Most of the news and information you see on the TV news or in the daily newspaper was generated by people just like you. They send information to the media, usually via press releases and personal contact.
And good news from nonprofit organizations like yours shows up on TV or in the newspaper in the same way.
Unless your nonprofit plays on a national stage, you should not worry about trying to crack the New York Times or ABC News. Stick to placing a good story in your local media. After all, you want to catch the eye of supporters who live right down the street.
And, you could end up on the national stage as well. A well-kept secret is that many national news stories start at the local level. For instance, a national TV network might notice an engaging story on its local affiliate station. They think it would appeal to a bigger audience. Voila! You’re on the national news.
There are two types of news you will want to get out. One uses news releases — these work best for stories that you wish many media outlets to cover, such as a special event like a charity run, or to announce the appointment of a new CEO. You can write one release and send it to all of your local media outlets.
However, you should direct most of your media work at pitching unique stories to local media and reporters that you’ve cultivated over time.
Journalists love human interest stories, especially when they involve a David and Goliath theme. Think about someone overcoming overwhelming obstacles, or a child that was in need that your organization helped.
Those types of stories are just the ones to touch the hearts of potential donors, who still get most of their information about good causes through the traditional media.
Here are some tips for getting your organization noticed by your local media.
Read and watch the media in your local area. Subscribe to the newspapers and magazines, watch the local news, bookmark media websites, and join any organizations where you are likely to meet reporters and editors (some cities have press clubs that you can join).
Try to figure out where each news outlet sits on the political spectrum or what topics they seem to like. Public media are likely to be interested in liberal causes, while the local business journal might be more conservative and engaged in a business angle to any story.
For instance, health reporters or sports reporters may be the ones who would be interested in your news. Then you can send your information directly to them rather than just to the “editor.”
Don’t forget more specialized reporters such as the society page editor who might be interested in your special event if it involves community leaders. The calendar page editor will want your event listings. Most newspapers also carry a list of volunteer opportunities, so find out who writes those.
Turnover is frequent in the media too. So keep your media list up to date by checking to see who’s who at your favorite media outlets. It won’t do any good to send a news release to a specific person if that person has moved on.
Start by arranging a short meeting at their papers or TV stations to introduce yourself. Be considerate of their busy schedules and make it brief. Drop off some printed material or personally deliver that press release instead of mailing or emailing it.
The first time you have a story idea for a particular media outlet, email the reporter or TV producer with your idea and then follow up with a phone call That might give you an opportunity to start building a relationship.
However, don’t nag a reporter. One reporter said that there is no need to call to say you’re going to send a press release, then follow up to see if the reporter got the press release. Also, don’t send reminder emails more than once. If the reporter hasn’t responded, he or she probably isn’t interested.
Check with other staff members, volunteers, and board members to see if they know reporters. They could be a relative, a neighbor, or a business acquaintance with many local media personalities. A personal story tip from someone the reporter knows personally will likely carry more weight than a call from the PR person at your charity.
Instead of just sending publications out with your mass mailings, send a copy to a reporter with your business card attached. It’s unlikely that a reporter or TV producer will pick up a story idea from your publication, but at least they might become acquainted with what your organization does.
You can’t just sign up a reporter for your email communications, but once a reporter is interested, he or she will likely subscribe to your email newsletter or follow your organization on social media.
Send an invitation to your special event to the appropriate reporter. Even if the reporter doesn’t attend, the invitation will remind him or her of you and your organization.
Try to work in as many informal contacts with the reporter as possible. Eventually, you’ll be remembered.
People in the media move around frequently. Keeping track is not easy. Develop a media list and keep it up-to-date. You may be able to subscribe to a media list for your region, but it can’t substitute entirely for your own meticulously maintained list.
Look for reporters on social media and follow them there. Do not pitch reporters that way, though, unless you have some indication that they welcome it. Do that through email, mail, or phone. However, you can keep up with a reporter’s interests by following him on social media. Follow reporters on Twitter and even on LinkedIn. That is also handy for keeping up with where a reporter is currently working.
Your information should be new, noteworthy, and relevant to a significant share of the public. Reporters are not interested in yesterday’s news, items that are of interest only internally to your organization, or everyday events.
Provide reporters with good human interest stories. Invite staff and volunteers at your organization to let you know about good story ideas that you might be able to pitch to the media. The best ideas often come from people who are on the front lines of your organization.
Journalists love it when you have lots of online resources for them.
Set up a virtual media kit that Includes the history of your nonprofit, its mission and goals, and brief profiles and photos of key staff and board members. Post your recent news releases and an online annual report.
Set up a gallery of downloadable photos that show your organization in action. And make these free to use. Reporters are often writing quickly and need to meet deadlines. Readily available images will make their day.
Smart charities use newsjacking to make their organizations relevant to current events.
One way to do this is to develop a cadre of “experts” who can speak to the issues your organization addresses. Train these experts (they can be staff members and volunteers) and make them available to reporters when there is a relevant news event.
