Simple Steps to Refresh Your Nonprofit’s PR Program

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This article written by CanadaHelps was originally published on Hilborn.


Public relations (or PR) plays an important, strategic role for successful charities and non-profits. As a communications discipline, PR focuses on managing your organization’s image by sharing information with a broader audience. Many non-profits can struggle to find the time and resources needed to build a comprehensive PR strategy, relying instead on a stream of news releases to share messages.

The overuse of the news release can cause fatigue with the media you are trying to impress. The fact is a news release isn’t always the best way to communicate. Most information and happenings can be shared with stakeholders in other ways, such as newsletters, websites, blogs and social media. Leveraging these tools appropriately means that organizations can reserve news releases for significant news while at the same time saving money on release distribution.

Moving beyond press release distribution can also open the door to different engagements with local media, encouraging conversation and issue-based storytelling. If you are interested in broadening your PR toolkit, here are five tips to help you explore new PR possibilities.

1. Is it really news?

Press releases still have their place, but before you issue one, make sure the topic is newsworthy. Work with internal teams to understand what they hope to achieve by creating a release. If it’s an event and you need to draw attendance, would the same result be achieved by submitting information to local events calendars? Or would a blog post and social post achieve the exposure they need? If the end goal is media coverage, consider a proactive pitch to key reporters.

2. Build evergreen stories.

Getting news coverage doesn’t always have to revolve around news. Think about two or three compelling stories your organization can tell that are relevant to your community and support your mandate. For example, if you are a food bank, perhaps your stories could center on food security, living on a minimum wage, or childhood nutrition. Ask yourself, can we bring any insight to a discussion on this topic and will this topic differentiate us? If the answer is yes, this is an evergreen story.

Evergreen stories are usually issues-based, have significant impact on a broad number of people, and can provide multiple opportunities for you to engage media. Armed with stats, experts and insights on these topics, non-profits can pitch media to drive proactive coverage, or interject their opinion in relevant news cycles reactively.

3. Listen harder.

Follow local media through their stories and social channels to learn what interests them. If your organization operates in a region with a small media pool, try to meet journalists in person. After all, reporters are always looking for experts to comment on stories – making a personal connection gives you an opportunity to introduce them to your organization and the resources you have available.

If your budget permits, look into social and media monitoring tools to help track relevant news and conversations based on search terms you provide. It’s a quick way to hone in on breaking news and discussions relevant to your organization. There are some free services like Google News for online media monitoring and Tweetdeck for Twitter monitoring.

4. Participate more.

Beyond proactive media pitching, non-profits can also find success by becoming active participants in the news of the day. Commenting on relevant news stories, submitting letters to the editor or well-written opinion pieces are all great ways to share your organization’s insights.

Remember when you see stories in the media to also check social media feeds for discussions happening online. By contributing to the online discussion, you can connect your organization with the issue and direct participants to your resources.

5. Arm yourself.

Speaking of online resources, make sure you create a database of content to support your evergreen storytelling. Highly visual, snackable content works well on social media; longer-form content would work for blogs, letters to the editor or backgrounders for media interviews. Build this content upfront so you can quickly take advantage of news cycles and post it when it’s most relevant.

Instead of “pushing” out news, adopt strategies that see your organization participating in news as it happens. These alternative storytelling techniques will help build relationships with media and online influencers as well as keep your communications fresh and interesting.

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