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Dorothy Day: Servant of God Turns into Public Relations Trailblazer

How a God – Fearing Anarchist Used Ethics to Shape Public Relations for Non-Profits

When I think of leaders in public relations I think of people like Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee. It never occurred to me that a devout, God-fearing, damnation avoidant, anarchist would be such a hidden gem in the public relations realm. This marvel of a human is known as Dorothy Day, a pioneer of engaged journalism and social justice. Day was the passion behind The Catholic Worker paper later it translated to a social movement based on her faith. The mix of religion, politi

cal beliefs, journalism and public relations strategies was the perfect combination to create The Catholic Worker Movement. Day’s work used public relations practices such as:

using media outlets to convey an organization’s messages

  • two-way communication system

  • socially responsible to both organization and society

By using these methods Day was able to reach her desired audience while keeping the balance of the c

hurch, right, and left leaning politics in the newspaper’s initiative. Her work helped develop the modern practice of public relations for non-profits.

Catholic Worker Movement logo

Newspaper to Movement

When Day co-founded The Catholic Worker, it was obvious the newspaper would not be for everyone. It was left leaning as far as politics and she was more than a little forthcoming with her own personal opinions of the political climate at the time. So, she found herself tasked with the challenge of deciphering just who her audience would be. In 1933 when the first issue was printed tools like psychographics were not available. So, she did what any other person trying to get readers to their messages would do. Day stood at Union Square and offered it to whoever passed by. In the eight-page paper Day wrote exposés about the injustices she wanted raise awareness for and even had a section about upcoming strikes. As the newspaper kept gaining readers Day’s idea of creating a community of likeminded people slowly turned into a social movement. In today's world a nonprofit would use their website or their social media platforms to promote and create awareness for the cause.

Engaging the Community

Day believed that the average person was extremely selfish and the mission for her writing and social movement was to make the public care about the less fortunate. She once said, “the greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution from the heart, a revolution which has to start with each of one of us?” The first step in any public relations campaign is to raise awareness and then there is a call to action. Day’s call to action was to speak out and protest injustice and be a voice for the poor. She organized strikes while also creating soup kitchens and shelters. By understanding her key publics and using the two-way communication method; she was able to create and spread the message through her writting. Her public was able to communicate with her by engaging with her publications.

Days’ Ethics

While Day built the Catholic Workers Movement and ran the paper, she never lost sight of her ethics. The money that was used to keep the charity going were always donations. She never took money from unethical sources. Day always put her staff and community first. In the last few decades companies have realized that they have to be ethical. Non-profits sometimes cross a line to try to reach more people, but it comes with a cost. Sometimes organizations offend their public. Dorothy Day was ahead of her times by staying within the limits of her community’s interests in her work.

Dorothy Day is the prime example of a journalist with some public relations moxie. Day’s work exceeded expectations, showcasing a flair for public relations along the way. Day was a champion for the causes she believed in and campaigned for the greater good. The non-profits of today have a radical, anarchist, Catholic woman to thank for their practices. Eat your heart out Bernays.