A How-to Publicity Primer

Nonprofit Public RelationsThe good news for nonprofits feeling a bit perplexed about publicity-seeking is that the media is indeed always hungry for content. So whether your nonprofit is local, regional, or national in its scope, the key is to reverse-engineer what they’re seeking and provide compelling information to them in a timely manner.

Events and anniversaries present prime opportunities as the two key questions an editor or producer typically asks when being presented with a pitch is “why you?” and “why now?” So if you have a milestone coming up, planning your media outreach to fully leverage the opportunity is key as you may not have a similar opportunity for some time thereafter. For those needing to manufacture a newsworthy “event,” you might try camping onto one of the even zany holidays which can be unearthed by researching sites like www.HolidayInsights.com or www.NationalDayCalendar.com.

Timing and targeting

In getting underway with your media outreach, if you have the latitude, try to do some diligent advance work in terms of sussing out any competing events being held at approximately the same time – if needed, you might consider rescheduling to achieve a clearer window of exposure. A nonprofit whose 25th anniversary I oversaw publicity for last year chose Memorial Day weekend for their mega event which was helpful for those attending (namely 500 volunteers who traveled from near and far to construct 25 homes for poor families over the course of two days), but nevertheless timing which ultimately proved a challenge in courting the media — especially given this particular event was also held across the border in Mexico and had no relevant tie-in with our American holiday of honoring our veterans. In this example, you can well imagine how many events were happening nationwide over that same high profile 3-day weekend.

Once you’ve done your best to ensure you’ve created the optimal timing for raising your organization’s profile, the next critical aspect is correctly targeting the media as well as utilizing appropriate lead times. If you’re seeking coverage in a monthly publication, you need to contact them a solid three months advance. For daily newspapers and radio, three to four weeks is typically sufficient. It might SEEM that contacting a given media outlet sooner yet would somehow give you an advantage, but you would be wrong in most instances. So, while a bit on the nerve-wracking side to pitch closer to an event, that’s nevertheless a matter of respecting the media’s own internal timetables.

Do your homework to ensure you’re reaching out to the most appropriate media in terms of the audience they serve and ensuring your message is of appeal to them. You may want a given media, but it’s instead all about why they should want you(r story). I also cringed when a well-meaning client suggested offering pay to a journalist – that’s completely unethical and would be a total nonstarter. That whiff of desperation also won’t endear you to a media professional.

Particularly important is thinking about which medium will be best to tell your story. Is it something that needs to be explained or discussed? Perhaps radio interviews would be ideal if so. If you want TV coverage, is the story “visual?” — showing will be the determining factor here, and having video footage to incorporate is typically essential for television. Also be aware that competition for coverage in physical print publications is stiffer than ever due to their lamentably waning ranks. So you can also research relevant high traffic websites and/or bloggers for exposure (use the same lead time referenced above for daily newspapers). Some first tier media publications also have separate online divisions and it is somewhat “easier” to get coverage with them as they are unrestricted by the economics of ink, paper, and postal costs.

Public Relations Tips for NonprofitsDo’s & don’ts of pitching

What is most helpful as you commence pitching is, again, to focus on what’s in their best interest. So timing a well-crafted and compelling summation of your upcoming event (or anniversary, etc.), and using the proper lead time for contacting them is vital. But given the relentless time pressures in this industry, DO keep it on the lean side initially. In fact, a key strategy I employ is laying out the salient points and then asking permission to send additional information – especially re: a press kit. Contacting someone for the first time and inundating them with attachments is generally received very unfavorably by the media.

When you do supply them with additional information, keep that on the lean side too as they simply don’t have time to wade through lengthy manifestos and mission statements, wordy bios, etc. Bullet points work well and keeping key information organized onto a single sheet of paper per component if possible is very well-received, e.g. a fact sheet, event flyer, roster of executives/staff, etc. Another helpful tool if an event/story is highly visual is to setup an online Press Room to organize and house various documents (.pdfs) as well as both high resolution and low resolution images and/or a collection of video clips with running times notated. If you’re interested in having ongoing media coverage, the investment of time to setup this resource initially will serve your organization well over time as it telegraphs a welcome level of professionalism to the media. Be sure to label everything clearly and make the Press Room easily navigable.

