Communicating with a Purpose: Generating Publicity for Non-Profits

Despite the impending double-dip recession and talk about doom and gloom – there seems to be no let up in the number of charitable organizations and non-profits popping up across the globe. From building roads, houses and schools, to providing safe food supply, to cutting carbon emissions – these organizations are multiplying as we speak. Perhaps we are becoming a kinder, gentler generation.

With this surge, how can a non-profit rise above the din and communicate information in an effective and meaningful way?

Public relations (PR) is vital to the success of non profits. It offers a low-cost means for gaining public attention for non-profit organizations. Through media relations (not limited to press releases), speaking events, networking and fundraising events, non-profits can rise above the fray and become noticed by the people who matter: potential clients, donors, volunteers and employees.

So where do we begin?

As the saying goes “Charity begins at home.”  First, staff members and volunteer leadership will have to be educated about the value of marketing and public relations programs. It is important to underscore the connection between the public relations strategy and the organizational mission.

Determine and evaluate what your public relations needs are and tailor your plan to meet the objectives. Prioritize your communications messages. Who is your target group? This is important as the messaging may differ for different fund raising efforts.  What do you hope to achieve – donations, call to action, event participation? These are questions that must be answered.

Next, aim to match the PR strategy with your budget. If creating a public service announcement takes up the bulk of your budget, it makes sense to first analyze and determine if this is the most effective way to communicate your message. Have you thought about co-marketing activities with other non-profits or partners? This will not only help to maximize resources (including cost sharing) but also help to spread the message to a wider network of people.

Approach the media! The media is always looking for new and exciting people or stories to cover. Don’t be afraid to utilize the media (through story placement, interviews, expert comments, article contributions) as often as possible. Non-profits are never short of impactful, human-interest stories. Take the time to get to know the journalists/editors who cover specific features or CSR type news, and pitch them with your ideas and potential story angles.

Communicate to the leaders on a regular basis the results of your public relations plan, such as press clippings and target exposure.  Through media monitoring and analysis, you can re-evaluate and fine-tune your media strategy.

Some useful tips for non-profits:

  • Make sure your public relations plan is in line with the organization’s long-term strategies.
  • Keep your volunteers, staff and donors informed of your organization’s activities on a regular basis.
  • Identify a trained volunteer or staff person to serve as the media spokesperson.
  • Become the information resource for the media.
  • Pitch story ideas about your cause.
  • Clearly define and communicate your organization’s objectives and results.
  • Have a media handbook handy to deal with any potential crisis.

Remember, no matter how important your cause is, you shouldn’t assume that everyone would know about it or even about your organization. Proactive communications is essential to success. From building awareness and credibility to supporting fundraising efforts, a well-executed, strategic public relations program can make the difference between achieving your goals or falling desperately short of them.

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