Public Relations 101 for Nonprofit Organizations by@techsoup

Public Relations 101 for Nonprofit Organizations

Getting your name out there doesn't necessarily require a donor with deep pockets. You can get lots of free publicity if you just know how to get the press interested in what you're doing at your nonprofit. The key to getting the media to help you spread the word about your organization is how you present information to them. It's a win-win situation: Journalists win because they get their hands on a newsworthy topic, and you win because your nonprofit gets exposure. There are certain elements that reporters look for in their stories that make a good story.
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Your organization needs exposure. If people do not know that your NGO exists, there's no way that they can become volunteers, supporters, and donors.

But where should you turn to get more publicity, without spending a lot of money? Getting your name out there doesn't necessarily require a donor with deep pockets. You can get lots of free publicity if you just know how to get the press interested in what you're doing at your nonprofit.

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The key to getting the media to help you spread the word about your organization is how you present information to them. If you send them something that sounds like an advertisement, they will direct you to their advertising department. But give them an interesting news story and they may jump at the chance to cover it.

Reporters Need Good Stories

It's a reporter's job to find news stories. Not just any news stories, but good news stories. Reporters are expected to come up with stories that will attract and engage readers and keep them coming back for more.

A great deal of the things that are deemed newsworthy by the media are bad news. Reading about tragic events such as natural disasters, murders, and businesses going under aren't exactly uplifting, but people want to know about it. If this were all that the news was about, however, it would get old quickly. People want some good news to balance it out, but many times notable good news is hard to find.

That's where your NGO comes in. Reporters have a need for good news, and you can help them by giving them good, positive stories. It's a win-win situation: Journalists win because they get their hands on a newsworthy topic, and you win because your nonprofit gets exposure.

That's not to say that your story has to be all flowers and sunshine. If your programs can be used to solve a problem that has been in the news lately, for instance, a more negative story might be in order. This is called "piggybacking" in the news business. The good news (pun intended) is since your nonprofit has the solution, there should always be a reasonably happy ending.

What Are the Elements That Make a Good Story?

The key to giving journalists what they want is knowing what makes a good story. There are certain elements that reporters look for in their stories. The more of them your story has, the better. These elements are

  • Impact: Stories that affect a large portion of the reporter's audience are very desirable. One example of a topic with an impact would be the COVID-19 pandemic. If your organization supplied laptops for at-risk youth to take classes remotely during school closures, a reporter might be willing to tie it in with a story about the effects of the pandemic.
  • Timeliness: The primary focus of most media outlets is current events. So if your organization is participating in some important event or a topical theme, it stands a good chance of getting media coverage.
  • Prominence: Did your organization help get a bill passed by the governor? Brag about it! The media loves to share information about prominent people and organizations. This works especially well with local media.
  • Proximity: Everything else being equal, things that are going on in the reporter's coverage area are more likely to get coverage than things going on in other areas. Local media covers some national news, and national media covers some world news, but each one's primary focus is on things that are happening in their own territory.
  • Conflict: This is a favorite of reporters, but it's one that publicity seekers often want to avoid because they perceive it as negative. But if you provide a service that could solve a well-known conflict or crisis, publicizing it as such could pay off.
  • Weirdness: If there is an offbeat element to your organization, the media might be interested in it. For example, many nonprofits create their own holiday that helps promote the cause. Successful ideas include Movember, St. Baldrick's Day, and National Root Canal Appreciation Day. (Yes, it's real, and that's why it could make great news fodder.)

The more of these things that apply to your story, the better your chances of holding a reporter's interest. By keeping these elements in mind and making it clear how your story relates to them in your pitches, you're in effect doing part of the reporter's job. And that will win you lots of brownie points with journalists since you are making it easy for them.

Now that you understand the elements that make a good story, think about what stories with your nonprofit hit the mark. A great place to start is to look at the stories you’ve already told to your donors in email or shared in a blog post. Those often can be repurposed into a story for a bigger audience.

What's the next step? Taking that story and turning it into something journalists will love. That's covered in the upcoming installment, "Types of Stories That Reporters Love and How You Can Get Their Attention."

Originally published as "Boost Your Credibility and Visibility with Public Relations" with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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