If event-oriented approaches don’t dovetail with the nature of your nonprofit or its current focus, stay sharp in turning around quick responses to news stories which relate specifically to your mission or goals. Once more, research is critical in terms of making contact with a journalist who covers that specific topic/beat or news director, etc. The media is continually needing to cite expert opinions – so be one for them. Again, keep your initial outreach lean in commenting on a developing news story is recommended; for example one that brings up a moral issue which relates to your work, proposed legislation, etc. Each individual pitch should always include your full contact information including all phone numbers, etc. Be prepared for the need to respond to follow-ups of theirs after-hours and DO reply quickly if this occurs. When an editor or producer wants more information, they’ll ask for it — and by pitching leanly you’re more apt to garner their attention, especially having not bogged them down by sending too much extraneous information on the front end.

If possible, snag a celebrity…or two, or seven

A significant game changer for any nonprofit is the acquisition of a celebrity endorser or participant – this was the tipping point for securing significant media coverage for the mega homebuilding event in Baja referenced earlier as nearly 20 Olympic athletes (the majority of whom were medalists) joined the build that weekend. The key in partnering with a celebrity is ensuring something about them resonates directly with your nonprofit’s work and/or the nature of the event itself ideally. For a nonprofit in Sonoma County who works with struggling families, I lined up the top-rated local radio personality to emcee the event along with the guest speaker who was a highly popular local Congresswoman, formerly a single mom on Welfare. “Celebrity” is anyone recognizable who will resonate with and help expand your story – both to your donors as well as the media, and keep in mind their sensibilities are likely shared, especially if you’re operating on the local community level.

While these are just a few elementary but hopefully helpful tips vs. a comprehensive guide, an overarching principle to keep in mind is that “the media are people too.” So be friendly, warm, (although not chatty), professional, don’t bug them with too-frequent follow-ups, and for heaven’s sake, no whining (!) or acting entitled to coverage. Highlight instead why sharing your news will be of interest to their audience of readers, listeners, etc. vs. emphasizing what’s in it for you—alas, that’s simply not a selling point on their side of the equation. Be respectful which includes checking spellings and pronunciations, even gender, to ensure your greeting is accurate. Our names are ours alone and nothing gets an exchange off to a more awkward start than having to apologize for having made a blunder of theirs. For example, I have a nickname which is commonly a man’s name, Sam, but I’m female. So I’m not keen on calls that begin with someone asking for Mr. Jernigan. Similarly, the editor who oversaw a story on a client of mine in Elle Magazine was herself named Alex. And since S.A.M was an acronym born when I had a different last name, so I also don’t appreciate being addressed as Samantha.

Nonprofit Public Relations TipsAt this point in our culture, I do just use the informality of first names for media outreaches and this is pretty universally accepted, and I then respond with however they sign off in their email reply. The People editor who assigned a writer for our mega Memorial Day nonprofit event is named Elizabeth, but when she wrote back she signed off as Liz, so that’s also how I addressed her from then on, but let them greenlight their own nickname — we all remember the lil’ ditty about what happens when we assume.

Lastly but definitely not leastly, regardless of whether you’re courting the notion of follow-up exposure with a given media after landing an interview booking/coverage by them, be gracious and DO send a handwritten thank you note in the mail to the producer/editor after the fact. You’ll not only brighten his or her day when it’s received (remember, they’re a fellow human!), but you’ll have left a positive impression on behalf of your nonprofit. And, after all, that’s the whole point of pursuing publicity in the first place, right? It’s also fine to send them any newsy tidbit a month or two down the road – you never know, and cultivating a potentially ongoing relationship as an expert source of theirs is a possibility. Just don’t add them to your roster for donor appeals or regular ezine updates, etc. as the last thing a busy media pro needs is more clutter in their in-box. Cheers and g’luck…!