Even a hard freeze in my area prompts an interview with the Humane Society on how to protect pets during cold weather and another with the Botanical Gardens about taking care of fragile plants. Think about the things you could be the go-to expert for.
Track local, national and regional news to see if you can tag along on a larger story. Watch for examples of how other charities do this. Did the governor just announce a cutback in public spending that could affect the people you serve? Is there explosive national news that affects your organization? Local reporters love to localize a national story, so help them by spotting those opportunities.
Always provide your email address on your press releases and your website contact page. But also include a mobile number where reporters can reach you day or night.
When you receive a call or a message from a reporter, get back to him or her as soon as you can. Reporters work on deadline and will appreciate your rapid response.
Even if you can’t be much help to a reporter when he or she is researching a story, provide contacts at other nonprofits who might be able to help. Your cooperation will be remembered and will likely pay off eventually.
Initially, thank the reporter by email, but also follow up with a handwritten thank-you note. Never underestimate the power of a sincere thanks. Plus, never nitpick over minor inaccuracies. They are not worth your effort, and there is nothing to be gained by irritating a reporter.
Author: Joanne Fritz
Source: The Balance
Imagine two nonprofits that are nearly identical. Similar missions, same size, equal marketing budgets. They both have websites that do an admirable job of showcasing their impact.
In most obvious ways, these two organizations are twins.
But one of them raises much more money online than the other. Why?
Last year, only 7.6% of all charitable donations were made online — a 12% increase over the previous year. (Source: Blackbaud)
So, while online giving remains surprisingly meager, it’s (unsurprisingly) trending upward at a healthy clip. And with digital natives — aka, Gen Z — beginning to leave college and enter the workforce, online giving isn’t going to plateau anytime soon.
Nonprofits have websites in order to fundraise. Sure, websites serve plenty of other needs — e.g., register volunteers, share impact, announce events, etc. — but these are distant runners-up to the primary purpose: increasing donations.
So how do we ensure that our online experience is designed for donors (both current and would-be)? And how can a website make charitable giving a given?
When a visitor lands on your webpage, they’re often there to do one of two things:
The first audience — i.e., the people who already know they’re going to give — need little more than a big shiny “Donate Now” button. More on that in a minute.
But the second group? You have to give them a reason to care.
Before your donors are willing to dig into their pockets to help you, you have to move them. Simply asking will only get you so far.
There is no action without emotion. So your website should, quickly and compactly, trigger emotions. The quickest way to inspire emotion — fear, anger, happiness, etc. — is to lead with your mission. And the quickest way to do that is to ensure you have a snappy “hero message” on your homepage.
The Boy Scouts of America offer a stellar example with this hero message:
Some kids avoid obstacles. Scouts overcome them.
Why is this hero message great? A couple of reasons:
And the photo that accompanies it — big, bright, full of smiles and nature and friends — bolsters the message. These are Scouts, not ordinary kids. The message is clear, instantaneously, to anyone who lands on the homepage.
Next, it’s time to audit your donation process.
Is it simple? It should be. Simplicity is key. Research proves, time and again, that a confusing or technically complex donation process will cost you money. Users who decide to give but then encounter a hiccup are more likely to get frustrated and leave.
We often think of donors as making donations the same way they pay their monthly bills: it’s an errand, a chore that they dutifully complete.
But for many donors, the donation process is a moment of spontaneous generosity. They’re in a momentary “state of charity.”
So when these would-be donors see a long, field-heavy donation form, they may grow fatigued and slip out of their generous mindset. And voila, they’re gone.
So we recommend you make your donation process:
As Short as Feasible
Don’t ask for more info than you need. If you don’t need to know their salutation — e.g., Mr. or Mrs. or Miss — don’t ask for it. If you never plan to call them, don’t ask for their phone number. The more questions you ask, the more likely it becomes that your users will suffer from “cognitive overload” and decide it isn’t worth the trouble.
You may also consider a multi-step donation form. A multi-step donation process means having multiple pages: one for the donor’s basic contact info, another step for their payment info, another step for donation amount and type, etc. This approach offers a few advantages:
Beyond the homepage and donation page, each page on your website also needs a purpose. Far too often, organizations add a page to their website without having a clear, compact reason for the page. “Because we want one” isn’t an adequate reason to add a page.
Instead, for each page you propose adding, write down the following about it:
If you can identify all of these elements of a page — and you still want it — then you’re ready to create and publish it. The most critical parts are “Purpose” and “Desired User Action.” The purpose of a webpage should be singular. Each page does one thing — no more, no less. Once you begin overloading a page with different topics and/or targeting different types of audiences, you risk confusing and misleading your users.
Meanwhile, on every page, you should know what you want your user to do next. This is a concrete action — e.g., click on this link, navigate to a sub-page, download a document, fill out a form, etc. Sometimes, identifying the desired action first helps you understand the purpose of the page and craft your content to drive the user toward the desired action.
