Get Chartered 2023: A Guide for Not-for-Profit Comms Pros

This blog was written by Gemma Pettman, an independent Chartered PR advisor and member of the CIPR’s Not-for-Profit committee. She also chaired this event.
24th April 2023

One of the CIPR Not for Profit Group’s goals is to champion our members and part of that is encouraging more not-for-profit communicators to get Chartered.

Several of our committee are Chartership Buddies and something we hear frequently from members who are considering Chartership is whether their experience is ‘enough’. There seems to be concern amongst some that the not-for-profit environment, where many of us are working alone or delivering campaigns on a very small budget, might mean we can’t demonstrate the credentials needed to get Chartered.

As a group, we feel strongly that Chartership is for everyone, so on Thursday 20 April 2023, we invited three recently Chartered members who work for or with not-for-profit organisations to share their experiences.

Our speakers for the webinar were Nicola Knight, Stuart McCarthy and Adeeba Hussain.

Nicola is a former journalist turned PR with twenty years’ experience in the charity sector. She currently works as Head of Communications and Campaigns at Redwings, a national animal welfare charity, and is a member of the CIPR East Anglia Committee.

She told us: “I do like a challenge, but I had been putting this off. I think the words ‘assessment centre’ kind of struck the fear of God into me. Having worked in house in a charity setting, I didn't know if I had everything that was expected. I'd got my diploma, but quite a long time ago and there has been this time where I kept thinking, shall I go for it?”.

Stuart McCarthy-Thompson has worked in charity communications in Wales for more than 15 years. He became chartered in February 2023. Like Nicola, he had been accredited for many years, but only recently took the leap to Chartership. He said: I've been almost a decade as an Accredited Practitioner, and I thought, maybe this is it, maybe this is enough for me. Then I thought, you know what, I'm going to put myself through this, so I gave myself as little time as possible to worry. I booked it in January and did it in February.”

Stuart explained he works in a sector where accreditation and subscribing to professional standards is really important and he wanted PR to be part of that mix as well, explaining that: “as practitioners, that we are seen in the same light as other professionals was important for me too.”

Adeeba Hussain is the Director and Founder of consultancy Think Impact First Communications. She has over 20 years' experience of working in fast paced corporate environments across different time zones, in private, public, and not-for-profit sectors.

Adeeba had also put off getting Chartered but more recently set it as a goal for herself. She told us: “I was also worried about the assessment and about coming back to learning properly but I recently did a certificate with AMEC and I thought, no, I can do this. So, I registered, and the offer of a buddy and coaching and some workshops really helped. I had to delay it because I had an operation in September, so I pushed it forward to December, but was meant to be and it happened.”

Addressing why some not-for-profit colleagues may feel they’re not ready to take the Chartership step, Nicola described imposter syndrome as a possible factor. Adeeba spoke about having long held a desire to do ‘hands-on’ work rather than managing people, so wondered if she would be able to demonstrate leadership experience (which is one of the three areas of assessment, along with strategy and ethics). With charity communicators often working in small teams and with small budgets, Stuart suggested some, like him, might feel as though they are generalists, rather than being able to demonstrate specialisms.

All of our speakers concluded that many of the concerns they had ahead of their assessments were unfounded. When they reflected on their careers, they could call upon ethical challenges they had faced, speak about their strategic successes and could demonstrate leadership, if not in the sense of leading people, then by being thought leaders. Where they didn’t have examples of their own, they referred to case studies they were familiar with, or articles they had read on the topic.

“I think the key is it's about critical thinking,” Nicola said. “They want to see your critical thinking, so even if you haven't got that direct management experience, so many PR practitioners, especially in house, will have knowledge and understanding of the wider organisation… views on the direction of the organisation and why PR would be important to be at that at that level”

As is customary with panel discussions like this, we asked our speakers for their words of wisdom and top tips for colleagues thinking about getting Chartered.

Stuart said: “’Go for it’ is the overall message because even if you don't get it the first time around, what you'll get from that session, in terms of your confidence building, meeting other people, hearing other experiences is worth its weight in gold. In terms of preparation, think of how your experience relates to those case studies. Think of examples. Go back through your work plans, your previous CPD cycles. What have you learned already and what experience have you got?”.

Adeeba added: “It really isn't as scary as you think. My top tip would be plan, plan, plan as much as you can. Don’t think all you've got to do the night before is read through the case studies and that will be the preparation. No, use the two weeks to go back over your career and jot down where you've worked on campaigns that fit into all three areas of discussion on the day.”

Nicola offered some very practical advice: “Take some time off in those two weeks. Book time off or study leave, because there is a lot of preparation as Adeeba said. And also, you can take notes in [to the assessment]. I had the questions in front of me and then had little points of reference dotted around, so I wasn't reading things out, but I had memory joggers in front of me.”

If you would like to hear more from Stuart, Adeeba and Nicola – including how they tackled their two-year CPD plans ahead of the Chartership assessment - the session is available to members to watch again via the CPD database.

 Interested in reading more,  read our previous blogs Getting chartered By Helen Deakin and Getting chartered as a not-for-profit pr – Gemma’s story