Friday, November 30, 2007

Powerful Opinions

One of the easiest ways to get publicity for your agencies is to write an Op-Ed piece for a local, regional, or national publication. Sit down with a calendar and identify four dates that lend themselves naturally to your work (for example, an organization that works with children could probably write a piece for the holidays, one for the back to school season, one for the US observance of children's day, and one for Mother's Day) and beginning planning opinion pieces around those themes. Throughout the year, also keep your eyes open for items in the news (the example organization from above could have used the numerous toy recalls this year) that align with your organization's work.

Once you've started to craft your opinion pieces, think hard about what kinds of publications would be good targets for your initial pitch. Start locally, and then branch out from there. I'm always an advocate of starting small - but definitely don't limit yourself. Make a list of 10 - 20 publications with audiences that wold be interested in what you have to say, and then do your homework. Contact them to find out how to submit your Op-Ed piece properly. Read the publication's opinion section for several consecutive months to understand what kind of tone of voice their editor prefers.

And last but not least - edit, proofread, and edit again. Before you submit your piece, be completely sure that it's well written, factual, clear and concise. Don't trust your own eyes - ask for help.

It's worth the effort. Well placed Op-Ed pieces are a great way to get free publicity for your agency.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Perception vs. Reality

The Red Cross is the standard-bearer for most American non-profits. When catastrophe hits, donation dollars flow in to the Red Cross before they find their way anywhere else.

The problem is, as the Red Cross continues to face challenges year after year, Americans begin to assume that all non-profit organizations have organizational problems. And with that assumption, donation dollars begin to dry up.
"...for it all to unravel in six months is just another mistake, just like all of the others this organization had made before.”

That sense of dismay echoed throughout the charity world yesterday.

“The tragedy of this is that the American Red Cross is probably the best-known nonprofit organization in this country,” said Diana Aviv, president and chief executive of the Independent Sector, a nonprofit trade association. “When the stories about it are more about governance and management and less about how it saves lives, it’s sad and not just for the Red Cross.”

In the aftermath of this latest crisis, organizations need to find a way to make their own stories rise above the rubble of the Red Cross mess. A clear PR strategy that (1) focuses on compelling human stories, (2) highlights the impact of donor dollars, and (3) reinforces the transparency of the organization's infrastructure becomes even more critical to the organization's success.

Why should non-profits invest in PR?

This has to be the single most common question I get from people once they find out what I do. While non-profits are scrambling for every dollar they get from donors, sponsors and foundations and state sources, why should they spend any of it on PR?

Four reasons:

1. Credibility: People give money to organizations they trust, and it's far easier to trust an organization that is in the media spotlight.

2. Consistency: The more often your organization is able to tell its story, the more likely it is to reach potential donors, and the more likely it is to sink in.

3. Clarity: The more often you tell your story, the better you'll get at telling it. By the time you get the opportunity to be in the New York Times, or on the Oprah Winfrey show, you want to be a

Reach - PR is one of the best ways to reach audiences that you wouldn't otherwise be able to access:
When it comes to PR, nonprofits are now learning the value of expanding that circle of likeliest donors to include the broader public. While donor relations may bring in dollars more immediately, PR has the potential to significantly widen the donor base. [read the whole article here]

All told, PR may be one of the best investments that a cash strapped organization can make. With small, deliberate, incremental steps - non-profit organizations can use the power of the press to their advantage - as long as their willing to put in the work it takes to get great press.