While it seems that some nonprofits have the luxury of being a household name or are always in the press, this just isn’t the case for the majority of us. Huge organizations have huge teams and designated employees just for nonprofit public relations and outreach, media connections, and communications. But if you’re like most nonprofit organizations, you don’t have a whole lot of extra staff or time to devote to chasing news anchors and movie stars to help you get your mission in the public eye.
This is where knowing the basics of nonprofit public relations will come in handy so you can effectively pitch media and not waste your time without seeing results.
This blog post will help provide some quick tips and techniques for helping your mission get more attention in less time.
The formula for PR is actually pretty simple. When thinking about how to approach your nonprofit public relations angle, consider the following: Pitch + Spokes-Person + Platform.
In other words…
What story will you tell?
Who will tell it?
Where will you tell it?
That said, identifying when to reach out to the press and how to do it so your press release isn’t moved to the spam folder is a little more involved. Let’s take a look.
Reaching out to press
Timing is everything
If your time is limited, try to limit extra work by reaching out to the media when you can maximize the effort. The best time to reach out is when you are running a campaign or hosting an event. This can help maximize your results by giving the public something tangible to get behind. Having something specific to support will help your pitch have an edge.
One of the hottest buzzwords in nonprofit communications right now is storytelling. This is because story is one of the most effective forms of communication available; it’s a concrete way to demonstrate your mission and create real connection with the audience. By the nature of being a nonprofit, you already possess a lot of the qualities for a great story. The greatest quality is the human element.
What to pitch
If you are curious about what to pitch, consider what great stories you already have in your nonprofit.
The best stories to pitch the media (or include in any communication materials) have the following:
Struggle/Solution: What community/personal issues does your organization address?
Emotion: People act on emotion! How can you communicate the feelings experienced and help your audience feel them too?
Call to action: What should people do once they’ve heard your story? Be clear! Should they donate? Volunteer? Spread the word?
Think about who best embodies the struggle/solution and emotion your cause stands for. Using the singularity effect is very effective when it comes to storytelling. In other words, pick one person – i.e. face, name, story – that you think people would really connect to, understand, and empathize with. Ask yourself how your mission is unique. What sets you apart from other nonprofits and what specific stories could you share to showcase that? Why should others care about it?
Who, what, and where
Now that you have your story in mind, think of what person and platform could share it. This is where a little research is involved. Consider making a list of media contacts by researching platforms and identifying one or two names per platform to reach out to with your pitch. Think about platforms and people who might already cover topics related to your cause. To get the wheels turning, think about where you go to get news related to your mission.
It’s important to cast a wide net when you are getting started. Remember, the media is much larger than the newspaper, television, and radio these days. Can you pitch podcasts? Reach out to social media influencers? Are there journals or magazines that could do an article on you? Make a list of people you hope to gain attention with, and then write your press release.
How to write a press release
When thinking about how you want to pitch the media, think about how you would want to be pitched. Most media outlets have their inboxes flooded with messages asking them for something. Most calls and emails are begging for exposure or pleading for airtime.
Don’t be like the friend who only calls when they’re in a bind or need a loan. Try taking a different approach. How can you pitch your story as something valuable to them? How can you essentially “gift wrap” an irresistible story that will save them time and make them look good for covering it?
When reaching out to the media, a little flattery will go far. Compliment the person on a recent article they published or on a recent story they covered. Let them know you’ve done your research and appreciate the voice they give to important causes. You’d be surprised, but many people don’t take this step of basic courtesy. Remember: Behind the media there are human beings. Think of how you would approach meeting someone new. Chances are good (I hope) that you wouldn’t walk right up to someone, shake their hand, and then ask them for a favor. Avoid this with the media as well.
After you’ve shown an interest in their work, introduce yourself and then give them the pitch. Remember, your pitch is your story. Tell them the struggle and communicate the emotion. Ask them if they would consider running a piece on your story and explain how the story will benefit their audience through education and empowerment. Try to take the stance of service to the community, which shouldn’t be hard because you already do this every day with your amazing cause!
Don’t be afraid to hear no—or nothing.
When it comes to nonprofit public relations, sometimes it takes a lot of nos or no responses before you strike someone’s fancy with your story. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a good story; it just means you haven’t found the right advocate or haven’t found someone who connects with it yet. Just like donors, not everyone will “support” your cause. It’s okay to ask for feedback if someone does take the bait. Don’t be discouraged by a no. Just keep doing your research and tweaking your pitch until you strike gold.
Once you’ve developed a relationship with someone in the media, maintain it! Just as you would with a donor or volunteer, make sure to consistently reach out to your media contacts to remain top of mind.
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