Note: You want your users doing things online. Therefore, ambiguous and passive user activities won’t suffice. For example, your page’s purpose shouldn’t be “learn about our programs” or “understand our mission.” You want them clicking, downloading, etc.
Don’t assume your website is working perfectly. Instead, test it. Then test it some more. And when you change something on your site, test it again.
Remember, you think about your organization infinitely more often than your users do. This is called the “Curse of Knowledge” — i.e., once you know something, it’s impossible not to know it. The Curse of Knowledge describes the big challenge facing fundraisers and marketers: getting people who don’t know what you know to know it too.
And the Curse of Knowledge explains why so few organizations bother testing their digital content. It makes sense to them; surely it will make sense to the uninitiated website user. But this is rarely the case. They simply don’t have the context, experience, or knowledge you do.
So how do you test your website’s usability and UX quality? For starters, download this free Website Evaluation Kit. It allows you, on both a website and individual webpage scale, to evaluate the effectiveness of your content. Is it accurate, on brand, accessible to all users, etc.?
Then you can conduct some simple usability testing on your own. Gather a few people who have never used your website. Sit down with them and ask them to conduct simple tasks on your site — e.g., “Find our event calendar” or “Make a donation.”
Then simply watch them do it. Record your notes:
You can learn more about your website’s shortcomings in 10 minutes of watching someone use it than you could in hours of internal brainstorming meetings.
In web design, “accessibility” refers to whether online content can be used by everyone regardless of their ability or disability.
With more than 50 million Americans who have some form of disability — many of whom use assistive technologies like screen readers and screen magnifiers to browse the web — making sure your website is fully accessible isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s smart business. After all, if someone with a disability can’t perceive, understand, and interact with your website easily, they won’t become donors and supporters.
So how accessible is your website?
Fortunately, there are website accessibility testing tools online that will show you how accessible your site is — along with where, exactly, you’re coming up short.
One of my accessibility testing favorites is the WebAim Website Accessibility Check (but there are plenty of others).
But this site tells you what’s already troublesome on your site. How do you make sure future content — text, images, videos, interactions, etc. — are accessible in the first place?
For that, read this free How-To Guide on Website Accessibility. It will explain, step by step, why accessibility is such an important use of your time and how to ensure you’re adhering to accessible design standards. There are simple, quick things you can do today to make sure you’re not alienating millions of potential users.
There’s a ton that goes into streamlining your website’s effectiveness. But the low-hanging fruits — a clear hero message and a simplified donation process — are still woefully under-addressed by many nonprofits. Make sure yours isn’t missing these easy opportunities to boost your donations.
Author: Rachel Clemens
From time to time, my phone rings. A nonprofit staff or board member begins to talk.
“We’re in a unique situation,” this person says.
Silently, I roll my eyes.
Or maybe, “We have a unique problem.”
Actually, you don’t.
Apologies for the snark. During these conversations, I do my best to listen deeply, respond respectfully, and seek out the nuances of their circumstances. I ask a lot of questions. In some cases, people just want to vent—and I encourage that.
Regardless, these discussions tend to wind up in a predictable place: “Many, many other groups are facing the same challenges you’ve just described,” I say.
Most people find this comforting.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked with thousands of nonprofits in 47 U.S. states and across Canada. Nearly all the problems they experience fall into one or more of these categories:
Let’s acknowledge that within and among these challenges, you can find an infinite number of variations and permutations. In that sense, yes: each organization can define its circumstances as unique.
However, let’s also acknowledge that nearly every nonprofit is navigating similar currents and trying to avoid the same whirlpools, rapids, and backwaters. Given this reality, comparable tools and techniques can be useful with a variety of groups.
Earlier this year, I facilitated a fundraising workshop in a distant state. At the start of the session, one participant raised his hand and said,
“You need to understand our circumstances. This community is unique. We have a small population, lots of nonprofits, and we’re competing for the same donors. We have many seasonal residents—when they’re here, there are so many fundraising events that the weekends are packed.”
In his own way, he was expressing skepticism: Whatever you teach us may not be relevant, because our situation is uniquely difficult. He was unaware—until I gently responded—that he had just defined at least a dozen communities where I had previously trained and supported local nonprofits.
Here’s another version of the same behavior. A board member of a conservation land trust pushed me for examples of success from “exact peer” organizations: same budget size, staffing pattern, number of land protection projects, etc.
His unspoken idea: the experience of larger or smaller organizations—we’re talking about organizations within the land trust network, not to mention arts groups, universities, animal shelters, domestic violence prevention groups, religious congregations, etc.—would be somehow irrelevant.
The obsession with uniqueness masks a troubling train of thought. When followed to its logical conclusion, it sounds something like this: Because we’re different, the rules don’t apply to us.
If you face challenges, it’s helpful to know how others have addressed similar problems.
If you’re considering opportunities to grow your organization, it’s useful to learn about how other groups have responded in similar situations.
Put your ego aside. Whatever you’re up against, somebody—somewhere—has been there before you. What can you learn from their experience?
Author: Andy Robinson