Oh Non-Profits! (Echo, Echo, Echo) You’re Not Listening!

“Houston, we have a problem.”  “Uh, this is Houston. Uh, say again, please?”  It’s odd that I’m experiencing this issue from the other side now as I feel it was only yesterday that I wanted to sock my Executive Director in the face when she pulled this crap when I was an actual employee of a non-profit organization.  During special event season when media offered to interview her for a paper, magazine or radio show, she used to act like it was their JOB to do it.  Let me be very clear, NON PROFITS, it’s media’s job to find a story and if you think you’re the only story in town you are sorely mistaken.

This morning I jumped out of bed brimming with excitement at interviewing six committee members and the Executive Director from a local San Diego non-profit for their upcoming gala.  Yes, true story, I’m actually genuinely excited to meet people that work in the same industry that I was once a part of.  It elates me when non-profits know what they’re doing and I feel that every meeting with the media is an opportunity for them to garner an entirely new audience.  Especially since we have access to an audience and we have the ability to get the word out about their services.  Did I mention that we do it for free?  I feel I should mention that.

I met our Publisher promptly at the scheduled time and place and asked the front desk agent where we could find our friends.  She explained that they had just started their meeting.  Odd, I thought, since the scheduled meeting time for us to take pictures and conduct the interview was supposed to be at that exact time.  After explaining who we were and what we were there for she informed me to just go ahead and interrupt the meeting to let them know we were there.  She even said they were very casual and wouldn’t mind.

I interrupted the meeting, introduced myself and told them that we’d be waiting in the lobby when they were done (um, you’re welcome for being so accommodating…did I mention that we’re doing it for free?).  Complete silence and multiple looks of confusion.  I say, “Giving Scene Magazine, here to interview the chairs for the event, no?  Nobody?”  Continued silence.  And then it dawns on me that they either weren’t told about our meeting today or that they hadn’t been diligent little non-profit workers and put it on their schedule.  I mention the board member that I spoke to and they explain they weren’t told.  I was then waved away by what I can only assume is another board member who told me to “wait downstairs” and that they would “call me” when they were through.

In utter disbelief, and with my head and neck spinning out of control around my shoulders like Lynda Blair from the Exorcist, I walk outside and we contact the board member who set up the meeting to find out what happened.  We were informed that the Executive Director knew we were coming.  Interesting.  I’ve NEVER heard of a non-profit that holds committee meetings less than a month away from a gala without having the Executive Director present.  So I can only assume that this person was in the room when I introduced myself.  And if he or she wasn’t, I feel very strongly that someone else should have been informed that we were coming.

Which leads me to my point.  You don’t want to screw with the media.  Let me assure you that the article that I wanted to write today was on an upcoming event, highlighting the organizations services and making their committee members and Executive Director look good.  I want nothing more for non-profits than to have success at raising money for the populations that they serve.  Unfortunately this situation has fallen in to my “Distaster For Non-Profit Governance, Or There Lack Of” category.

Listen up non-profits…every single time you meet someone new to your organization you have an opportunity to make them a champion for what you do.  Did you hear that?  EVERY TIME.  Unfortunately in this industry, not all publicity is good publicity, which makes me think that this organization needs a new publicist.  Or at least hire someone who knows how to manage a calendar.  I would also like to say that the only reason I’m not naming names is because our publisher is the perfect picture of professionalism.  You have her to thank, non-profit, and if I were you I’d do so personally.