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.

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Where I’ve been, where I’m going

Remember that time I promised you I’d be posting more often? Yeah, well…hmm…about that.

I had been debating taking this blog down for some time because, as evidenced by my sparse posting, I haven’t had much time for it. But, a lot has transpired in the past few months in my life, both personally and professionally, and after much contemplation, I had a change of heart. Here’s what’s been going on and what I hope to share with you in the next couple of weeks and months:

What does this mean for you? Well, in the last couple of months, it’s been reaffirmed to me time and time again how important connecting and sharing experiences, both professionally and personally, is in furthering my personal mission and also to “pay it forward” and help upcoming young pros and my peers achieve success. So, I intend to keep doing just that.

What do you want to know from me/what are you looking for? Did you come here because you were interested in public relations, nonprofit communications, or disabilities services? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to share what I can to help you achieve your success.

Why am I here? Thoughts on what drove me to the non-profit sector

I tend to spend a lot of my time with my fellow non-profit pros in a networking sense- I am active with YNPNdc and have friends/colleagues in real life and on social media channels that I connect with frequently who are non-profit professionals in a variety of fields, causes, and roles. I recently began branching out my “circle” and going to networking events for my specific field, public relations, and this is when I was confronted with a new kind of “get-to-know-you-question” than those I normally hear with my nonprofit peers and that is, “Why did you decide to go into the non-profit sector?”

I have to admit, sometimes I ask myself this very question. Why did I choose this, over agency work, corporate affairs, public relations in the for-profit world, etc? I certainly find myself thinking of it more when I’m facing a mountain of bills or wishing I could go traveling more often, etc. While my compensation at my organization is incredibly competitive and fair,  I’m not getting rich here, and I’m sure most non-profiteers would agree.

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a seminar and coaching session with the Nonprofit Career Coach, Mark McCurdy, courtesy of a contest I won from the lovely Rosetta Thurman. The seminar’s topic was about “Finding Your Passion” and how to transition into the non-profit sector or obtain employment there, paths to success, etc.  Of the many helpful things shared, one thing stuck out in my mind was the emphasis to “Focus on your mission”. That is, what do you love to do? What brings you joy? Where do your interests lie? Whether it be non-profit or for-profit, I think these are crucial questions to ask yourself when looking at a career path/job. For me, I didn’t set out with this in mind, I just knew that I didn’t want to “work for the man”. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something I felt good about when I left the office and headed home at night.

When I took on my current position, I was leaving a temp job in a defense firm that just did not fit me, at all. Great people, sure, but I hated what I was doing in every sense- from the concept to the daily tasks and goals. I interviewed for my current position and found a great serendipity between what the organization did and what I had experience with. My org. serves people with disabilities- I had an aunt who had worked for the Arc and her personal stories had inspired me, I had worked with children who had developmental disabilities in my experiences a child care professional during college, I had taken a behaviorial disorders class in college…all these things added up to me feeling very attuned to the mission of my org.

My experiences in life, and in this job, have helped me develop my “mission”, and when I move forward someday, I will look to this to help guide my search. Mine goes something like this:

“I believe in equal opportunity and equality for everyone- regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ability, age, and any other category society puts on an individual to quantify them and qualify them. I will strive to make opportunities for those who are not afforded them, make known those opportunities to those who need them most, and make the world see that we cannot, as a society, continue to deprive anyone of equality, equal opportunity, and equal chance at success, happiness, and fulfillment.”

How do you know when you’ve found this? For me, it’s cheesy and simple, but it’s that incredible high I feel when I’ve accomplished something that brings me closer to seeing that mission a reality. I wrote a grant for my org and we were awarded that grant, and now our individuals will have access to recreational opportunities that they have not been afforded due to their disabilties, challenging behavior, and the stigma society has placed on them. I am positively beaming today. That feeling, for me, is why I am here.

Why are you here?

Beating the “Burn Out”

Yes, I’ve been absent for quite  some time.

Hopefully (and I know I’ve said this before, and am starting to sound like a total non-committal person), this is about to change, and here’s why. Writing in this blog is part of my “beating the burn out” plan.

Non-profit workers face a myriad of challenges, and you certainly didn’t come here to hear me spout off the abysmal facts you already know: it’s a constant struggle to gain a salary that even attempts to compete with your for-profit peers, to gain access or support for professional development, to dig yourself out from under that never-ending to-do list… I could ramble on, but you get the drift. Non-profit workers burn out. Studies tell us this, and it’s been an issue when we think about the next generation of non-profit leadership and how we can retain the current young non-profit workers and get them to stick around long enough to become executive directors, associate directors, etc.

