Lauren Lawson-Zilai

Lauren Lawson-Zilai

Here’s the latest installment in our series on the “Day in the Life” of nonprofit communicators, where we ask you to describe your day in your own words.  

Would YOU like to be featured in this series? Tell us what you do in a typical day as a nonprofit communications pro.

Lauren Lawson-Zilai is the director of public relations and national spokesperson for Goodwill Industries International, a social enterprise that provides job training to nearly ten million people a year through the sale of donated clothes and household goods. Lawson-Zilai leads the external communications including celebrity spokespeople, crisis communications, public relations, and video production, and works closely on strategies related to cause partnerships, and digital and social media. As a spokesperson, Lawson-Zilai has been quoted frequently in the media including the Associated Press, Chronicle of Philanthropy, MarketWatch Radio, The New York Times, NonProfit Times, and USA TODAY. Lawson-Zilai is the recipient of the 2014 PR News PR Professional of the Year: Association/Nonprofit category and was a 2014 Washington Women in PR Woman of the Year honoree. She tweets from @LaurenLLawson.

Here is a typical day:

Before 8:00 am: Shower, dress, pack my one-year old daughter’s bag for the day, make her food and dress her. She attends a Montessori daycare, which is 15 minutes from our home. I’m fortunate that I live 15 minutes from the office, which is the shortest commute I’ve had in my work history.

Once I drop her off, I listen to the news to learn of any breaking news while grabbing coffee and my breakfast.

8:00 am – 10:00 am: As soon as I get in, I log on to Outlook, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Google+, Pinterest, and our internal communications portal, MyGoodwill. I specifically look for any urgent emails that need to be addressed that I missed between the midnight – 6 a.m. timeframe.

I check news aggregators and news feeds, and read through my email digests from the Independent Sector, Beth Kanter, Kivi, Nonprofit Quarterly, Cause Marketing Forum, NRF SmartBrief, and the GuideStar newsletter.

I receive hard copies of the Washington Post, WSJ and USA Today so I glance through those to learn of any breaking news or news that may impact Goodwill.

l look through Critical Mention, Google and Vocus alerts for any Goodwill Industries placements and alert GII leadership and local Goodwill staff about anything that might branch nationally or requires follow-up from our team.

I send particular news articles to members of the team. For instance, I’ll keep our donated goods and retail team abreast of any store openings happening across the country or I’ll send our CEO any news about leadership changes happening across the enterprise.

I often spend my day providing counsel to a local Goodwill spokesperson or president and CEO who needs advice on how to communicate an issue to the public or manage a crisis communications issue. There are 165 local Goodwill headquarters (agencies) in the U.S. and Canada, and each has its own CEO and communications staff. They tailor their job training programs and community services for the communities where they operate.

For example, a Goodwill agency may have a certified nurses assistant or home health care training program if it is located in a city with a large healthcare industry. For this reason, our organization is not top-down so my team has to consider this variable when creating materials.

Today, I had a chat with the Goodwill PR manager in Portland, Oregon who is working directly with Michelle Lesniak, the season 11 winner of Project Runway. Lesniak created a coat from a collection of donated clothing and auctioned off the one-of-a-kind design on, Goodwill’s online auction site. I worked with the PR manager to brainstorm ideas on garnering media coverage. Our team spearheads national media coverage but we often look to the local Goodwill agencies for inspiration and pitch ideas for national media outlets.

10:00 am – 12:00 pm: -Then I’m off to a series of meetings to plan the communications strategy for a number of initiatives to help people facing challenges to finding employment. One example includes the MyFreeTaxes partnership to promote free tax preparation services, which Goodwill is involved with for the third year along with fellow nonprofit partners, United Way and National Disability Institute. The partnership is funded by the Walmart Foundation and provides free federal and state online and in-person tax preparation and filing services to people earning $60,000 or less annually last year. While I’ve led the communications aspect in the past, I’m on the leadership team this year and part of our objective is to engage business partners to promote this service to their employees.

In addition, I attend several meetings related to our cause partnerships, which generate clothing donations and revenue to fund our job training programs. From now until January 9, SIX: 02 is collecting pants and jeans to be given to Goodwill. In return, donors will receive a discount off of Under Armour clothing.

Goodwill recently celebrated a 20-year cause partnership with Bon-Ton Stores. In spring 2014, the partnership raised $482,000 in cash donations to benefit Goodwill, which equates to 344,000 of job training services for people with disabilities and disadvantages. My team is consistently looking for brand names that align with our mission for future donation collection and cause partnership efforts.

As part of my job, I started what I like to refer to as a celebrity spokesperson cabinet. Our spokespeople do a fantastic job sharing Goodwill’s mission and services. These spokespeople include Evette Rios, host of CBS’ “The Chew” and contributor to “The Today Show” and Lorie Marrero, Certified Professional Organizer, best-selling author, the founder of the Clutter Diet, and a Woman’s Day contributor. I speak to Lorie about her end-of-year radio tour. Lorie helps people declutter their lives and encourages people to donate to Goodwill. The end of the year is a busy time as people donate their stuff to Goodwill to get their tax deduction in before January 1. I listen in to her tour, which included 11 radio interviews in major markets. Lorie provides tips and techniques about decluttering during this busy time of year.

