the disabilities services field. More specifically, I work for an autism service provider. I had some experience and connection to this type of work through college jobs (I worked in youth programs with the YMCA) and through a family member who worked for the Arc in my hometown. However, it wasn’t until I came to this place that my passion for sharing the stories of people with autism and developmental disabilities* really took shape.

Over 4 million Americans have developmental disabilities. There are 7 to 8 million people with intellectual disabilities in the United States, and an estimated 30 million (one in ten families) are directly affected by a person with intellectual disabilities in their lifetime. People with disabilities (all types) are the largest minority in this country. Bet you didn’t know that. I bet you also didn’t know that for adults, like Latria, with autism and developmental disabilities, there are no uniform (across the country) supports and services. The system and history of community services is complex and will merit another post entirely, but in short, each state determines what (if any) services will be offered and how much support they will provide to adults with autism and developmental disabilities.

Tens of thousands of these adults, like Latria, are sitting (languishing, in most cases) on waiting lists for services.

In Maryland, over 19,000 people are waiting for funding and services provided by the Developmental Disabilities Administration and administered by organizations like ours.

Did you know that? I bet you didn’t. I bet you’re wondering now how you could have not know about 4 million people, the LARGEST minority in the country, and their struggle to live a productive, independent life. If you’re a Marylander, I bet you’re wondering how 19,000 people (the size of a small town-imagine an entire town of people without access to work, housing, recreation, etc.) are sitting at home, more often than not with aging parents, or a parent who had to quit a job to support them, without access to services that can make them a productive, employed, independent and active member of their community.

I hope you are.

If we, as a society, are content to allow the most vulnerable among us suffer in silence, with no real hope of relief, then something is gravely wrong. That is a world that I, for one, cannot live in. I will not live in.

So I will not stop.

*please note that autism is considered a developmental disability. If you want specific numbers about how many people are living with autism, then I suggest you visit the Autism Society of America or Autism Speaks.