“We’re having our annual (insert the name of your next event), and we need the media to cover it. Does anyone know (insert name of favorite news anchor) at channel (insert local TV station)? How do we get our nonprofit press release picked up?”
Sound familiar? It happens all too often. You’re doing a groundbreaking or you’ve just received an amazing gift, and now you want the media to cover it. You’ve got your big event coming up; how do you get the media to notice a press release for a charity event? Maybe you just want to reach a larger audience. Better yet, you want the world to know about the great things that your nonprofit is doing in your community.
I’ve got good news and bad news: the bad news is that the media has changed drastically over the last few years. As someone who worked in radio for more than 24 years, I can attest to the changes at radio stations alone, not to mention the evolutions at television or the print media. The biggest problem is that they have less personnel doing more things. So how do you get them to pay attention to you? Before you give up, read on for the good news.
Obviously, you need a plan. For this article, I’m going to go with the assumption that you don’t have a budget for any paid advertising, so let’s get some free publicity with a nonprofit press release.
The best advice I can leave you with is to establish relationships with local media before you need them. Do your homework and find out who writes feel-good stories in your local paper or the news anchor that might have a soft spot for your cause. Start now by introducing yourself and your organization, and just keep them in the loop. You’re not asking for anything (yet), just letting them know about the ways you are making a positive change in the community. Maybe you could ask them if they would be willing to receive your newsletter. That will go a lot farther than simply adding them to your email list. DON’T do that!
You’re not going to become best friends with everyone in your local media, but make sure you’re identifying a few key members. For print media, make sure your list features both journalists and their boss, the editor. For television news, you might list a reporter who does lots of charity stories, an anchor who is well-known in the community, and the news director. But don’t zero in on just one station or paper. Build a list of media contacts with other media outlets in your community as well. You’ll want a list of contacts to refer to when you’re ready to send a press release. Also, make sure you keep the list up to date. People come and go in the media.
It’s also a good idea to create a spreadsheet where you can keep track of your releases. If you have more luck with one outlet or journalist over another, get to know them more and keep them up to date on all of the events and happenings of your organization. Who knows, they might also become a donor someday!
When your event or announcement comes, it’s time to write the press release. You might think it’s a tough task to write one, but it can be easier than you think.
A press release essentially answers six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Who are you, what are you promoting, when is it, where is it, why are you doing it, and how does it benefit the community? This is pretty basic, and the more skilled you are at writing a press release, the better the outcome. Make sure you also include contact information should the recipient have any other questions or want to dig further than your press release affords. If you’re not familiar with writing a press release for a nonprofit, search for press release templates online. That should at least help you get started.
One of the most important parts of your nonprofit press release is the subject line of the email you send it in. How many emails do you skip over in your inbox because the subject line doesn’t grab you? Consider the plight of the news department that receives hundreds of emails every day. Your subject line is everything.
Keep your subject line brief, with no more than 50 characters. Take your time writing it so that your brevity tells as much of the story as possible. Then, write a couple of different ones and test them out on a few staff members to see which one works best.
This is where the contact work we talked about earlier comes in handy. Send them the press release and follow up to make sure it was received. Many times, it is after a follow-up phone call that your media contact decides to run your story.
Remember, media coverage is never guaranteed. You might have a fantastic event scheduled and have received confirmation of attendance. But on that day, a major event happens downtown. Chances are the news media will skip your event to cover the “breaking news.” It happens all the time.
Finally, watch the news and read the paper. There are times when the media might be doing a story that involves something similar to your mission. For example, perhaps they do a story on the homeless, and you run a homeless shelter. Reach out to the reporter and leave them a comment from your perspective. Offer to be an authority on the subject in the future for similar stories. A good reporter has a database of subject experts that they like to refer to when working on a story. If that is you, it’s another way to strengthen your relationship with them.
Continue to work on these skills and your media relations, and, eventually, you’ll begin to develop key supporters in the media who can help you get the attention your nonprofit deserves.
Written by Joe Turner, Director of Fundraising, Marketing, and Communications at Soukup Strategic Solutions, which provides nonprofits with outsourced services such as managing their social media, donor management system, communications, and more.
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