Technology Creates a New Giving Economy

Crowdfunding for NonprofitsTechnology can be very good for the nonprofit world. While technology has fundamentally changed the way we do business, the world outside of the for-profit sector has just recently caught on to its benefits. Some tech phenomena have already successfully infiltrated the nonprofit sphere, including the use of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to improve donor relations and other daily business functions, or crowdfunding for fundraising purposes. While existing technologies remain useful for many, the next wave of using technology for good will be in the peer-to-peer giving model.

Becoming prime time in the corporate world in the early 2000s, SaaS took hold in the nonprofit space in the last 8-10 years. The very nature of SaaS made it ideal for the nonprofit sector: It’s easy to use, low cost, and avoids integration challenges that often come with on-premise databases. It was also readily adopted because of its ability to help groups manage donations and track individual donors.

For example, Room to Read, a global organization transforming the lives of millions of children in low-income countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education, relies on SaaS application Salesforce for project allocation, reporting and tracking. It helps their global teams track at scale for both the project and donor side, enabling them to make more meaningful connections and retain existing donors.

The next wave of technology modeled perfectly for nonprofit use was crowdfunding. Making its first appearance in the late 2000s, nonprofits quickly turned to Indiegogo and KickStarter to help fund their initiatives and programs. Crowdfunding caught on in the nonprofit world because it was an easy platform for anyone to access and donate to. With online payments becoming standard, it took the hassle out of mailing a check or donating in-person. Also, the collective community aspect allowed hundreds of people to work together to reach a common goal.

In 2014, Code.org launched its ‘Hour of Code’ program, with a goal of raising $5 million on Indiegogo to train 100 million students to code. They also created a viral video starring Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates for the campaign. It was the most successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign of its time, quickly surpassing its goal and showcasing the power of collective online donations.

While SaaS and crowdfunding have clearly made their mark on the nonprofit sector, the next technology that will be adopted in the nonprofit sector is peer-to-peer sharing. First emerging in the late 2000s and becoming mainstream in the last three years, the for-profit sector has already seen runaway hits in the peer-to-peer economy with startups like Airbnb, Uber and Zaarly. So what if this model was applied towards social good?

Elevating the sharing economy to the giving economy, nonprofits can tap this concept to allow donors to connect directly to those in need. Users are already familiar with peer-to-peer giving technology and it is easy to use and implement at a broad scale. Also, it is appealing to a millennial’s mindset who wants to help or receive help at the touch of a button.

Additionally, this model takes crowdfunding one step further by creating a meaningful one-to-one connection. Instead of being one of many, a donor can foster a direct relationship with someone in need and feel more satisfying for the donor. Donors who give in this way often receive immediate and direct feedback from someone they have helped, bringing a rush of emotions knowing they have impacted someone’s life. This is what turns random acts of kindness into a normal habit.

Out of all the nonprofit sectors, social services can benefit the most from peer-to-peer giving since it fosters a more dignified way for people to seek help. Because peer-to-peer giving is non-conditional and not predicated on paperwork, rules about sobriety, lifestyle, or impersonal prioritizations by well-meaning social agencies, those who need help can simply receive it from another community member. For instance, if a homeless person requesting a tent has to wait six months for social services paperwork to go through, it can mean they have to sleep outdoors, in the rain, in fear for personal safety, for another half a year. Peer-to-peer giving can drastically shorten the time to receive something critically needed for survival from months to days or even just hours.

The tech world isn’t just in a Silicon Valley bubble anymore. Technology has helped nearly every industry around the globe develop new product or services. With an ever-expanding influence, we have the opportunity to capitalize now on these innovations and benefit the greater good. Next time you spend 10 seconds requesting an Uber, imagine spending the same amount of time to help someone in need. Donating money, supplies or services to anyone, anywhere, with a single click.

