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The New Reality of Generating Publicity For Your Nonprofit

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Media Relations

Feeling like your nonprofit's good work is getting lost in the noise? Yeah, we've all been there.

If you're here, you're probably ready to shake things up and get your nonprofit the spotlight it deserves. And guess what? It's about time! Generating publicity in today's digital age is an art, a science, and a bit of a circus act. Buckle up, because we're diving into the new reality of making your nonprofit the talk of the town.

There can be no doubt that journalism has changed a lot over the past few years. In fact, 2,627 weekly publications closed or merged with other papers between 2004 and 2023 and daily publications also saw a decline, with just over 1,200 in publication in 2023.

But there’s a positive takeaway. Those closures mergers, and acquisitions of news gathering organizations can mean your press releases have and will probably become more sought and worthwhile.

The shortage of newsroom journalists and employees for reportage and fact-checking means topical PR with a news angle has become more attractive to editors.

You probably don’t have the funding to justify a communications director.

Close to 70% of nonprofits say budget limitations is their number one PR challenge.

Yet press coverage is a must.

Rely on these five tips as you sit down at the keyboard.

Do your homework.

Sending your press release is not going to magically result in front page coverage or a feature story.

This means studying the publication(s) to whom you typically dispatch your PR. “A beat” is a reporter’s specific focus on a particular issue, sector, organization, or institution, such as politics, business, or the arts. It’s what they specialize in and what they trained for, so their eye may be more discerning.

If your news outlets don’t have clearly delineated “beats,” at least look for common ground – articles by a particular reporter that align with your organizations mission.

Making yourself available as the expert in the field and as a reliable source of information will go a long way to getting your nonprofit featured. Savvy reporters tend to call who they know for “the scoop.”

Make sure you’re one of those people.

But first, you have to get their attention.

Let’s get real—your nonprofit is doing amazing work. But amazing work doesn't always get the attention it should. You need to be the headline, not the afterthought. Craft compelling stories that tug at heartstrings and inspire action. Think of yourself as a storyteller. Share real-life impacts, transformational journeys, and the faces behind your cause. Journalists and bloggers love human interest stories, so give them something to swoon over.

Making that first toss.

“Pitching” a news or feature article idea via e-mail is not dissimilar to playing on the ball field.

What’s thrown may or may not be caught.

About 30% of organizations report that a journalist has contacted them about a release they’d sent.

More than 1 in 4 journalists (28%) receive over one hundred pitches per week. They respond to about 3% of those.

Reaching out personally is the fastest way to gain traction, but cultivating positive relationships with reporters, features. editorialists and columnists takes as much time, conversely, as it takes them to develop reliable (sometimes confidential) sources. Position yourself as an expert in the field, or someone who has unique access to that expertise.

The introductory pitch should be short and timely. Consider your words carefully. Avoid “clickbait” and sensationalized headlines. Reporters recognize hype.

Connect the dots.

Once you've set the scene, it's time to bring your details to vivid life. It's all about the who, what, when, where, why and how.

Don’t “round up” data or approximate something that a fact-checker can disprove. Your credibility will be in tatters if you misrepresent.

Include direct quotes from the interviewees involved, with their titles cited. This is attribution and refers to the source of something placed between quotation marks, as though it is dialogue. Pick one or two articulate spokespeople who would also be willing to answer follow-up questions.

Stories are sometimes edited to fit available space (from the bottom-up, which means EVERY important detail should be within the first one hundred words).

An effective way to ensure this is by using the reverse pyramid formula when writing your press release: going from the most vital information to the least important.

Lead with the essentials. Leave the least key details to the last.

Proofread! Proofread again! Slapdash releases with aimless paragraphs will inevitably be discarded. Hand it off to a colleague for a fresh set of eyes.

A picture’s worth...well, you know where we’re going with this.

This means furnishing photographs/illustrations/graphics that are of acceptable resolution, with proper captions and identifiers (and it’s always to have the written permission of anyone within the photograph, because their presence is an implied endorsement).

One additional option: if they are polished, short videos produced by your organization should be furnished. Small files can be attached to the e-mail; you can also provide easy access by directing them to a download service like DropBox or We Transfer. The news outlet might upload these to their website counterpart.

The shelf life of a press release.

Something time-sensitive needs to respect the outlet’s “lead time” (the duration between acceptance and publication). Be respectful of deadlines, too. Ignore the fine print beginning with ‘Must submit by…’ at your own peril. The best-crafted release, if it arrives too late in an editor’s in-box, will be relegated to the e-mail trashcan. A failure to furnish information in an expedient manner will potentially burn a bridge before you ever cross it.

The enormity of today’s media brings with it a ravenous appetite. You can feed the beast and make it work for you. By generating PR that reads like a news story, you become a content provider. To establish your credibility and reinforce your value to your local print media, download “Me? A Reporter?!” for even more “tricks of the trade.”

The enormity of today’s media brings with it a ravenous appetite. You can feed the beast and make it work for you. By generating PR that reads like a news story, you become a content provider. To establish your credibility and reinforce your value to your local print media, join our membership program to get more important information on this topic! Click here to learn more:

Journey to Becoming an Outstanding Fundraising Professional

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