[Guest Blog] Navigating PR in the nonprofit sector
At its most fundamental level, public relations serves as the link between an organization and the public that bridges respectful, mutually beneficial communication. This communication is built on the trust that an organization builds with its public over time, which in return creates, cultivates, strengthens, and fosters relationships. Ultimately, it is an advantageous tool that every organization utilizes but may not realize. Failure to discover how to practice PR optimally can lead to missed opportunities and a waste of resources.
Nonprofit organizations are one of the lead beneficiaries of public relations when used knowingly and correctly. In the nonprofit space, navigating PR with the correct lens leads to perhaps the greatest reward a nonprofit could yield: trust. To rally people behind your cause requires trust; supporters want to know where their resources are going.
Every nonprofit is competing for donor dollars and media attention, and every donor is concerned about which organization to give its money to. Public relations is a low-cost means for forging these donor and media relations. Implementing public relations best practices throughout the organization is the first instrumental step in reaching a wider audience. Developing a comprehensive internal communications guide is an excellent way to steer communications priorities for the calendar year and assist with decisions on where resources should be allocated. Understanding where these communications pieces fit across communications objectives and their corresponding outputs will allow nonprofit professionals to measure and inform tactical rhythm and results accurately.
An internal public relations strategy must begin at the highest elevation looking down
While this may seem obvious for any high-level executive, most leaders run through quarters without a clear roadmap to success, making decisions on the fly without connecting small steps forward to the finish line that is miles away. Deciding first on your organization's objectives will help you choose the right activities to achieve success.
PR’s beauty lies in the fact that any practitioner can showcase the why, who, where, and when compellingly and ethically at little to no cost. Earned media, which is free press coverage of your organization, harnesses relationships over time. As a result, your organization is the receiver of increased knowledge, sentiment, and brand awareness -- the most powerful ROI you can achieve.
Generating increased awareness of your organization’s mission among potential donors is one example of an objective that can be achieved through earned media. Earned media tactics to achieve this can look like collaborating with local or national partners and donors to promote your organization's work and to introduce their followers and supporters to your organization. Staying abreast of newsworthy stories as they arise to pitch them to media contacts, working with program staff to develop op-eds relevant to the news cycle to be picked up by media outlets, and assisting with promoting events that are identified as opportunities to introduce your organization to new potential donors and further the fundraising agenda are all examples of how earned media yields great results.
Creating Brand Evangelists
Keeping in mind that through earned media you are creating brand evangelists that can help spread your mission, it is important to know exactly who you are speaking to and why. Honing in on your audience’s demographics and psychographics allows an organization to create tailored messaging with a specific voice that reaches who you want to hear your message. This can be particularly challenging in the nonprofit space as your cause may pertain to the collective, but your fundraising depends on the critical few. A great way to siphon through the data that drives your audience to donate is to create a persona board: a chart outlining who your 2-3 segments are from the lexicon they use to the car they drive to their job. This persona board serves as a way for you to visualize who you are speaking to.
Examples of donor personas:
- Giving levels (e.g., Major, mid, small donors)
- Generational groups (e.g., Boomers, Millennials, Gen-Zers)
- Geographic location (e.g., East Coast, Midwest, West Coast donors)
- Corporate partners
Once you have segmented your supporters, you can create ongoing content that will resonate with them. Key communications output tactics can include:
- Blogs that are distributed on a website and across social media
- Newsletters to nurture, inform, and engage supporters
- Social media posts with cohesive graphic design elements
- Messaging styles and mediums
- Organizational updates: project activities/communication, new projects, and noteworthy success stories/achievements
- Annual Report
- Stories from the field to highlight the transformational impact of project activities
Communicating these initiatives in a compelling way requires transparency steered by PR efforts.
Controlling your brand’s narrative
PR is a powerful relational tool that moves people to take action. Through tactful PR, an organization can adapt to prevent communication crises, live on the frontier of current events, and respond quickly and appropriately to critiques, questions, or praise. This is crucial to the fast-paced, real-time environment nonprofits are subject to evolve within.
Creating feature stories that showcase the direct impact of contributions is a personable way to cement the donor with the “why.” This highly transparent content strategy will help build the organization’s reputation, illustrating its impact and the need for people to take action. More importantly, though, is how these content efforts are being distributed.
The more efficient your public relations distribution engine is, the better you can control the narrative around your brand, respond to the current social environment, and showcase to your audience the organization's mission at hand.
Unlike paid advertising, PR invests in building and distributing conversations, which looks like:
- Paid, earned, shared, and owned media
- Press kits
- Press release
- Speaking events
- Partnerships and collaborations
- Crisis communication plan
- Monitoring and evaluation of communications strategies
- Outreach (LinkedIn and cold emails)
- Media relations
A critical follow-through is the measurement of these investments. Measuring the success of your PR strategies helps an organization to identify and compare the intent of its messaging and the public’s perception of the messaging, and make any necessary improvements going forward. Professionals can easily measure their overarching strategy’s effectiveness by monitoring conversion rates, engagement rates, bounce rates, traffic sources, social media insights and much more.
Investing in public relations is investing in your organization’s narrative. For nonprofits, increasing PR scope will result in major donors viewing your organization as an effective partner.