Top 5 Things I’ve Learned Moving From Nonprofit to Agency


A few months ago I made the leap from working in a small nonprofit to work in an agency. After almost two years in my first post-college position, I was ready to try new adventures and see how far I could stretch myself in a different environment. In midst of the excitement, I was terrified. I didn’t have a closet full of suits, I didn’t know how to keep time records, nor did I know how to juggle more than one client at a time. I only knew how to take care of one client, the nonprofit. However, underneath the nervousness, I couldn’t wait to begin working with a new team and learn more about my strengths and weaknesses.

Over the last three months, I learned a great deal about what it is to survive the “agency life.” I am still learning and am continually eager to stretch myself and see where my skills can grow. Listed below are the top five things I’ve learned moving from in-house to agency:

1. Be Flexible. Moving from one work environment to another can be a tough transition. From learning new office policies to figuring out how your new coworkers operate, you may become mentally drained in the beginning. However, you should absorb as much as possible from your new environment and remain flexible. If you allow yourself to be open-minded and mentally flexible, you will learn how to efficiently use your time and work alongside of others.

2. Practice Good Time Management. Time management is important in any professional position. Prioritizing work and ensuring all tasks are done in an appropriate timeline is an ideal responsibility for any employee. In an agency setting, I learned that my time is extremely valuable and I need to manage it well to be as effective as possible.

3. Keep Good Time Records. One of the things I was most nervous about was learning how to keep time records. Since I came from a nonprofit, I had no clue how to record my time because I never had to do that before. All I kept thinking was, “How am I going to remember what I did every 15 minutes?” After a week or two, I started to understand how to log my time and keep good records. I learned, very quickly, to write down when I begin and finish each project. That way, I am fairly billing a client for my work, and I can see what I did instead of going off my memory.

4. Be Adaptable. I cannot stress how important it is to understand that your day in an agency is not cookie-cutter. For the first half hour you may be writing a news release for a client, then two minutes later you get an email from another client and you have to drop what you are doing to work on something for them. In the beginning, I would feel pressure when I would be forced to put something I was already working on on-hold, but that went away. In that moment, you have to judge what task is more time sensitive and then manage your time accordingly.

5. Have Fun! I have enjoyed this transition experience. I went from one fun work environment to another. I learned so much about myself already, and I want to keep the momentum going. Transitioning from one position to another can be scary, but you can also allow yourself to have fun at the same time. Get to know your coworkers and laugh every now and then. After all, what good is the new experience if you can’t share it with your coworkers, who are also going through the same transition?

The leap from nonprofit to agency, in hindsight, wasn’t what I thought it would be. I had enough clothes, I learned how to log my time and I have managed several clients at once. Although I have made some mistakes and learned a lot on how to work more efficiently, this experience has been worth every minute.

This post was written by PPRA Recruitment & Retention Chair, Darrah Foster. Darrah is a Senior Associate at Anne Klein Communications Group, where she is a member of account teams serving clients in several industries including healthcare, utilities and financial services. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Member Spotlight: Katie Grivna

The following is part of our Member Spotlight series. Twice a month, the PPRA blog will feature a profile on one of our members. Today’s post highlights Katie Grivna, chair of PPRA’s newsletter committee.

Katie Grivna

So, how long have you been a member of PPRA?

Since Summer 2012.

I joined PPRA before I had even moved to Philadelphia! After chatting with Jessica Lawlor (now VP of Communications for PPRA) via Twitter, I knew I wanted to join PPRA. I knew being a member would be a great way to establish a new network and familiarize myself with job opportunities. I moved to Philadelphia that fall, and attended my first PPRA event: Test Your Fear with PPRA at Terror Behind the Walls! Trust me, there’s no better way to connect with other pros you just met than going through a spooky haunted house! We also got a “behind the scenes” tour, which was awesome.

How did you get into PR?

I loved writing for my high school newspaper, so when I started college at the University of North Texas, I knew I wanted to do something that involved writing. After my first “Intro to PR” class, I felt like PR was a great intersection between business and storytelling. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I worked at a boutique PR firm. Later, I worked at a regional office of a large corporation. Both experiences taught me a lot about how to write with a targeted message, and I’m really grateful to have had great mentors along the way.

Tell us a little bit about your current position.

I am a development associate at Covenant House Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless, runaway and trafficked youth 21 and under. In that capacity, I coordinate the agency’s special events, visit corporations during employee giving campaigns, serve as the liaison to our Young Professionals group, manage stewardship communications, prospect new donors and more. Working for a nonprofit, you have your fingers in a lot of different pies, and I really like that aspect. Initially, you might not think that fundraising is related to PR, but in reality, nonprofits still manage mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders; your stakeholders are your supporters rather than customers or members of the media.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?