How Will the New Guidance for Financial Statements Impact Nonprofits?

Nonprofit Financial Statements After almost four years of research, analysis, and debate, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) released its highly anticipated update on financial reporting for nonprofits. The update, which was officially released on August 18, 2016, has been designed to “help not-for-profits tell their story through their financial statements.”

The existing guidance has been in effect since 1993, and while it has held up well over that time, “stakeholders expressed concerns about the complexity, insufficient transparency, and limited usefulness of certain aspects of the model,” said FASB Chairman Russell Golden. “The new guidance simplifies and improves the face of the financial statements and enhances the disclosures in the notes,” he added.

Basically, the Accounting Standards Update, designated ASU No. 2016-14, decreases the number of net asset classes from three to two. The new classes will be:

  • Net assets with donor restrictions
  • Net assets without donor restrictions

The update will change the way all not-for-profits (NFPs) classify net assets and prepare their financial statements.

Different Classifications of NFPs

All nonprofits, from the local soup kitchen, to major colleges and universities, have been using the same financial statements for the last 20 years. While good, at the behest of stakeholders, the FASB saw the need to make improvements to the existing model.

The new guidance applies to all NFPs, including: 501c3, 501c4 and 501c6 entities.

  • 501c3 – This is the most common classification of nonprofits. To qualify as a 501c3, an organization must fit into an “exempt” purpose as defined by the IRS. These include charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competitions and preventing cruelty to children or animals.
  • 501c4 – There are only two types of organizations that will qualify as a 501c4 organization: social welfare organizations and local associations of employees. Social welfare organizations can include homeowner associations and volunteer fire companies if they fit the exemptions.
  • 501c6 – The 501c6 designation is for qualifying business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade and any professional football leagues, that are not organized for a profit.

There are actually 29 different types of NFPs identified by the tax codes, but these are the three most common entities. Regardless of the classification, all nonprofits will be required to follow the new financial statement requirements.

The FASB has produced a video, explaining why the standard needed to receive a makeover.

Details of the New Guidance for Nonprofits’ Financial Statements

The update was designed to help not-for-profits provide more relevant information about their resources, and any changes in those resources to donors, grantors, creditors, and other users, in effect to “better tell their stories.”

The FASB believes that the update, not only simplifies and improves communications with stakeholders, it should also reduce certain costs, related to the complexities in preparing their financial statements.

Specifically the new standard:

  • Will allow “underwater endowments,” those that are now worth less than when they were originally gifted, to be classified in net assets with donor restrictions.
  • Continues to allow preparers to choose between the direct method and indirect method for presenting operating cash flows. However, if the direct method is used, it is no longer mandatory to present the indirect method reconciliation.
  • Requires NFPs to be more transparent regarding providing information on how it manages its liquid resources and liquidity risks. A classified statement of financial position may be an effective way for organizations to comply with many of the new disclosure requirements.
  • Requires reporting of expenses by function and nature, as well as an analysis of expenses by both function and nature.
  • Requires that a net presentation of investment expenses against investment return appear on the face of the statement of activities.

When Do the Changes Take Effect?

The changes will take effect for annual financial statements issued for fiscal years beginning after Dec. 15, 2017, and for interim periods within fiscal years beginning after Dec. 15, 2018.

This is just “Phase 1,” of the FASBs project to revamp financial statements for nonprofits. The organization says there will be a “Phase 2.” Phase 2 is slated to address ways to improve operating measures and provide enhanced alignment between the statement of activities and statement of cash flows. The FASB has not indicated any timeframe for the completion of the second phase.

Certainly, these new regulations will have a significant impact on all nonprofit organizations and those stakeholders who rely on their financial statements. While the changes were designed to simplify financial reporting for NFPs – and in the long run, they will – getting used to the new requirements could still be complex. The earlier you begin working with your tax professional, the easier it will be to implement the necessary changes to ensure your financial statements will be in compliance with the new standards when they take effect.


