Getting Chartered as a not-for-profit PR – Gemma’s story
by Gemma Pettman, Chartered PR Practitioner
If you’re a not-for-profit communicator, you may have looked at the Chartership process and wondered if it was right for you. In the first in a series of posts, Gemma Pettman, the Vice Chair of the CIPR’s Not-for-Profit committee shares her experiences of getting Chartered: It’s July 2020. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. My workload has increased dramatically as clients deal with their response to this never-before-in-our-lifetime event and manage challenges arising from it. I’m working from home, which is a literal building site, as I have enthusiastically launched into another renovation project.
So why did I decide this was the right time to put myself forward for my Chartership assessment?
July 2020 marked 21 years since I moved from local radio news into my first comms role. I began my PR career in the public sector (with Kent Police) before moving to Yorkshire and into charity comms, where I have remained ever since.
Part of me simply wanted to mark that milestone. A larger part of me was enveloped in the stifling bear hug of imposter syndrome and wanted to prove something to myself. During the preceding two decades-plus, I had guided a huge number of organisations through crises, campaigns and comms conundrums. I had studied hard, read endlessly and was evangelical about CPD. But I still doubted myself.
Between endless meetings, urgent jobs and knocking the back of my house down, I signed up for a Chartership assessment day in September. I told almost no-one about it, figuring that if I flopped spectacularly I could keep it to myself.
Having previously considered getting Chartered and putting it off, I had read a few posts from other practitioners who had been through the process, explaining what to expect. While they were helpful in some respects, they had initially reinforced my view that this wasn’t for me. They were all written by PRs/internal comms folk working in agencies or the private sector. I couldn’t easily find people who had a charity background talking about the process but felt that I probably knew enough to give it a go.
Two weeks before my assessment date I received a pack which comprised joining instructions and a running order for the day, as well as three case studies with related questions to consider. There were also instructions for creating a two year CPD plan, which is peer-reviewed as part of the Chartership process.
My old pals Tench and Yeomans, Heath and Gregory were dragged off the bookshelf as I refreshed myself on the theory I had learned during my CIPR Advanced Certificate (I’m *that* old). That didn’t go brilliantly given I was experiencing the almost total lack of concentration and inability to read for longer than ten minutes that many of us encountered during the pandemic. I ploughed on.
I drafted some answers to the sample questions, knowing that these were mere prompts for the wider discussions that would take place during the assessment. The very act of noting my thoughts got my cogs whirring and I began connecting the theory to the practical and detailing real-life examples from my career.
This lasted a full day. There were three discussions with peers and an assessor, each taking around 75 minutes. The CPD peer review session lasted around 45 minutes to an hour and while we were doing that, the assessors were comparing notes on our performance. Then came the call from the lead assessor with our results and feedback, following by a final get-together for the successful candidates.
The process took place online and while I have nothing to compare it to, I found it okay. I’m used to delivering training online and looking for visual clues from people – opportunities to interject – but you do need to make sure you are bold and are heard. The assessors did a great job of making sure we all got ‘air-time’.
The work I had done to highlight real-life examples of the issues and themes raised by the case studies had been time well-spent. My experience was very different to the two PRs in my group (‘weaker’, the imposter in my head was telling me) but I made my case as best I could.
It was a pretty full-on experience. By the time the lead assessor called to say I had passed, I felt worn out and may have greeted his news with a little too much enthusiasm, but honestly, I was delighted.
The CIPR highlights benefits including gaining a professional competitive edge, demonstrating you have met rigorous criteria and enjoying greater influence in your organisation.
I think this is all true and certainly the first new client I signed after the process remarked on the fact I was Chartered. For me, the benefits have been more personal.
In my day-to-day work I’m very much a ‘behind the scenes’ person. I don’t have much of a profile and am driven by the results I get for my clients rather than recognition for my achievements. However, this external validation of my skills and experience was both timely (for me) and meaningful. The specific feedback I got about my leadership style was a big confidence boost.
Plus, there was something to be said for being able to focus on the process when *all this* (sweeps arm dramatically) was going on around me.
My advice to you
You may not feel 100% ready for this process but the more you find out about it, the better you can objectively assess your readiness. Don’t talk yourself out of it too easily. There are various blogs and discussions available on the CPD database and you can chat with people like me, who have been through it.
The theory is helpful but the practical, even more so. Do spend time linking the issues raised in your case studies back to your own career, challenges you have faced and approaches you have taken.
I did around three days of prep, all in the evenings and on weekends as the rest of the time I was juggling the demands of my clients (and sweeping up endless brick dust). In reality, the important prep was done during the previous 21 years and I want to offer the reassurance that I was seeking when I signed up for this process:
As a charity comms pro, your experience counts. It may look difference to the experience of an agency, corporate or public sector comms pro, but it is no less relevant.
If you are a not-for-profit PR who is considering getting Chartered and would like a chat, you can reach me via Twitter and Linked In.
Over the coming months I’ll be speaking to my fellow Not-for-Profit committee members about their Chartership experiences, so keep an eye out for future blogs on the subject. If there’s enough interest we may host an online Q&A session or panel discussion specifically for not-for-profit comms folks considering Chartership.
Gemma Pettman is an independent Chartered PR advisor and Vice-Chair of the CIPR Not-for-Profit committee.