Has your inbox started blowing up yet with emails from your favorite charities asking for your financial support? Between Giving Tuesday earlier this week, next week’s Colorado Gives Day and year-end appeal campaigns, ’tis the season for Colorado’s nearly 20,000 registered nonprofit organizations to ask for your financial support.
If you’re at all like me, you’re more likely to support the charitable organizations that you’ve heard good things about (or even better, have had positive experiences with directly). I rely on word of mouth from friends, social media, and if I’m feeling especially cheeky, I may run a quick Google search to see if the nonprofit is reputable and controversy-free.
We hear all the time from nonprofit board members and leaders that they want to generate more and better public relations to help their organizations reach current supporters, attract new donors and interest prospective donors, particularly for year-end fundraising campaigns. Most are uncertain where to start, and many think that PR is only available or affordable to for-profit companies.
Our team at MAPR has supported an impressive roster of local and national nonprofit organizations, including the Boulder Safehouse (SPAN), the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Defy Colorado, Mile High United Way, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and more. I’ve personally worked in and with some of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Climate Reality Project, the United Nations and many others, and I’ve seen firsthand how even a little bit of PR can make an immediate impact on a nonprofit’s bottom line.
Benefits of Public Relations Campaign for Nonprofits
There is no question that targeted and strategic PR can make the difference between a lackluster fundraising effort and a successful last-minute push. And let’s be very clear: building an effective public relations campaign doesn’t need to be fancy or cost-intensive, and oftentimes the most effective activities are entirely free (who remembers the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised awareness—and an astonishing $115 million in donations—for ALS research?).
One of our favorite examples of using PR for good is our work on behalf of the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN, also known locally as the Boulder Safehouse). Thanks to a front-page article highlighting their work and appeal for funding for a new facility, SPAN received a significant anonymous donation the very next day.
Public relations can mutually support fundraising efforts in a number of ways, including the following:
- Increase name recognition and interest.
- Compared to advertising and direct mailers, earned media coverage can be extremely cost-effective.
- Bolster credibility through third-party validation.
- Strengthen image and public perception.
- Enhance brand awareness, with cumulative benefits that can accrue over time.
Does PR Mean Press Release?
We get this question A LOT. The quick answer is absolutely not — public relations can include everything from press releases to media coverage to email newsletters to social media to events and beyond. Public relations can mean different things to different people, and for purposes of nonprofit organizations, let’s consider public relations to mean presenting a nonprofit organization’s mission, actions and activities to promote goodwill between itself and the public.
Nonprofits are in a unique position during December, because journalists are always looking for good stories that can highlight people coming together to help those in need. The opportunities are huge, and with a little creativity and luck, some well-placed stories can help drive fundraising efforts.
Our Favorite PR Tips
At MAPR, we honor the passion and purpose that each nonprofit brings, which is why we work so hard to develop bespoke PR programs that are mindful of resource constraints and that directly reflect our clients’ priorities. Here are some of our favorite tips and examples to make PR work for your nonprofit this holiday season.
- Always start with your WHY.
Just because your organization is doing great work, don’t assume that people will know or understand its significance. We recommend framing your organization’s work within the broader economic or societal landscape, and then share how your organization fits in. For example, there’s a big difference between saying “we provide school lunches to more than 15,000 kids each year” vs. “in Colorado alone, more than 200,000 school-aged children go hungry each year because they don’t qualify for school lunch programs. Our program provides school lunches to more than 15,000 kids each year because we believe this is the single most important investment we can make.”
- Is your website ready for primetime?
Media coverage and social media are both effective vehicles to steer people toward your website—are you ready? Is the “Donate” button working properly and prominently displayed? Has the site been scrubbed for typos and other disqualifying marks that might turn people away? Do you have Google Analytics set up to help you quantify how many people are coming to your site, and from where?
- Some PR is better than none at all.
If your nonprofit organization isn’t actively managing its reputation, others will do it for them. This is where even a little bit of PR can be enormously helpful to your efforts. If you don’t know where to start, consider sharing a 10-day series on social media about your organization’s top achievements of 2019. Remember my note above that we are more likely to give to organizations we’re familiar with? Increasing your familiarity requires far more than just a year-end push.
- It’s about the people, not the numbers.
We are huge fans of Humans of New York, a story-telling platform that has exploded in popularity online and on Facebook. Each communication is a direct testimonial and is beautifully written. If your nonprofit isn’t including first-person testimonials from clients, staff, volunteers or other partners, this might be a great way to tell your story in a brand new way.
- Look at the calendar.
Does your organization have a natural fit with an upcoming event or holiday? Mother House, a Colorado nonprofit providing safe havens for pregnant women, successfully leveraged news coverage of their online Mothers’ Day auction to exceed their fundraising targets. If your organization has a similar connection, use it!
- PR can take many forms.
Public relations doesn’t always mean media relations. We helped Defy Colorado, a nonprofit that prepares currently incarcerated individuals for successful careers upon release through entrepreneurship training, secure an official proclamation from the Governor of Colorado for their work. This proclamation was great third-party validation of their work, received coverage and sent a strong signal to donors and prospective partners.
One of the benefits of being a local firm is that we live here too, and we have a vested interest in seeing the nonprofit organizations that play such an important role in our community succeed. If you’d like a free consultation or have questions about how PR can work for you, please give us a call!