Most of the news and information you see on the TV news or in the daily newspaper was generated by people just like you. They send information to the media, usually via press releases and personal contact.
And good news from nonprofit organizations like yours shows up on TV or in the newspaper in the same way.
Unless your nonprofit plays on a national stage, you should not worry about trying to crack the New York Times or ABC News. Stick to placing a good story in your local media. After all, you want to catch the eye of supporters who live right down the street.
And, you could end up on the national stage as well. A well-kept secret is that many national news stories start at the local level. For instance, a national TV network might notice an engaging story on its local affiliate station. They think it would appeal to a bigger audience. Voila! You're on the national news.
There are two types of news you will want to get out. One uses news releases — these work best for stories that you wish many media outlets to cover, such as a special event like a charity run, or to announce the appointment of a new CEO. You can write one release and send it to all of your local media outlets.
However, you should direct most of your media work at pitching unique stories to local media and reporters that you've cultivated over time.
Journalists love human interest stories, especially when they involve a David and Goliath theme. Think about someone overcoming overwhelming obstacles, or a child that was in need that your organization helped.
Those types of stories are just the ones to touch the hearts of potential donors, who still get most of their information about good causes through the traditional media.
Here are some tips for getting your organization noticed by your local media.
Get to Know the Media That Are Most Likely to Cover You
Read and watch the media in your local area. Subscribe to the newspapers and magazines, watch the local news, bookmark media websites, and join any organizations where you are likely to meet reporters and editors (some cities have press clubs that you can join).
Try to figure out where each news outlet sits on the political spectrum or what topics they seem to like. Public media are likely to be interested in liberal causes, while the local business journal might be more conservative and engaged in a business angle to any story.
For instance, health reporters or sports reporters may be the ones who would be interested in your news. Then you can send your information directly to them rather than just to the "editor."
Don't forget more specialized reporters such as the society page editor who might be interested in your special event if it involves community leaders. The calendar page editor will want your event listings. Most newspapers also carry a list of volunteer opportunities, so find out who writes those.
Turnover is frequent in the media too. So keep your media list up to date by checking to see who's who at your favorite media outlets. It won't do any good to send a news release to a specific person if that person has moved on.
Get to Know Reporters and Producers Personally but Don't Become a Pest
Start by arranging a short meeting at their papers or TV stations to introduce yourself. Be considerate of their busy schedules and make it brief. Drop off some printed material or personally deliver that press release instead of mailing or emailing it.
The first time you have a story idea for a particular media outlet, email the reporter or TV producer with your idea and then follow up with a phone call That might give you an opportunity to start building a relationship.
However, don't nag a reporter. One reporter said that there is no need to call to say you're going to send a press release, then follow up to see if the reporter got the press release. Also, don't send reminder emails more than once. If the reporter hasn't responded, he or she probably isn't interested.
Check with other staff members, volunteers, and board members to see if they know reporters. They could be a relative, a neighbor, or a business acquaintance with many local media personalities. A personal story tip from someone the reporter knows personally will likely carry more weight than a call from the PR person at your charity.
Send Complimentary Copies of Your Publications to Reporters
Instead of just sending publications out with your mass mailings, send a copy to a reporter with your business card attached. It's unlikely that a reporter or TV producer will pick up a story idea from your publication, but at least they might become acquainted with what your organization does.
You can't just sign up a reporter for your email communications, but once a reporter is interested, he or she will likely subscribe to your email newsletter or follow your organization on social media.
Send an invitation to your special event to the appropriate reporter. Even if the reporter doesn't attend, the invitation will remind him or her of you and your organization.
Try to work in as many informal contacts with the reporter as possible. Eventually, you'll be remembered.
Keep up With the Personnel Changes at Your Favorite Media Outlets
People in the media move around frequently. Keeping track is not easy. Develop a media list and keep it up-to-date. You may be able to subscribe to a media list for your region, but it can't substitute entirely for your own meticulously maintained list.
Look for reporters on social media and follow them there. Do not pitch reporters that way, though, unless you have some indication that they welcome it. Do that through email, mail, or phone. However, you can keep up with a reporter's interests by following him on social media. Follow reporters on Twitter and even on LinkedIn. That is also handy for keeping up with where a reporter is currently working.
Always Give the Media a Good Story
Your information should be new, noteworthy, and relevant to a significant share of the public. Reporters are not interested in yesterday's news, items that are of interest only internally to your organization, or everyday events.
Provide reporters with good human interest stories. Invite staff and volunteers at your organization to let you know about good story ideas that you might be able to pitch to the media. The best ideas often come from people who are on the front lines of your organization.
Develop a Virtual Media Kit That Resides on Your Organization's Website
Journalists love it when you have lots of online resources for them.
Set up a virtual media kit that Includes the history of your nonprofit, its mission and goals, and brief profiles and photos of key staff and board members. Post your recent news releases and an online annual report.
Set up a gallery of downloadable photos that show your organization in action. And make these free to use. Reporters are often writing quickly and need to meet deadlines. Readily available images will make their day.
Take Advantage of Breaking News Stories to Promote Your Organization
Smart charities use newsjacking to make their organizations relevant to current events.
One way to do this is to develop a cadre of "experts" who can speak to the issues your organization addresses. Train these experts (they can be staff members and volunteers) and make them available to reporters when there is a relevant news event.
Even a hard freeze in my area prompts an interview with the Humane Society on how to protect pets during cold weather and another with the Botanical Gardens about taking care of fragile plants. Think about the things you could be the go-to expert for.
Track local, national and regional news to see if you can tag along on a larger story. Watch for examples of how other charities do this. Did the governor just announce a cutback in public spending that could affect the people you serve? Is there explosive national news that affects your organization? Local reporters love to localize a national story, so help them by spotting those opportunities.
Make Yourself Available to the Media at Any Time
Always provide your email address on your press releases and your website contact page. But also include a mobile number where reporters can reach you day or night.
When you receive a call or a message from a reporter, get back to him or her as soon as you can. Reporters work on deadline and will appreciate your rapid response.
Even if you can't be much help to a reporter when he or she is researching a story, provide contacts at other nonprofits who might be able to help. Your cooperation will be remembered and will likely pay off eventually.
Always Thank a Reporter for His or Her Coverage
Initially, thank the reporter by email, but also follow up with a handwritten thank-you note. Never underestimate the power of a sincere thanks. Plus, never nitpick over minor inaccuracies. They are not worth your effort, and there is nothing to be gained by irritating a reporter.