PR pros wear a lot of different hats, especially when they work for a nonprofit organization. Every day is different, and I love that. In PR, you can not always measure the effect of your work. But in my role as a development associate, I love seeing the direct impact of what I’m doing; I’ll never forget the excitement and satisfaction I felt the first time I saw donations come in because of an email that I created. Our development office is located within our Crisis Center, so I also get to interact with the youth that our agency serves. Staff members eat lunch with the youth in our cafeteria every day, so I really enjoy getting to know the young people who are getting the tools they need from our programs and fundraising efforts.

What social media platform do you use the most in your personal life? What about for business purposes?

I use Twitter quite a bit in my personal life. While I’ll check Facebook every day, I don’t post much. Since Facebook has become more family-oriented, I think Twitter is more useful in the PR profession. With Twitter, you can connect with people who are talking about the same thing (hash tags help with this…I’m still getting used to  seeing “trending topics” on Facebook mobile). For example, that is how I met Jessica Lawlor and learned about PPRA.

At work, we use Facebook and Twitter regularly, and the platforms’ messages vary based on our end goal for that post/tweet. We use Facebook to post pictures and tell stories, whereas we will use Twitter to tap into a particular conversation that is already going on.

If you could give one piece of advice to current PR students about getting into the industry, what would it be?

My advice for current PR students is to do as many internships as you can. Don’t rush through college so you can graduate and get a job; in my experience, it is much more difficult for recent graduates to find employment if they don’t have relevant internship experience. Don’t be afraid to post-pone graduation a semester if it means access to hands-on work experience. In my opinion, graduating early is not worth it if you sacrifice opportunities to gain practical experience.

One of the many great things about PR is that it touches so many industries. Experiencing multiple uses of PR can inform students about which career paths seem the most interesting and viable. So intern at a boutique firm, corporation, and a nonprofit because you’re only a student once, and it’s all a part of the learning experience.

What is your favorite thing about Philly?

I love touring the historical sites! I’ve done the double-decker bus tour more than a few times, and I’m always up for doing it again because you learn something new about the city every time you do it. Parallel parking, on the other hand, is my least favorite thing… I’m still learning how to do that.

Anything else we should know about you?

I also serve as the chair of the newsletter committee for PPRA. If anyone is interested in helping out with the newsletter or has a suggestion for something they’d like featured, please don’t hesitate to contact me at I’d love to hear from some of my fellow members.

Interested in learning more about what it is like to work in development? Have any parallel parking tips? Don’t forget to connect with Katie via email (above) or on Twitter (@KatieGrivna). 

Member Spotlight: Cari Feiler Bender

The following post is the first in a series. Twice a month, the PPRA blog will feature a profile on one of our members. Today’s post highlights long-time member and President of Relief Communications, Cari Feiler Bender. 

portraits at the MAP studio

So, how long have you been a member of PPRA?

At least 10 years, and probably longer…

How did you get into PR?

I was hired by Philadelphia Theatre Company very early in my career to do their marketing and public relations. Because I loved live theater, I dove into the work and learned everything on the job! When you’re passionate, you can get others excited about something.

Tell us a little bit about your current position.

I founded Relief Communications, LLC in 2001 to provide comprehensive communications services to the non-profit sector.  I work exclusively with non-profits to help them with strategic communications and media relations. Some of my clients are: Historic Philadelphia, Inc., Mural Arts Program, AIDS Fund, Eastern State Penitentiary, Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, and Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?

I love that I can be passionate about the incredible work of some of Philadelphia’s best non-profits, and I get to help tell their stories to the world.

Are there any PR trends that you’re really into right now? 

I keep trying to improve my electronic press kits to make more and more tools readily available for media.

What social media platform do you use the most in your personal life? What about for business purposes?

I use Facebook a lot, and love it because messages or posts are not gone 3 minutes after you post them. I use it about 60% of the time for work, and 40% personal.  I do use Twitter, but find it more useful for getting information than disseminating it.

If you could give one piece of advice to current PR students about getting into the industry, what would it be?

Take an internship!  Even if it is only part time while studying in school, there is nothing that replaces real-world experience.  Great for your resume, and more importantly, you can find out what you like and don’t like about PR.  My most successful interns have taken the experience seriously and learned a great deal.

What is your favorite thing about Philly?

I love that Philadelphia is a big small town, and I love running into people I know no matter where I go.  Also, there are amazing cultural institutions, so my family and I constantly explore all the region has to offer. And I’m a foodie, and just adore trying all sorts of new foods and new restaurants every chance I get.

Anything else we should know about you?

I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia.  So, while I love Philadelphia and have been here for more than 20 years, I still say “y’all” and like my iced tea sweet.

Interested in learning more about what it is like to do PR for non-profits? Have tips on a great restaurant for Cari to try next? You can connect with her via email ( or on Twitter (@reliefcomm).