My annual review was in July, and not soon after that, although I felt a surge of enthusiasm and a resurgence in purpose for what I do, it wasn’t long after that I was feeling the flames of that non-profit burn out. What started off as a “feeling disempowered” day was turning into a week, and then two weeks, and then…well,  you get my drift.  It’s that nagging feeling that you’ll never get anything of substantial value accomplished, or in my instance, that when I do finally convince my management to jump on the bandwagon, it’s going to be too little, too late, or I’m going to get fed up with all these tiny gains before then and leave the sector entirely.

So what does one do? That’s where my “beating the burn out” plan/strategy came in for me, and I thought I’d share with you my thoughts, which are drawn from some ideas my peers have had, my own intuition about what I need, and some good old fashioned advice from my Mama. 🙂

  • Make short-term & long-term goals and hang them up somewhere in your office where you see them every day. I manage what somedays feels like a thousand different aspects of communications & outreach at my job, and when I parcel out three or six months into goals in each area, it makes me feel better and not so overwhelmed by the tasks in front of me.
  • Call up your favorite networking/professional contact and have coffee. Talk about anything. I can’t begin to tell you how these conversations keep me going. I always leave feeling enthusiastic or at least hopeful about my own work.
  • Get involved in something outside of work that is completely different than your job. I started coaching youth cheerleading this fall, and in addition to being incredibly rewarding in it’s own right, it has helped me appreciate what I do from 9-5.
  • Develop yourself. I’m not talking go out and sign up for some more professional networking events or a fundraising. I’m talking about doing things for YOU, personally. If you’re into jogging, join a running group. If you’re into art, take an art class. For me, it’s a combo of writing in this blog, and taking a yoga class on Thursdays. Once you get these things going, it’s like a little oasis of accomplishment that can fuel you in your professional life.

How do you beat the “burn out”?

Why I love Constant Contact, or a lesson in e-mail marketing…

In light of recent comments I have received from parents in response to our new e-mail marketing program, I thought I would pop over to my blog and share my experience with selecting and utilizing an e-mail marketing program for anyone who might also be seeking new ways to communicate with their audiences.

As communications coordinator, I am primarily tasked with communicating with our audiences, which at any time can be parents, elected officials, donors, volunteers, news media, etc. This means I spend a lot of time drafting e-mails and other communications to make sure we are keeping everyone informed of pertinent events, issues, and opportunities.  Recently, I noticed my alma mater’s e-mails to alums were quite snazzy and very effective in delivering pertinent information in an attractive, easy to use way. I did a little research (or I scrolled down to the end of the e-mail…) and found out that they were using Constant Contact, a program I had heard about vaguely and maybe see an ad or two. Before delving into the nitty gritty and shameless gushing about how much I love this program and how much easier it is making my life, let me go over a few key things here I think everyone should consider before making any attempt to utilize an e-mail marketing program.

  • Is e-mail marketing something you can use? Because if it isn’t, don’t waste your org’s hard earned budget $$ on something that you don’t actually need. I’m sure about a hundred marketing professionals and PR pros would tell you OF COURSE you need e-mail marketing, but I don’t agree with this. It’s my belief that in all things, you need to evaluate your audience and what they need/want in terms of communication with and about your organization. In our situation, I find myself wishing I had a form or some sort of template for certain types of e-mails (like say, our calls to action for advocacy efforts, requests for volunteers, and invitations to events to name a few). I also found myself wondering if we were communicating effectively– is our audience getting our e-mails? Do they read them? Are they deleting everything I send because it’s boring? And last, but not least, one of my bigger goals in this position is to morph the bi-annual newsletter (aka the monster) into something more manageable and maybe one day electronic (save the trees!).
  • What does your contact list look like? Constant Contact fit us because it’s prices for non-profits are based off of how large (or not) your e-mail list is. I would say if you are a mammoth non-profit (national, international, etc.), you might want to investigate designing your own program/templates/something more tech intensive since you probably would have the resources. We don’t, and I don’t need a custom template- but I do need quick, attractive, and efficient and that’s what was available for us through this program.

So I did some research, my lovely temporary intern Keisha did some research when she was here, and eventually the decision was made, and let me tell you, it is a purchase that I would liken to buying a pair of Jimmy Choos- it brings me continual joy. There’s something new I learn every time I send a new e-mail that just delights me and makes me want to call this company and thank them profusely for making this one aspect of my job easier, and we are getting constant compliments (ha, maybe they should change their company name) on the look of the new e-mails. Also, being able to see who is opening our mail, who isn’t getting our mail at all, and what links they are clicking is priceless information that helps me better tailor our communication efforts, which folks, is why I am here to begin with.