Updated Standards for Nonprofit Financial Reporting

Nonprofit Financial Reporting TipsOn August 18, 2016, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) released Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14 changing the way nonprofits prepare their financial statements.  FASB’s overall goal in solidifying these changes was to improve financial reporting for nonprofits so that outsiders can more easily understand the organization’s financial position.  FASB accomplished this goal by changing the net asset classifications, enhancing the statement of cash flows, clarifying information regarding liquidity and availability of cash, simplifying the reporting of investments, and adding consistency across organizations on reporting expenses by function and nature.

Net Asset Classifications

Under the new Standards, FASB attempts to ease confusion over the net asset nomenclature by completely changing the names of the three existing net asset classifications.

  • “Unrestricted” net assets will now be termed “Net Assets without Donor Restrictions”.
  • Both “Temporarily Restricted” and “Permanently Restricted” net assets will be renamed “Net Assets with Donor Restrictions”.

Any Board of Director designations, such as funds that are “restricted” by the Board, will need to be fully disclosed – including listing the purpose of the restriction and the amount.  Organizations will also have to disclose the type, purpose, and amounts for all donor restrictions.

Endowments will be included in “Net Assets with Donor Restrictions” and any underwater endowments will need to be disclosed by listing the current fair value of the endowment less the original value of the donation, as well as the organization’s policy regarding appropriating funds from these underwater endowments.

Statement of Cash Flows

Nonprofits will now be able to use either the direct or indirect method of reporting cash flows.  Previously, nonprofits who used the direct method had to provide the indirect method as well; however, under the new Standards, this additional reconciliation will no longer be required.  Thus, FASB is allowing organizations to use the method that is most beneficial to the organization as opposed to mandating one methodology over another.

Liquidity and Availability of Cash

Under the new Standards, FASB is now requiring nonprofits to provide a qualitative description of how the organization manages its resources in order to meet liquidity needs and manage liquidity risk, as well as a quantitative description of the financial assets available for general expenditures within one year of the balance sheet date.  (A financial asset being cash, evidence of ownership interest in an entity, or a contractual agreement with another entity that clearly shows the organization’s intent to receive cash or an exchange of a financial instrument).  Organizations should note that an untapped line of credit does not meet FASB’s definition of a financial asset.

Essentially, FASB wants nonprofits to disclose how much the organization has available at the date of the balance sheet to meet cash needs for one year.  As this change will affect all organizations and will be the most onerous of the changes implemented by ASU 2016-14, FASB is not requiring organizations to provide comparative information in the first year that these Standards are implemented.

Reporting Investment Returns

Under the new guidance, organizations will now have to report net investment returns on the Statement of Activities.  Thus, external costs for investments plus all direct internal costs associated with the strategic and tactical activities involved in generating investment return (such as salaries, benefits, travel costs, and other costs associated with staff who are responsible for the development and execution of the organization’s investment strategy) will be netted against the actual investment income listed on the Statement of Activities.  These expenses will therefore not show up under “expenses” but in “revenues”.

Reporting Expenses by Function and Nature

Lastly, one additional change made by ASU 2016-14 is the requirement that all organizations complete a Statement of Functional Expenses as part of their annual financial statements.  This information can be presented as a standalone Statement, on the face of the Statement of Activities, or in the footnotes.  Due to the change in the reporting of investment returns (described above), investment expenses should not be included in the Statement of Functional Expenses.  In addition, FASB is requesting that organizations disclose how the organization allocates costs among program and support functions.  For example, if rent is allocated to programs based on level of effort, this specific methodology should be disclosed in the footnotes so that readers do not assume these costs appear solely in General and Administrative Costs.  During the first year that these Standards are implemented, FASB is not requiring organizations to provide comparative information on the Statement of Functional Expenses.


