In between working toward your mission, firming up your donor base, reporting to your board, and recruiting and managing volunteers, time runs out before you complete your to-do list. There is simply not enough time in the day.
Even more troubling is that you have been so focused on operations, you haven’t had any time to promote your organization’s good work. Unfortunately, this is a missed opportunity because positive publicity would help increase awareness of your nonprofit, reach more donors and volunteers, protect your reputation if the road gets rocky, and get in front of new audiences who could potentially help you achieve your goals.
When you do finally get a few minutes to think about publicity, promotion or reputation management, the to-do list seems endless. The best place to start on your public relations strategy is on the foundation elements: online media room, organization backgrounder, biographies, fact sheet and media list. Taken one at a time, these elements are doable and affordable. When assembled together, they provide a cohesive platform for proactive communication and reputation management your nonprofit can build on for years.
Online Media Room
This is a dedicated space on your nonprofit’s Web site just for members of the media. Reporters and bloggers have their own way of talking and writing. By offering them information on a Web page just for them, you are showing media you respect their unique needs. The actual Web doesn’t need to be fancy – in fact, if it is too slick or polished, it may turn reporters off. However, it should be easy to:
- access – one click away from the home page, usually under the “About Us” section;
- navigate – clear sections, links and search capability; and
- download information – no passwords or registrations required.
According to the 2014 TEKGROUP Online Newsroom Survey Report, “97% of journalists think it’s important for organizations to have an online newsroom.” The news or media site should include the essential materials that will educate a reporter on the organization and its mission, and encourage further communication with the organization, including:
- media contact information – who reporters should call or email with questions or requests, and if possible, include a hyperlink to launch an email to that person;
- news releases – recent and those older than 12 months;
- downloadable assets – logos, high-resolution photos of leaders or images that depict your organization’s impact, videos;
- social media links – if your organization has Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites, include these links;
- calendar of events – key upcoming activities and events help reporters plan timely coverage
- background materials – such as annual reports/donor reports, biographies, organization backgrounders, and fact sheets (see below); and
- links to other coverage – if possible, add in links to other stories your nonprofit has appeared in the media previously to help provide context for reporters.
Nonprofits need to convey their story to reporters in a simple yet engaging way. Unlike a donor-focused Web site or a pamphlet to recruit volunteers, the background document does not focus on a call to action. Rather, its purpose is to make it easy for reporters to quickly understand the key facts about the nonprofit organization in two-three pages. After an introductory paragraph about the mission and vision for the organization, the backgrounder should include subsections covering:
- services it provides and the populations it benefits;
- how it plans to achieve its objectives;
- major contributors;
- leadership team; and
- key milestones in the organization’s history.
An organization’s leadership shapes its direction and contributes to its credibility and reputation. Reporters understand this and appreciate learning about the management team through brief biographies. Start with the president, but continue drafting biographies to cover key functional areas of staff, such as heads of programs, finance, and donor relations. All the biographies should follow a consistent format and structure. Each should start with a summary sentence covering the leader’s career, expertise and time with the organization. Then, commenting on the present position first, describe focus areas, responsibilities and notable qualities of the leader. Work backward listing previous experience while highlighting relevant accomplishments throughout his or her career. Conclude with college education and any current offices held in other organizations. Always accompany the written biography with a high-resolution photo of the nonprofit leader.
To help reporters understand the work nonprofits conduct and why it is important, they should develop a fact sheet. This two-page document helps frame the underlying issues that form the foundation of the nonprofit’s mission. For example, if a nonprofit focuses on animal rescue, a fact sheet would help explain the need for these services by outlining the number of abandoned domestic animals, the services the animal rescue organization provides, and the effect the services have on the cause. An organization can have multiple fact sheets to cover each of the issues it supports or programs it offers. Given the brevity of this document, use bullets to help communicate pertinent details a reporter can weave into a story.
Now that you have the core foundation materials, knowing the right reporters to contact will help you prioritize and focus your communication efforts. Start by listing the key audiences you hope to reach. Depending on your goals, you could think about potential donors, volunteers, neighbors or potential beneficiaries. For each audience, list the top-five media outlets they are likely to consume. Read, watch and listen to the content covered in each vehicle to understand its focus and coverage areas. In doing so, you will also determine the reporters and bloggers who would be most likely to write a story about your organization or cause. Capture this information in a spreadsheet so you will be ready to contact the right reporters when you have news of impact to communicate.
Nonprofit organizations are doing tremendous work to help our planet and its residents. However, the dedication and motivation in achieving their missions often consumes all of the work hours in a day. As daunting as it may initially seem, nonprofits should view public relations as a strategic investment in their long-term success.
Instead of trying to launch a major PR campaign, start small by addressing each of the foundation elements. Take them one at a time, focusing on quality over quantity. Before you know it, you will have a solid arsenal of PR tools you can tap into when you have exciting news to share or an opportunity to promote your cause and results.
Amy Shanler has nearly 20 years of experience directing communications and public relations for multiple organizations and industries, including nonprofit, retail, business, and healthcare. She is currently a visiting assistant professor of public relations and director of PRLab at Boston University, the nation’s oldest student-run PR agency, servicing 25 non-profit and commercial clients. Amy can be reached at email@example.com