Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 14, 2009

Connecting, part 3: Media relations critical for nonprofits

By Todd Cohen

Love them or hate them, the news media reach a lot of people and can help the giving sector tell its story.

So charities should be smart about working with the news media.

Many charities act as if their stories should get ink, air time and digital space simply because their cause is worthy.

But news organizations compete fiercely for readers, viewers, listeners and visitors to their publications, broadcasts and websites, and they typically feature stories they believe will generate the most interest among their target audiences.

And those stories tend to be about crime, violence, natural disasters, scandal and celebrity.

So charities have a lot of work to do to figure out how to cut through all that information clutter and noise to get their stories told through the news media.

Before the rise of the Internet and the collapse of newspapers, many charities relied on writing news releases and sending them to news organizations.

But in today’s fragmented media world, filled with too much information, charities need to be more strategic in working with the media.

Learning from their approach to fundraising, in which a key strategy is to cultivate potential donors before asking for a gift, charities should work to cultivate reporters, editors and producers working in the news media.

That means making cold calls and building relationships based on trust.

Rather than being pushy, nonprofits simply should let news representatives know they are available as resources for stories, and then should work gradually to show they are in fact useful and even indispensable resources.

If a big national issue like health care hits the headlines in a local newspaper, for example, groups involved in that issue should contact the news people with whom they have begun to cultivate a relationship, making the organization's executive director or board chair available for interviews to help the reporter, editor or news producer give the national story a local angle.

And if the nonprofit does a good job developing that relationship over time, the news reporter, editor or producer will be more likely to pay attention when the nonprofit actually has news to announce.

Getting the media to report on nonprofit news likely will be an uphill battle, and nonprofits are not entitled to coverage just because their cause is worthy.

Just as they do with donors, nonprofits have to cultivate relationships with news people and lay the groundwork for making the ask.

Next: Connecting, part 4: Authenticity key for charity stories


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