Media Relations for Nonprofits: Position yourself as an expert in your field


Nonprofit organizations are constantly vying for attention in a crowded marketplace. Media coverage is one of the most effective—and inexpensive—ways to generate awareness about an organization.

Editorial coverage is more credible than an advertisement and is therefore more effective than other forms of communication, like direct mail, that nonprofits traditionally employ.

There are many types of media coverage that can help nonprofits get attention: profile pieces on the organization, public service stories and human-interest stories.

Rather than having organizations try to “sell” a story to them, media professionals often prefer to rely on expert resources. Nonprofits can position themselves as a valuable media resource, industry expert or industry representative by consistently sending the media information. This type of relationship is also cost-effective for nonprofits, because the better established your relationships are with the media, the fewer resources you will expend on public relations.

Here are some steps to help your nonprofit become a valued media resource:

1. Have a communication plan. Develop an outline of strategies to be followed, including target audiences, key messages, schedules and news release opportunities. Establish specific goals for your public relations campaign.

2. Review any existing promotional materials and media coverage your nonprofit may have received.

3. Make sure to have a top-notch web site with an online pressroom. This does not mean your nonprofit’s online pressroom has to be fancy and expensive. It simply means that it should contain comprehensive, easily accessible information (with a contact name and phone number on every page). Journalists conduct more and more research online these days, and look to web sites to gather information. Not only will an online pressroom make your organization appear technologically savvy, but it will also save your nonprofit money by significantly reducing printing costs.

4. Develop a comprehensive press kit, which acts as the basis for your online pressroom. This press kit does not have to be sent, unsolicited, to all media outlets, but it should be available to send out if and when members of the media ask for it.

5. Send a letter of introduction to the media about your organization. Describe your nonprofit and its mission. Let journalists know that you are available as a resource to them, listing topics on which you can speak. Make them aware that you have a web site with an online press kit and a hard copy of a press kit, and that you will be sending them information on a regular basis. Make sure to include your web site address in the letter.

Many journalists truly do keep this type of information on file and are constantly looking for fresh sources of information or commentary. Your contact with a reporter might also trigger a story idea that features your organization.

It is easier to be mentioned in a story than it is to get a story written exclusively about you and your nonprofit. To your current clients, potential clients and donors, this may even be more impressive, especially if you are mentioned in an article that includes other well-known organizations.

6. Make sure you send the media information on a regular basis. Keep a steady stream of useful information available to journalists. For example, send out a press release or bylined article about a different subject every month. Just make sure that the information is timely and relevant to the media.

7. It is critical that anyone who may be a spokesperson for your organization go through media training. Media training will help your potential spokesperson feel comfortable, not only in handling questions, but also in clearly presenting your association’s points while sounding sincere and credible. Media training is effective in handling both friendly and difficult media situations. It comes in handy for standard publicity interviews and during times of crisis.

This training is also invaluable for board and committee members, especially those who want to continue taking on a leadership role within your organization. You can even create a roster of spokespeople (based on location, gender, age, title, etc.) to turn to for various publicity opportunities.

PR is a foundation-building process. Educating the media about your organization and its services takes time. Not only does the media want to know that you will be around for a while (many nonprofits come and go quickly), but they may not be working on a story exactly at the time you try to pitch them something. But in six months, or nine months or a year and a half, they will inevitably have a story idea surface for which they will need your assistance.

Once your reputation with the media is established and cultivated, they will respond to you and even call to get your help with breaking news stories.Remember these tips and you can become a trusted resource to the media while raising your organization’s profile at the same time.