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PR for Nonprofits: 5 Simple Steps to Gain Visibility


While many of the goals and efforts of nonprofits differ from corporations, one thing they share is a need for growth. A nonprofit marketing plan has a lot in common with a marketing plan for a for-profit company. This includes a need for public relations. Doing PR is not reserved for big corporations and worldwide NGOs. Every organization can use PR strategies for nonprofits, whether in local papers or national publications when relevant. Let's break down the different ways you can gain visibility through PR! 

There are a variety of reasons that your organization should work on its PR. Generally, it can help you: 

  • Engage a broader audience

  • Raise awareness of your cause and the work your members do to attract more clients, patients, partners, or whoever your target may be

  • Raise more revenue

  • Attract more volunteers and ambassadors to your organization

No matter what your cause, having an excellent public relations strategy will help cultivate credibility and offer transparency to a public that tends to be skeptical of relatively unknown charities. The role of public relations in nonprofit organizations is large, particularly with respect to branding. You want your brand to have a positive impact outside of just your mission, but being a thought leader in your community is a big part of that.

By getting your name out in the community with interviews, storytelling, and speaking engagements, you can create a place for your nonprofit in your industry and prove yourself a trusted expert in your field. 

PR is not a luxury, but a necessity for nonprofits. Even investing in public relations in a small capacity can get results. Through greater visibility among desired audiences, your nonprofit will get that much closer to reaching fundraising and public engagement goals.


How Can Nonprofits Use Public Relations to Promote Their Actions?

PR is not a tool that you will be using all the time and for every operation, but here are a few examples of key moments for which you should definitely add it to your nonprofit campaigns:

  • When your organization is getting ready to launch a new fundraising campaign and you want to raise awareness (as well as find new donors)

  • You are planning a big event like a gala or a nonprofit technology conference, and you want to reach a wider audience for ticket or registration sales

  • Your nonprofit faces unexpected demand for money or work, and you want to get the word out to raise money or recruit volunteers

  • You are launching a new initiative, project, or a new report that has broad audience appeal 

  • When you want to increase the reach of your year-end giving campaign

  • When there is big news regarding your sector of activity, PR can raise awareness on your work and offers a perfect opportunity to be seen as a thought leader

These are prime examples of times when a media boost can really impact your public reach. Even for nonprofits with a very specific target audience, there are untapped resources of individuals who may get on board if they hear about the right thing at the right time

develop-pr-for-nonprofits-howCorinne is curious how she can leverage PR for her nonprofit.

Remember to take advantage of a number of different platforms. Google maps for nonprofits are a must but something you can do in-house. Look to your organization’s spokespeople for targeted outreach through newspaper op-eds, community events, radio or podcast interviews, social media posts, word-of-mouth, and any other platform they can find. Even texting for nonprofits can help get information to the public. Keep your communication clear and consistent across all channels.  

Now let’s dig into five distinct steps you can take to increase your organization’s visibility.


#1. Learn How to Pitch Your Nonprofit Mission to Journalists

It is not easy to catch a journalist’s attention. So when an opportunity presents itself, you want to put your best foot forward and ensure your statement is clear to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation of your mission. Be ready with a clear message and an efficient introduction to your organization. 

To this end, work your pitch with the rest of your team. Create a one-minute elevator speech that outlines your mission, and offers an excellent vision of how your organization serves the membership and the greater public. Rehearse that message until it is second nature. 

Now, no matter what event or story you are trying to pitch, you will have a strong foundation to build on. Passion and eloquence will help capture the attention of a journalist in an industry of constant chatter.

Pro Tip: Creating a pitch is the first step. Refining that pitch into several different versions gets you prepared for different situations. There should be a 1-minute version where you state the problem and how your organization is tackling it. (Use a key statistic or two to really make an impact.) Also cultivate a longer 3-minute pitch that includes more background on your organization and its beneficiaries and, finally, a 5-minute pitch where you give ample detail. Each pitch is different and adapted to the appropriate situation. 


#2. Create a Relevant Media Content List

A media content list contains details of writers, journalists, bloggers, and influencers who write about your particular industry and area of expertise. When determining who to include, the focus should be on relevancy. The idea is not to have all the journalists in the world in your listing. Carefully select those that could be interesting for your audience, and especially those who may be interested in your mission or actions

You can curate this list yourself as most people on the list will come from your network and be people you know personally or those you are in touch with through your local chamber of commerce or other organizations. Alternatively, you can get help from an expert solution like

A practical way to organize your data is to create a Google or Excel spreadsheet document or add the name, surname, email address, phone number, sector, and specialty of each person directly into your database system. This will help you target your communications depending on the topic you want to address for your press release. 

develop-pr-for-nonprofits-media-listMatt is putting together the media list for his next press release.