12:00 pm – 2:00 pm: I check my email throughout the day on my phone to keep track of anything breaking within the Goodwill enterprise, any urgent deadlines or any media inquiries. Because my contact information is public on our website, it’s not uncommon for me to receive emails asking about what items Goodwill accepts for donations or wanting to escalate a concern. I forward these types of emails to our Goodwill headquarters in Rochester, which runs our customer service email and phone number.

After my last morning meeting, I run to the deli across the street and grab a salad and sandwich that I eat at my desk while responding to emails from colleagues. We often do have meetings over lunch so either those are BYOL or we’re lucky enough to be treated to lunch.

2:00 pm – 4:30 pm: GII is looking to have a more sophisticated content strategy and I’ve been working with our online team to make sure our content is especially helpful for the public and reporters. We meet to discuss their progress on their goals and objectives. I provide feedback on what kinds of content I’d like to see on our online properties.

Our team at GII works cross-functionally, which means a lot more integration and a lot of meetings to make sure our work is aligned. I work with our public policy team to discuss any PR initiatives they should be aware of. They tell me about any important events happening on Capitol Hill and whether there are opportunities to promote our public policy priorities. In addition, our teams have what we call an aligning public communications weekly meeting that consists of representatives from the public relations, marketing, mobile and digital, and mission teams. We discuss the creative for the second round of materials for Goodwill’s Ad Council campaign known as “Donate Stuff. Create Jobs.” In addition, my team is developing a video for Beyond Jobs, which is a Goodwill program that provides no-cost employment training, job placement and support services, such as childcare and transportation, for women who need job opportunities. The video is meant to encourage business engagement so that more employers hire this talented pool of candidates.

I work with reporters reactively just as much proactively. Goodwill has been serving veterans since World War I but now with more veterans returning to civilian life, I often receive calls from reporters looking to do profiles of success stories. I take a call from a reporter at The New York Post asking for profiles of veterans that are successfully transitioning from military life thanks to Operation: GoodJobs, a Goodwill program that provides individualized support both to veterans and their families, and works with them once they are placed in employment. The New York Post includes a photo of the veteran in its piece, which is a rarity nowadays.

Goodwill recently signed on multi-platinum recording artist, Kristian Bush, as a spokesperson and ambassador for Goodwill. He is best known as the other half of the band, Sugarland. Kristian has a single called “Trailer Hitch,” which is about how people have too many things and they can’t take them with them when they go. The song aligns perfectly with Goodwill’s mission. Kristian purposely sought out Goodwill as he wanted to ask people to give things, rather than money, in this economy. During his tour, he will be visiting Goodwill agencies across North America and spreading the message of the #Giveitaway campaign. My ongoing project is to work on the national PR for the campaign and coordinate Kristian’s visits with various Goodwills.

One of the privileges of my job is being able to work with our president and CEO, Jim Gibbons, who understands and values PR. Jim has a compelling background as he is the first blind graduate of the Harvard MBA program and was a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions. Jim and I work together on his Twitter account, his Huffington Post blog and discuss ways to increase his online visibility, including a potential Wikipedia page and other ideas. We also work closely together on planning potential speaking opportunities. As Goodwill considers itself a social enterprise, I’d like to have Jim speak at more colleges and universities that have social enterprise programs.

4:30 pm – 5:45 pm: I check my calendar for the day to make sure that I am prepared for any meetings the following day. I also pop in to have some face time with my team of three in order to answer any of their questions and make sure they have everything they need to complete their assignments. Our team also meets collectively once a week.

I spend my evenings catching up on reading to keep up with PR, nonprofit and DC related trends. I read through various PR/social media blogs as well as Washington Business Journal, the Chronicle of Philanthropy and PR News.

As a new mom, I’ve had to focus on balancing my day as I have to leave at a reasonable time to pick my daughter up from daycare.

6:30 pm – 8:30 pm: My evenings are comprised of washing my daughter’s utensils from the day, preparing bottles for the next day, bath time, laundry, etc.

9 pm – 10:00 pm: I usually eat dinner around this time and catch up with my husband. I try to attend networking events at least once a month to keep a tab on the landscape and catch up with PR colleagues.

10 p.m. – midnight: I often log back on to finish work in the evenings like most working moms. This is the time of day when I’m able to focus on writing or planning ahead. Part of my writing includes creating toolkits for the Goodwill agencies to use to promote various initiatives. These toolkits consists of social media messaging, a news release, a letter to the editor and blog. Some are more seasonal in nature, such as back-to-school, Halloween or holiday giving. Currently, I’m working on materials to promote Goodwill’s recent listing in Forbes’ 20 most inspiring companies. Not only is Goodwill the only nonprofit listed but is is the third time we’ve been included in the list. Our ranking jumped to #11, up from #19 last year.

Midnight: Bedtime

Want to be featured in this series? Tell us what you do in a typical day as a nonprofit communications pro.

Published On: January 12, 2015|Categories: Your Nonprofit Marketing Career Path|