If you’ve spent at least a couple of years in the nonprofit arena, I’m sure that you’ve dealt with the challenge of shrinking budgets. And if you’ve worked in a communications capacity for a non-profit, I’m sure you’ve seen the furrowed brow of the skeptical manager, CEO, or Board Chair as they look up from the increased budget request you’ve just handed them. Regardless of how effective the new communications solutions are that you may have just proposed, a budget increase may be a nonstarter. It may be that your organization truly cannot afford to increase spending. It may be that the staff or Board member with budgetary authority may not by into your projections of how this solution will improve your organization’s overall financial position. Or they may simply prioritize another initiative. Whatever the reason, if you cannot afford that public relations firm contract, or the that enterprise license for that best-in-class social media distribution tool, there are a number of free or low cost ways to generate attention to your organization, and drive traffic to your website.
Press conferences / events
A well-executed press conference or press event can have a tremendous return on investment, especially since it costs relatively little to one up. First, you’ll have to find a newsworthy development to announce. It could be a new service you are offering, a press statement on a development of local or national import, or a white paper you plan to release. If you work for an advocacy organization, you can tie your press conference advocating for or against a specific law, in response to an item in the news, or to draw attention to an issue during a month-long observance. For example, if you work for an organization that advocates for victims of domestic violence, you can hold a press conference advocating for stricter penalties for those who commit acts of domestic violence; hold one in response to a politician who happens to make a dismissive comment about domestic violence victims; or hold one at the beginning of October, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, which is celebrated every year. Google, Wikipedia, and other online research resources are good sources of information on month-long observances. Try to involve local elected officials and / or prominent business professionals / organizations to heighten the newsworthiness of your press event.
When scheduling a press conference, make sure that you plan its timing to ensure that journalists have time to attend and enough time to write copy about it, or film / edit footage of it, in time for their internal deadlines. Call the newsroom of those media outlets you are targeting and find out what those deadlines are. Scheduling it towards the beginning of the week is best, especially if you are competing with significant news developments on the national or state level. Moreover, make sure to reach out not just to print and broadcast journalists, but bloggers as well, many of whom these days may have readerships that eclipse those of traditional media.
If you are hoping for broadcast coverage, hold the press conference in a well-lit room, or outside. Typically, you’ll need a podium, a mic and a sound system, though depending on the type of the event (if for example, your press event is a public rally), you may need as little as a bullhorn. You’ll want to have press packets on hand with a copy of the press release, a background statement on the event / issue, background information on your organization, and your contact information.
The phrase “thought leadership”, often used in B2B and consumer marketing, refers to the branding of your organization and / or its senior leadership as a deep authority – one capable of providing credible and trusted insights in its chosen industry. As a nonprofit, you may not have a standalone marketing research department, or the resources to churn out a variety of whitepapers on your industry. But there are a number of steps you can take – that if performed consistently – can establish your organization as a credible authority over time:
Position your President / CEO / Leadership as an expert with the press. Keep abreast of current developments and in regular contact with local and national journalists who cover your industry. Make sure they know your President / CEO / Leadership is ready and willing to add a comment on issues within your industry. Also, use sources like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to identify new media outlets where your President / CEO / Leadership can provide credible insights to complement stories.
To help with said positioning, help your President / CEO / Leadership author, pitch and place Op-Eds on relevant topics in your industry under their byline. Also help your President / CEO / Leadership author, pitch and place guest blog posts on blogs that are credible in your industry under their byline.
Develop an organizational blog where your leader(s) can share insights on your industry with the public. Well-done video blogs can help attract the interest of broadcast reporters in using your leaders as a source for comment on topics in your industry.
Over time, enhancing the credibility of your organization will increase its visibility, and help you achieve your mission and organizational goals.
Interactive Use of Social Media
Too often, organizations, whether public sector or private sector, spend too much time pushing out social media messages, rather than using social media to pull people in. Social media allows an organization to engage in a dialogue with the public, giving people the opportunity to respond and engage with you. Take full advantage of that to heighten your visibility. Consider:
Asking a question: It’s easy. It’s free. And it can drive your social media metrics through the roof. But best of all, by asking questions and responding to the answers of the public, you show your organization to be one who cares about what its stakeholders think. That’s invaluable. Bonus: you can easily obtain insights about your brand, or planned marketing initiatives by testing them in part with your social media audience.
Holding a contest: You could hold a good old fashioned sweepstakes that could drive traffic to your website. Or you could be strategic and hold a contest that allows users to engage with your brand: for example, one that asks users to create a 30-second commercial about your organization.
Humanizing your brand: Post photos from internal meetings and activities like the company picnic. Pictures of public activities are great, but live streaming is better. Make sure that you are capturing the people behind your organization, rather than trying to script everything into a perfected facade. You want to show your public that you are not just another nonprofit, but that your nonprofit is the people behind it, people who laugh and cry and learn. This kind of honesty humanizes your organization and can create a great deal of interest and support.
Social media, which is now deeply intertwined with social media, is a great way to improve your visibility as well as achieve your other short- and long-term communications goals, provided you actually engage your audience, rather than market to them.
After spending nearly a decade and a half doing communications work, I now work in government relations. However, I still dabble in communications work, as an active freelancer. I'm also a husband and proud father of two boys.