For example, you may be working with a certain local publication for smaller community events while contacting national media when you launch a new initiative with global impact. Both are tremendously important. Smaller publications reach can offer opportunities to find volunteers and bolster local support, while larger PR campaigns can fire up the larger public, boost branding, and potentially pull in big donors. 

Of course, this list should also include any other contacts that you might use, like podcasts, radio shows, or influencers. Remember that the goal is not to include everyone you know. You want a specialized approach that includes people who will be sympathetic or intrigued by your story. The more qualified list that you have, the more targeted your approach can be. Having a varied pool to draw from will also mean that you are more likely to find someone to promote you, even if you cannot get through to some of the bigger media outlets. Quality leads will always trump quantity.

Pro Tip: Are you in a situation where you do not have a specialized solution dedicated to finding media contacts? If so, try to find the email address of anyone working in the targeted media somewhere on the web. Once you have got the "structure," it is often fairly easy to recompose the email address of a person. For example, I might know that John Doe, who works at Target Organization Inc. has an email address of If I want to reach Jane Doe, chances are that her email will be  


#3. Prepare a Well-Structured Press Release

A press release is a set of information that the media will build their story off of. This is an essential step and must be done well. If you want them to share your action, you want to make things as easy for them as possible. The release needs to be easy to understand, well-structured, and engaging to read. This is what the journalist should find:

  • Classic info (you can use your organization’s official letterhead with your logo, the name of the organization, contact info, and release date)

  • Short and catchy headline, getting right into the heart of your story

  • Key information and background details. This means answering  the famous "who, what, where, when, why, and how" questions

  • Include one or more quotes from key representatives (ideally an important stakeholder in your story)

  • Contact information of the media representative for your organization. Make it as simple as possible for them to reach you.

  • Brief paragraph about your organization (also called the "boilerplate") to wrap things up at the end

Pro Tip: Beyond the substance of your press release, pay attention to the form. The media receives dozens (if not hundreds) of emails every day. You want to make sure that you stand out and are read, so make sure that it is not an unpleasant task. To do this, add visuals, prioritize information well, and keep it as short and simple as possible, at most a page length or 300-400 words. 


#4. Follow Up a Few Days After Your Press Release is Issued

Sending the press release is not the end of your responsibilities. For your nonprofit advertising public relations campaign, you will need to follow up in the next few days to see whether the right people saw it or not. It is recommended to call them directly, to DM them via LinkedIn, or to send a new email with a different message to try to catch their attention. 

If you get them on the phone and they did not read your press release, now is the perfect opportunity to quickly share your prepared pitch. It is the moment you have been training for! 

develop-pr-for-nonprofits-follow-upAnthony is writing himself a reminder to follow up with the journalists he pitched.

If they did read your release, try to convince them to write an article, or get feedback about why it did not interest them. Even if they decide against publishing your story, you will still gain valuable insights that may help you improve your approach the next time. Remember to stay polite, and keep those lines of communication open!


#5. Maintain the Relationship Between Your Nonprofit and the Media

Finally, remember that there are a ton of opportunities to nurture your relationship with the media. Messages, events, and most every other occasion is an opportunity to communicate and get to know a contact. Marketing for nonprofit organizations involves a lot of networking. 

It may seem hard at the beginning, but once you have established a good relationship with the media, it becomes far easier to get your information shared. So take every opportunity to connect with them. Always be friendly and engaging, so that they are happy to hear from you.

As a best practice, it is important to have just one person within your organization in charge of the PR. This allows for only one intermediary, a person whose name the media can remember with continual contact.  Another advantage of having one person as the point of contact for media inquiries ensures that your messaging is consistent and that you do not have different versions of the same story coming from multiple people. Having a solid point person helps the message you want to deliver to remain on point. 

The person you choose to fill this position should be well-versed in the basics of how to pitch a great story, but also be on the cutting edge of public relations strategy. They can also ensure understanding of their target audience through surveys for nonprofit organizations

Your PR representative will of course be your point person for expanding visibility, credibility, and reach, but they can also take a more direct support role in fundraising efforts too. A PR person or team can also manage targeted social media campaigns, support donor affairs, and help launch and manage monthly newsletters to donors and partners. 

We know that public relations is a field that can seem intimidating for newer or smaller organizations. However, it is really nothing more than doing what you do every day, talking to people about your nonprofits purpose and goals. Following these simple tactics for public relations strategy, you can take that passion and channel it toward journalists to help increase awareness, volunteers, and revenue for your organization. 


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