Six Public Relations Tips for Nonprofits

Marketing is a dirty word for many mid-sized or community-based nonprofits. Activists often see marketing and public relations campaigns as tactics corporations use to dupe otherwise respectable consumers into buying junk they don’t need. Nonprofits, with their purer motivations and lofty goals, tend to spurn a lot of traditional public relations strategies. But that’s old thinking. To win the war of public opinion, attract new activists, and educate potential investors, nonprofits are learning that they need to use “free” or “earned” media in a new and savvier way. Here are six tips to getting your nonprofit the publicity it deserves.

Put yourself in a reader’s shoes.

Try to think like the average newspaper reader — follow opinion polls, search through the paper for stories, determine what editors think their readers find important. Editors are your audience, because they’ll be deciding if your story runs.

Know what part your nonprofit plays in the larger community.

Does your nonprofit deal with city politics? A large employer? Do you provide a major service to the community? How many people does your work directly affect?

Remember, it’s hard to argue with reason, easy to argue with emotion.

Is there a way to show that your nonprofit offers a reasonable, fair approach to a problem? If you come across as too marginal or too provocative, you will alienate more people than would be turned off by a more balanced message.

Articulate the message.

See if you can articulate your nonprofit’s event or announcement in words a regular reader will care about. In other words, be sure what you’re doing IS newsworthy.

Build a relationship with your press contacts.

Whether you’re ready to pitch a news story or an upcoming event, a program or a report, a legal action or a new partnership– it’s time to put faces, or at least voices, to your press contacts. Get to know editors and reporters. If one isn’t in when you call, you should always have a back-up. Assign a press spokesperson to handle all media inquiries.

Watch the daily news and see which reporters write what kind of stories. Larger papers have “beats,” but at smaller papers, one reporter may cover a range of issues. Offer to be a source of information, an expert, or a spokesperson. For daily morning papers and all broadcast media, call in the morning when a reporter tends to have more time, and when editors are looking for stories.

When your nonprofit has a story to pitch, have your press spokesperson call the reporter and give him or her a brief summary. If there’s interest, the reporter will ask for more information. (He or she then has to pitch it to the editor.)

Be available.

If you aren’t the press spokesperson for your nonprofit, make sure that person is available to be interviewed and quoted. Prepare your press spokesperson for some of the questions you can anticipate. After the story runs, call the reporter and offer feedback, especially if it’s positive. If there are small inaccuracies or omissions, frame your comments in terms of “next time, you might want to…” or “just so you know, this may have been edited out but…”

Nonprofit public relations involves an entire strategy of building name-recognition, developing an action program that is relevant to the larger public, and following through on relationships with your press contacts. These six steps are only your first six on the road to getting publicity for your nonprofit, but with persistence, nonprofits can become adept at the world of public relations. Also, be sure to check out CauseWire, eReleases’ press release distribution service for nonprofits.

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