Revised with new information as of March 2, 2017

A free resource for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies

Jayne Cravens,

Basic Press Outreach for
Mission-Based Organizations

(nonprofits, NGOs, civil society, public sector agencies, etc.)

Like fund raising, press relations is an ongoing cultivation process. Your organization's strategy for press coverage needs to go beyond trying to land one big story; you want various press outlets to know that you are THE organization to contact whenever they are doing a story on a subject that relates to your organization's work, and that you are a reliable source for information and stories. In short, you want to be quoted or referenced in a variety of stories, not just one.

Therefore, don't think that every press release is going to result in press coverage -- it's not. But sustaining regular press contacts will build recognition of your organization among reporters, and the result will be ongoing payoffs down the road. As coverage for your organization is generated, you won't just be reaching new audiences -- you will also be reaching current volunteers, supporters (including donors) and clients, reminding them of what your organization is doing and what they have chosen to be a part of.

The Basics of Press Relations

The following suggestions are low-cost or no-cost activities. They don't require money to undertake, as much as they require time and commitment.

What about online press release distribution services? For most nonprofit organizations, these aren't worth the fee they charge. 

Those are the basics -- they will get you started on the road to building a reputation with the press and getting media coverage. There's much more you can do, ofcourse, but these basic activities will build a great foundation for expanded efforts. Note how many of these activities have to do with human contacts, commitment to outreach, and always having information available for the press, rather than what tools you use.

Evaluate & Celebrate Your Efforts

Evaluate your media outreach efforts every few months: Are stories being generated? Are press people attending your events? Are more people attending your events or calling your organization?

The person who answers your phone, or anyone who signs anyone up for an activity at your organization (volunteers, donors, people who attend events, etc.), should ask these people, at the time they are signing up, how they heard about your organization, the activity or the event. This will help you to learn how effective your outreach activities are, and help you plan strategically for the future.

Also, make sure other staff members know the results of your efforts:

The Role of Volunteers in Media Relations

Can volunteers help with media relations? Should volunteers be involved with media relations? The answer to both is yes -- but with some cautions.

Many organizations are too small to hire a full-time paid media relations person and, therefore, must rely on volunteers to help with media relations. Great assignments for volunteers in this role, including pro-bono consultants, include:

It's preferable for a full-time or part-time paid staff person, who is in the office regularly and frequently, to be the media contact person, however, as most volunteers are not in an organization's offices regularly and frequently, and therefore may not be around if a press person calls. If you have no choice but to have a volunteer to be your media contact person, make sure that person can make the necessary time commitment, every day and for a substantial length of time, to fulfill all activities associated with basic media outreach that has been defined here.

But Not Everyone Is Reached By the Press...

Reaching the press is vital for your organization, but it must be done with the realization that not everyone is reached by the press. Not everyone reads, or has access, to newspapers or online news, and not everyone has access, or listens, to radio, TV or online broadcasts. Representatives from your organization will have to reach out, often face-to-face, to conferences, communities of faith, farmer's associations, women's cooperatives, professional associations, schools, universities, student groups, informal groups and various other associations, formal or not, to get your organization's messages out and understood to everyone you need to reach. You will also have to think about posters and handouts, and in some cases, even live performance methods (theater, dance, puppets, etc.), in order to reach everyone with your information.

Press relations is oh-so-important, but remember that it's only one part of your overall community outreach.

Be Ready for a Misinformation Campaigns

There are individuals that don't like your nonprofit. There may be an organized group that doesn't like your nonprofit. Internet tools make it easier than ever for just one person or a group of person to promote misinformation about your organization. This resource on addressing these misinformation campaigns can help - don't wait to read it until after such an attack begins! 

Other resources

See more resources re: Outreach & Engagement, With and Without Technology

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The art work and material on this site was created and is copyrighted 1996-2017
by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved
(unless noted otherwise, or the art comes from a link to another web site).