<end gushing>.

On another note (and probably another blog entry), I have much to share about my efforts to “shine while my light is on” (thanks to Rosetta Thurman, a great resource for all non-profit professionals, but specifically young non-profit pros!). Check back in a few days for more on that!

All right, listen, I swear I’m going to be more on top of this…

Wow. Many apologies for my long, long absence. My best defense is that I have been working (as I’m sure many have and are now “pffting” at me and rolling their eyes but really! very busy!!….*hangs head in shame*). However, I have newfound enthusiasm and zeal for this blog and my personal branding effort (fancy buzzwords eh?) thanks in large part to discovering many, many great non-profit professionals like myself who are out there blazing the trail for the rest of us; such as Rosetta Thurman, Allison Jones, Kivi Leroux Miller, etc.- check out my NEW blogroll updated with these lovely ladies!

So last time I left you I had just finished the first newsletter. Yipee! Let me quickly recap what I’ve been doing since October:

  • Holiday events planning
  • Holiday events volunteer coordinating- volunteer management is new to me but very intriguing!
  • Annual Report 2008
  • Supervised an intern in January (she was fab!)
  • Two BIIIIG grants
  • Professional development ’till I drop
  • Joining social media networks on behalf of org. (we got twitter!)
  • Planning opening event & invites & press materials.
  • Purchasing & implement e-mail marketing program

So yes. Busy, busy me has been churning out new materials and projects left and right. I’m most excited about our new logo (thanks to my friend Ash, graphic design wiz) that I’ve sort of subversively (but not really) made official by putting it on every new piece of material. It’s very “managing up” of me, but I’m determined to make the image of this org. cohesive, even if it kills me!

Currently I’m working on the new newsletter (egads, really? that time again?) and new addition opening event logistics. Also I am constantly working on self-improvement and looking at ways I can update, innovate, and create in a way that will push our mission and share with others what we are doing in the community. For those hopeful PR peeps reading this, this is where I cannot STRESS ENOUGH the need to get yourself out on the web and in the community and make connections, join groups, and follow news that pertains to your sector/profession (like Chronicle of Philanthropy, non-profit blogs, trade magazines, etc.) because I feel that my education truly began when I left college and actually started practicing my craft in the real world. Get a Google Reader and start searching for blogs; stay abreast of trends, check out your local Foundation Center for free or cheap classes, and most importantly, be brave enough to put yourself out there all the time. If you can’t do that, maybe you should check into another profession, because what I’ve learned so far, PR (and business in general) is all about developing and nurturing connections with like-minded people, and the only way to do that is to be available to make those connections!

First Big Workplace Accomplishment

So, after a month and a half of tweaking and obsessing and working over every aspect, the Express is finally out! It was distributed last week during the all-staff meeting, and has been mailed out for all the world to see. So far, all the reviews have been positive and everyone generally likes the new features/changes. Here’s a quick summary of what I changed from the old format:

  • Made the thing shorter: my goal was to really shorten it, but I only managed to ax four pages this run. Next issue goal: four more pages.
  • Changed the format of the house and adult day program updates.
  • Changed (obviously) the writing style to something that had more brevity and clarity above the previous writer’s wordy, eloquent (*cough* overdone *cough*) writing style.
  • Changed the paper! It was a yellow-creme color that nobody seemed to be feeling anymore; so now it’s a light gray- very newspaper-esque!
  • Changed the format and content of the employee anniversary and donation sections.

So now what? Well…..let me pull out my trusty “Goals” list that I made for myself!

…..

Uh….yeah. Where to start? The one thing I adore about my job is that I truly have to be good at planning and strategizing. So now I’m on to holiday giving/donations which involves a big holiday giving letter, some coordination of efforts to increase giving, and the ever continuing tasks of the website, grant research, and my currently sorely neglected PR campaign. (if you could call it a campaign…it’s more my personal mission to get this organization mentioned more frequently in the local media)

In other news, I am officially off probation (3 months) and am now a regular status (as in, I can use my leave) employee. My executive director wrote me a short but awesome email detailing that my work had been “exemplary” during the probationary period and that I had demonstrated “excellent writing skills, good organization skills, and work well with everyone”. She also said I was a “pleasure to work with”, which is just about the best way to start a rainy, cold Tuesday morning, if I do say so. 🙂