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New MEJO class teaches nonprofit communications

In the spring of 2017, Marshele Carter applied for an APPLES service-learning course development grant in the hopes of creating a class focused solely on public relations and communications in the nonprofit sector. This semester, Carter, an adjunct faculty member in UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, taught her first class of MEJO 490, or Cause Communications: Public Relations Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations.

Carter started teaching classes such as Public Relations Writing and Public Relations Campaigns in the MJ-School in 2014. She said although the School had course offerings to prepare students for corporate public relations work, she saw a need for a class that was geared specifically toward equipping students to work in nonprofit communications. 

“I really saw a great interest, and even a demand and a gap, for this type of course,” Carter said. “There’s a whole population of students at Carolina, specifically at the School of Media and Journalism, that are more cause-minded. They want to wake up every day and go make a difference, and they want to effect for good.”

Angel Oak Creative, a Raleigh-based marketing firm that focuses on nonprofit marketing, also helped to sponsor MEJO 490. Caitlin Clinard, founder and president of Angel Oak Creative, as well as a UNC graduate, said she met Carter at a community workshop in Durham last year and was “super intrigued” by her vision. 

“If you really believe in and are passionate about what you’re communicating, it’s much easier to do your job,” Clinard said. “I just started dreaming up a model where marketing agencies work solely with nonprofits, and so Angel Oak Creative was born. What I like to say is I kind of stumbled upon my calling. I stumbled upon it, and creating and helping to get a cause marketing class up off the ground at the J-school may help other students who are exploring this field find their calling sooner than I did and not really have to create it.”

Clinard said her team specifically has taught several classes this semester on a variety of topics about cause marketing for MEJO 490. The class has also discussed the differences between the nonprofit business model and the for-profit business model, current trends and challenges for nonprofit organizations, traditional and contemporary fundraising campaign practices for campaigns, methods for measuring campaign success and “brandraising,” or how to build a brand through different mediums.

Olivia Slagle, a senior in the School of Media and Journalism on the public relations track, said the skills she and her peers developed over the semester have been helpful in preparing them for their service-learning event on Nov. 29. Slagle said the event, which will take place at the Carrboro collaborative-workspace YouthWorx on Main, is aimed at nonprofit professionals in Orange County to give them tools that they can use in their own public relations efforts. 

Throughout the semester, students have been preparing four different workshops on topics ranging from storytelling to branding to media relations to present at the event. 

“We’ve been working sort of in dual capacities all semester,” Slagle said. “We’ve really had the experience of not only learning about nonprofit communications in a general way, but we’ve also learned about what it takes as a nonprofit professional to put on an event like this.”

Meredith Katibah, a junior also on the public relations track, said she found out about MEJO 490 via flyers posted in Carroll Hall. Katibah said the class has been particularly important in expanding her network of nonprofits in Orange County.  

“I think it’s easy for students, whether it’s in the media and journalism school or in a different professional school, to get swept away in, ‘OK, how do I climb the ladder, how do I make the most money, how do I just acquire skills to then just the best possible job I can?’ Which is good and definitely important, but I am just really interested in the nonprofit sector specifically because I just want to find ways to help people and to give the opportunity for people’s voice to be heard,” Katibah said. “Now I have so many contacts around Chapel Hill and Carrboro to check back in with and volunteer with, and also connect friends to, as well.”

MEJO 490, which currently meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., will be taught by Carter again in the fall of 2019. 

Carter said she is particularly grateful to leadership within the MJ-School in supporting her desire to increase students’ exposure to nonprofit communications.

“They also see the importance of this, and that they share in the vision of providing this type of skill set to students at the School of Media and Journalism,” Carter said. “It’s just something that needs to be offered.”

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