Branding & PR, Clutch Report

Nonprofit Public Relations: How to Promote Your Cause

September 16, 2022

by Hannah Hicklen

With a solid PR strategy in place, nonprofits can raise awareness, improve the organization’s image, and strengthen fundraising efforts. Learn how to create a nonprofit public relations strategy that will promote your cause.  

The average American donated $574 to charity in 2021. For nonprofits, their goal is to earn support from these people looking to do good. 

Whether they’re looking for financial support to continue their services, need volunteers, or are trying to grow awareness for their cause, nonprofits need to fight to get their message out to the public. 

This is where nonprofit public relations comes in — public relations is the process of managing an organization’s public image through outreach efforts, such as: 

  • Writing and distributing press releases
  • Speech writing
  • Writing pitches or articles for journalists
  • Hosting special events 
  • Conducting market research
  • Crisis management 
  • Social media promotion

By strategically disseminating information, PR agencies are able to build a nonprofit’s image, increase fundraising, and grow awareness. 

Hoping to invest in public relations for your nonprofit? Check out Clutch’s list of leading PR agencies

Goals of Nonprofit PR

Raise Awareness

Raising awareness for their cause is a top priority for nonprofits. While some nonprofit organizations are extremely recognizable — such as the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity — smaller charities in particular need to gain more attention in order to earn donations and grow their foundation. 

Public relations efforts can help nonprofits convey their messages and discuss the services or solutions they provide. 

The more often that a nonprofit’s name appears in the media, the more recognizable it will become. With increased visibility, the organization’s brand name recognition will grow, generating more awareness and donations. 

For instance, many nonprofits and PR professionals reach out to local news sources to spread information about their mission. 

The Claire Marie Foundation, is a nonprofit that is dedicated to stopping adolescent and young adult melanoma through awareness, prevention programs, and education. 

As part of their prevention program, the Claire Marie Foundation provides regular free skin screenings. Unfortunately, they were forced to pause their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claire Marie Foundation Banner
Source: Claire Marie Foundation

When they were finally able to resume their screenings, Co-Founder, President, and CEO, Marianne Banister, spoke to Baltimore’s NBC affiliate to boost awareness of their services as well as the threats of melanoma in young people. 

During the pandemic, screenings came to a halt, resulting in an increase in melanoma cases amongst people ages 13-29. To combat this, the Claire Marie Foundation hosted two days of free clinics in six locations. 

In working with the press, they’re able to spread their message and boost participation in their life-saving programs. 

Fundraising

Nonprofit organizations rely on donations and fundraising events in order to generate financial support for their cause. Without them, it would be difficult to continue their mission. 

PR efforts can help nonprofits generate awareness for fundraising events and encourage donors to get involved. 

For example,  BARCS, a Baltimore-based animal rescue and shelter hosts BARCtoberfest every fall to raise money for homeless animals. The event includes a 5k Run/1 Mile walk, a Halloween pet costume contest, trick-or-treating, and a beer garden. People simply need to raise $50 through crowdfunding or pay out of pocket to participate. 

BARCtoberfest banner

Source: RunSignUp

This year, BARCS hopes to raise $350,000, or 10% of their annual operating budget, through this event. 

To get the word out about the event and generate some excitement, they launched a publicity campaign. So far, the event has been featured on CBS, BARCS’ social media platforms, and on their website. They’ve also been able to drum up several local sponsors, including the Baltimore Ravens. 

As a result, they’re already receiving donations and gathering registrations. With a great PR strategy in place, the event is sure to go off without a hitch. 

Brand Image

Image is everything for nonprofit organizations. While public relations efforts usually focus on providing transparency and managing the organization’s brand, organizations occasionally need support bolstering their image. 

For example, when a nonprofit organization finds themselves in hot water, they may need support with crisis communications, which can be defined as the strategic dissemination of information to address a crisis situation. 

As one of the largest breast cancer organizations in the US, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation is familiar with the controversy and the importance of a good PR strategy. 

In 2012, Komen pulled grants for life-saving breast-cancer screenings for low-income women at Planned Parenthood. While they didn’t announce the decision publicly, it became well-known thanks in part to social media. Immediately, they received backlash from both Komen supporters and abortion rights advocates. 

Susan G. Komen Banner

Source: Komen.org

Planned Parenthood responded with a press release stating that they were disturbed and disappointed by the announcement, but they were starting a new fundraising campaign to support Breast Health Services. Thanks to their PR campaign, they were able to make up some of the funding they had suddenly lost. 

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, however, continued to stumble. Former board member, Eve Ellis, said that she believed that the cut was politically motivated, and because of this decision, no longer trusted the Komen organization. 

Within a few days, they backtracked and announced that they were reinstating funding for Planned Parenthood and the CEO was stepping down. 

However, the damage was done. Without a well-planned PR response, The Susan G. Komen Foundation was still reeling a year later. Donations dropped significantly, impacting the organization’s operations. 

