Some time ago a local nonprofit executive asked me an interesting question. They lead an organization that advocates for a particular type of medical condition, not unlike the many specific disease-affiliated associations and nonprofits that are out there.
The question was this: they were hiring a marketing director (don't get me started on why the position is called marketing vs PR--a subject for another blog post) and wondered if I know anyone who is actually affected by the medical situation for which this particular nonprofit raises awareness and support.
I can see the logical basis for this question. It is easier and more genuine for a person to advocate for a cause in which that person clearly has a stake. But I also had a bit of a negative reaction. Does, say, the Lung Association spokesperson need to have lung disease? (The organization in question had nothing to do with the Lung Association).
Certainly, if it works out that way, fine. But I would think any organization would want to hire someone with the best communication skills, someone who knows how to advocate regardless of their personal situation. Also, someone promoting a health related cause who is not themselves affected by a particular disease can have another compelling effect on those who hear the message. If someone who has cancer is encouraging donations for cancer research, that would seem logical. But if someone who does NOT have cancer is making the case, it makes the issue seem mainstream.
I may be wrong here, but I also think the instinct to have a "patient" be the PR focus can border on exploitation. The public may not know why the person was hired, or if non-patients were considered for the job. But I wonder about the culture of the organization, resulting communication strategies, and the eventual employee's sense of confidence and respect if they were given preference because of their medical condition. I hear all the time from personal acquaintances that they do NOT want their disease to define them.
As always, let me know what you think about the issue by leaving a comment.