As development professionals, volunteers, and board members, we spend a lot of time searching for new prospects… trying to find new individuals, companies and foundations who might respond to our message, who we can cultivate, and who, over time, might make a significant gift to help us continue our work.
Prospecting can be time-consuming, and can often be disheartening, if we have trouble finding and cultivating new leads. Wouldn’t it be great if new donors sought you out? If you came into the office and had messages waiting from major funders who wanted to learn more about your organization, and about what your funding needs are?
Similarly, wouldn’t it be nice to have some real, hard, solid “social proof” to take with you as you approached new prospects… something to show them just how important your work is?
All that can and does happen every day for nonprofits, both large and small, thanks to smart public relations efforts.
What Is “Public Relations”? Simply put, “public relations,” or “PR,” encompasses all the activities your organization does to get press coverage for your work. Press releases and press conferences, letters to the editor, calls into talk radio and interviews with journalists… getting coverage of your non-profit and getting your message out through the press is the essence of good PR.
How Can Good PR Help Me Raise Money? Smart non-profits have started to realize that a strong PR effort, and good press coverage, can lead to increased fundraising. There are several ways good PR can help you raise more money:
- New Prospects That Find You: When you get good coverage, people learn more about your work and want to get involved. When you get really good coverage, you start to get calls from prospects wanting to learn more, volunteer, and donate. Good press coverage is a great way to find new prospects.
- Raising General Awareness: Good PR raises awareness in the community about your non-profit and the work you do. If you run a small non-profit, you know how hard it is to approach new prospects. It’s unlikely they know your organization’s name or what type of work you do. After a couple of good press stories about your non-profit, people start to know your name, and may even remember your mission, which makes it much easier to start cultivating them.
- “Social Proof”: Press coverage provides good social proof that what you are doing matters, and that your organization is a leader in your field. Approaching a new prospect with clips of newspaper articles about your non-profit, or a short video from the local news with an interview of your Executive Director, can go a long way toward overcoming objections and moving a prospect towards a gift.
Keep it Mission-Focused and Stay on Message. As you seek out and receive press coverage, remember to keep the stories you are generating mission-focused, and do your best to stay on message. It’s nice getting press coverage of any (non-scandalous) kind, but it’s best, for fundraising purposes, if you can generate great stories about your work, and your mission. For more on keeping your efforts mission-focused, read Mission + Energy = Raising More Money.
Great PR Rarely Just Happens. Almost any organization can “luck into” a local press story every so often. But to get maximum coverage over a sustained period, it takes good planning and hard work. Great PR rarely just happens. It takes lots of calls, press releases, and follow-up to generate good coverage.
Where Should I Start? So, where should you start in your PR efforts? If you are a larger organization that can afford a professional public relations company (generally, they charge in the range of $1,000 – $5,000 per month on retainer, depending on their size, your geographic location, and the scope of work), shop around and talk to a few to see what they can do for you.
If you are a smaller organization or otherwise can’t afford a firm, that’s ok, much of the work can be done in house. Start by compiling a contact list for all of the press outlets and reporters in your area, including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and online outlets. Then, start pitching stories, sending out press releases, and holding press events.
As you do so, remember the number one rule of getting press coverage: the press wants to cover you, but they only want to cover you if you have real news to cover. So generate newsworthy items, and get that press coverage rolling in.