ASU 2016-14 is effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017; thus, for most organizations, the financial statements starting in 2018 will need to be prepared using the new Standards.  However, FASB is allowing organizations to adopt the new Standards earlier, and, according to most auditors, early adoption should be exercised specifically by organizations that currently have “underwater” endowments.

FASB is currently considering additional changes to nonprofit financial reporting which are expected to address standard operating measures; however, no timeline has been set by FASB for deliberating these proposed changes.  Given the fact that ASU 2016-14 is FASB’s most comprehensive revision to nonprofit financial reporting since FAS 116 and 117 issued over 20 years ago, nonprofits should expect additional changes to come as FASB attempts to improve overall nonprofit financial reporting.

New Data Helps Nonprofits Develop Better Donor Relationships

nonprofit donorsThe vast majority of nonprofits use relationship management software to create donor profiles, record information and track giving history. Relying on traditional technology for administrative support is a regular and essential practice across the industry. But as competition for charitable dollars intensifies, is this type of technology providing enough support to help development officers measurably increase donations? And are nonprofits missing the opportunity to utilize technology to its full potential to strengthen relationships before an ask is even made?

Development executives will attest modern philanthropy is more relationship-based than ever before. Nonprofit executives must take into account the varying factors that drive an individual to give, like which charities their friends and neighbors support. They also need to understand that prospective donors have much more to give than monetary contributions. Until now, nonprofits have used technology as a means to track their fundraising progress and not necessarily as a tool to expand their donor knowledge, increase the number of donors they can manage and strategically align fundraising efforts.

As the culture of fundraising has evolved, nonprofits need to update their expectations of how technology can better support them. The future of nonprofit technology lies in the combination of data with psychology, enabling nonprofit executives to gain insights to make more informed and strategic asks. If your organization has yet to tap into technology for more than its administrative needs, take these steps and reconsider how data can paint a broader picture of every donor:

  • Learn from Social Media -Accessing social data allows nonprofits to get a glimpse at a more personal side of the donor, which helps relationships to form. Did they go to college in east coast? Does your donor love tennis? Taking a look at social profiles before a meeting helps to break the ice and get to know the person better. This data also gives nonprofits insights into an individual’s philanthropic goals and needs. If a donor has grandchildren, discussing legacy planning might be of interest to them. Have they recently retired? Volunteerism might be a good option.
  • Know Who They Know – Relational data helps nonprofits discover connections in a donor’s family, workplace and community who may also share an interest in your cause. From this data, a development officer can gain insights to guide their next action. Perhaps timing is off to ask for a cash gift. Instead, by referencing relational data, a nonprofit will know whether to ask for an introduction within the individual’s company to inquire about developing a corporate partnership. Another option might be requesting a donor host a giving circle with friends and family. If your donor is already a strong advocate for your nonprofit, they will be a champion of your cause in their circles, which will ultimately grow your organization’s network of supporters.
  • Review Financial Data – It’s difficult to know what the right ask for an individual. Development officers should be confident that their requests are not under or over a donor’s giving capacity. Accessing prospective donor’s financial information is now possible thanks to wealth data overlays. This information enables development officers to be more strategic when meeting with clients, and have a clearer understanding of what they can give. Additionally, this data assists nonprofit leaders to determine whether a monetary gift is an appropriate ask, or if hosting a fundraiser, estate planning or volunteering would be a better fit.
  • Receive Predictive Analytics – Predictive analytics paint a broad picture of a donor’s giving behavior. For instance, a development officer can see patterns in giving, like a donor averaging three $1,000 gifts per year. If that suddenly dips, the executive will be flagged with an alert to get in touch with the donor by phone or email to re-establish the relationship. Data points assist nonprofits so as to also tell when it is a good time to ask for a donation of a larger size.

Data is a highly powerful reference tool that helps guide nonprofit fundraising strategy, enable executives to be more prepared when meeting with donors and take relationship building to the next level. By taking a donor’s social, relational and financial data into consideration, nonprofits can better understand a donor’s philanthropic goals and move them from first time donors to passionate advocates.

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