We enticed many news outlets to report on the 30th Anniversary of the nonprofit, StreetWise, the nation’s oldest street newspaper.
In the nonprofit world, achieving your mission can often hinge on one thing: awareness. The more people know about your organization’s impact, the more buzz you’ll generate to support your programs.
Public relations is a powerful tool to boost awareness. So in this post, we’ll guide nonprofit professionals on how to effectively develop PR strategies and tactics to attract media attention and get results.
We recently shared these tips in a PR workshop we conducted for affiliates of Communities in Schools, a leading education nonprofit. While we provided tips to leaders in education, this guidance can apply to any nonprofit.
Why Should Nonprofit Organizations Use Public Relations?
Before diving into the “how” we use PR, let’s address “why” public relations should be included in any marketing mix aimed at achieving your business goals. Public relations is a valuable tool for several reasons:
- Amplifying Impact: PR enables you to broadcast your organization’s work to a broader audience, ultimately increasing your impact and reaching potential donors, volunteers, and partners. See the news story that helped amplify impact for this human services nonprofit.
- Building Credibility: Developing media relationships and securing positive news stories can generate goodwill and lend credibility to your nonprofit’s efforts. That helps reinforce trust among your stakeholders. PR builds trust that just doesn’t happen through paid advertising. A story about your organization in an independent media outlet provides third-party validation in ways that advertising just doesn’t.
- Showcasing Expertise: By positioning your CEO or executive director as a thought leader in your field, you not only enhance your organization’s reputation but also can attract attention from potential collaborators and supporters. This news story quoted our nonprofit client alongside the founder/CEO of Starbucks!
- Engaging Stakeholders: PR can engage your audience by sharing stories of your staff, program participants, and other stakeholders. This helps you attract and retain volunteers and donors. This news coverage showed how our client’s work benefited those they serve.
- Funding and Support: Well-executed PR efforts can inspire people to donate, volunteer, or become long-term partners with your organization. Our PR campaign helped catch the attention of one of the world’s top philanthropists.
- Local and National Visibility: Whether you’re looking to make waves in your local community or gain national recognition, PR can help you refine and test your messages, to help you identify ways for your messaging to resonate with your target audience.
Developing Your PR Strategy
Now that we’ve highlighted the importance of PR for nonprofits, it’s time to develop a winning strategy. We like to start by asking clients the following questions:
- What Are Your Goals? Identify specific objectives, whether it’s elevating your organization’s profile in local or national media, showcasing your executive director’s expertise through awards or contributed essays, promoting staff or stakeholder achievements, or to tug at donors’ heartstrings before a big e event or gala by providing real-life stories of impact you make for those you serve.
- Who Is Your Target Audience? Are there different interests, personalities, careers and demographics of the people you want to reach? Identify the media outlets they are most likely to follow or be interested in. Use the info you’ve gathered in your target audience list to identify media outlets likely to cover your news.
- What Is Your Key Message? Craft a clear, concise, and compelling message that communicates your mission, achievements, and impact. Avoid jargon and use straightforward language that everyone can understand. I often tell clients to create a message that your 6th grader will understand. What are the key proof points tha support your message? How do you bring your mission to life through the stories of those you’ve helped? Those impact stories are what makes your efforts and results unique. Your best stories will attract the most media attention!
- How Will You Convey Your Message? How do you choose the best PR tactics for delivering your message? Should you write a press release and send it to local journalists? Or will a short email message that we call a “pitch” sufficiently interest a reporter or producer? Do you have great photos and links to include in a press release or pitch (images entice people to open your emails)? And if you are “pitching” your expert as a thought leader, will you or your CEO offer to write a guest essay on an important topic?
- Is Your Story Newsworthy? If you think you’re not the best judge about whether your story is newsworthy, ask other what they think? Get input from your team? Is the story interesting to them? Ask them why and be open to a variety of answers. Probe further and ask what is most compelling. You might even consider contacting a reporter to ask what they think about your topic’s newsmaking potential.
Finding Local and National Media and Building Relationships
Getting your message out there begins with finding the right media outlets and building relationships with journalists. You don’t need precise research skills to find the right reporters to reach your target audience. Here’s how to do it:
- Read, Watch, Follow and Subscribe to Local Media: Stay informed about local news by reading news sites, watching TV, following online news sources and influencers, and even listening to local talk radio.
- Leverage Online Platforms: In towns without traditional media outlets, join Facebook community pages. Post your local event to share your news and engage with your community.
- Use Social Media: Share your stories and updates on your organization’s social media profiles. Most reporters have their own social pages, whether it’s on Facebook, X, Instagram or LinkedIn.
- Follow and Engage with Reporters: Identify reporters and the news outlets that cover news related to your nonprofit’s and follow them on social media. Leave positive comments on their stories and send them messages of praise.
- Contact Reporters Directly: Reach out to reporters through their websites or social media, introduce yourself and your organization, and express your interest in collaborating on stories or sharing ideas. You can often find their email addresses on their news web sites, and send them praise or an idea. And if a news outlet includes a phone number on its “Contact Us” page, call and ask for the reporter. Most times, they will thank you for reaching out.
Persistence Pays Off
Building media relationships and securing coverage may require persistence. Follow up if reporters don’t respond initially, but also be adaptable. If one pitch doesn’t work, tweak it to make the story more appealing. If a particular outlet doesn’t show interest, move on to the next opportunity. Remember, persistence, adaptability, and dedication are key to PR success.
To wrap up, effective public relations can be a game-changer for nonprofit organizations. PR helps nonprofits achieve their missions, engage with stakeholders, secure funding, inspire change and create a lasting, positive impact on the communities they serve.
If you’d like to discuss how we could apply these tips, feel free to contact me! Let’s chat about amplifying your nonprofit’s great work.