On top of that, more scrutiny began to fall on the organization. It was revealed that the CEO made over half a million dollars annually and the organization only gave about 15% of its donations on research awards to fund studies. 

Many also began to criticize how Susan G. Komen sent cease and desist letters to small nonprofit organizations that use “for the cure” in their campaigns. 

Rebuilding Susan G. Komen’s image was not easy and their team had to go into full damage-control mode to restore their credibility. How they handled it has since been condemned as one of the biggest PR flops in recent history. With a better PR strategy in place, they may have been able to minimize the damage more effectively. 

How to Create an Effective Nonprofit PR Strategy 

Set Goals & Complete Research

A great PR strategy begins with outlining concrete goals. Do you want to attract new donors? Raise awareness? Increase funding? Win new grants? 

Regardless of what their goals are, this will impact where they allocate their resources. 

Once the organization knows what their objectives are, they should set attainable and measurable goals to drive their decision making processes.

 To make sure PR goals are measurable, it’s best to review PR activity from the previous year and use KPIs such as how much money was raised or brand name recognition as a benchmark for growth. 

Then organizations can then analyze their PR strategy from the past year. Nonprofit leaders should think about what stories were covered by the media, what raised awareness the most, and what generated donations. 

PR efforts that were effective should be replicated, but others may need to be adjusted. 

Understand Target Audience 

Like any corporate PR strategy, it’s important for nonprofits to know their target audiences so they can cater their messaging. By compiling personas and segmenting their audiences, PR professionals can create more effective marketing materials for the nonprofit. 

Consider this: how would you reach out to different stakeholders in your nonprofit? This includes:

  • Donors
  • Volunteers
  • Board members 
  • Media 

Would you use the same language with each of these groups? 

Additionally, nonprofits have to get to know their audiences very well and determine each of their motivations. What motivates young people may not be an effective motivator for other stakeholders.

For example, a nonprofit organization that is focused on collecting food for low-income families may need volunteers to prepare the food, store, and deliver it. However, this is very physical labor that some people can’t participate. At the same time, younger volunteers may not be able to donate money but they can get involved by donating their time. 

By catering a nonprofit’s messaging, their marketing campaigns will be much more effective. 

Develop a Brand Story 

A nonprofit’s brand story is the why behind everything they do. Whether they’re raising money for cancer research, food, housing, or efforts to reduce the impact of climate change, how they present their story can persuade people to get involved. 

Branding is all about building a relationship with your audience. PR professionals can help develop language to strengthen your brand across all communication platforms and position it for success. 

They can also book speeches, coordinate media coverage, and write press releases to provide additional opportunities to share that message with others. 

By reiterating your message and sharing your story with the world, you’ll be able to grow your nonprofit’s impact. 

Additional reading, ‘Brand Attributes: Definition, Benefits & Examples.’

Create a multi-channel marketing strategy

Nonprofits should leverage multiple platforms and mediums such as social media, print news, online journals, press releases, radio interviews, podcasts and more to expand their reach. 

Public relations is all about getting a brand’s message out there. By investing in multiple platforms, nonprofits can reach a wider audience. This, in turn, can impact their credibility and increase awareness for their cause. 

Learn more about multichannel marketing here. 

Conduct Media Outreach 

Media outreach is often used to enhance public relations by growing awareness for a nonprofit. PR professionals will often contact journalists to get coverage on an event, set up interviews for a nonprofit’s leadership, and write press releases to announce news and upcoming initiatives. 

As such, this is an important strategy for organizations looking to earn more publicity. 

Especially if they’re able to secure a feature with a credible news organization or on a platform with a large audience, this can help the nonprofit establish their own credibility and expand their reach. 

For example, being featured on a morning news channel can help potential donors or volunteers learn more about the organization and trust them. With this information, they can feel confident that they’re helping a good cause. As people tend to trust these resources, being featured by a credible news source is sure to improve their reputation. 

Build Mutually Beneficial Relationships 

Finally, nonprofits are often considered more personal than a business. People like to feel connected to the organization and feel like they’re making a difference. 

Events such as fundraising initiatives, one-on-one meetings, and lunches help potential donors and volunteers feel more involved with the organization. Even personalized emails or thank you notes can help those who support the organization feel appreciated. 

By building these relationships, nonprofits are more likely to see repeat donors, volunteers, and participants in their events. 

Nonprofit Public Relations Can Strengthen Your Cause 

Nonprofit organizations aren’t unlike corporate companies in that they need to work on building their brand image. Through public relations, nonprofits can improve their trustworthiness, raise awareness, increase donations, and improve transparency into their organizations. 

However, each nonprofit must be strategic in how they go about their public communications efforts. To strengthen their perception, they must set goals and analyze their media efforts to develop a truly effective PR strategy. 

By focusing on their brand image and catering their messaging to reach different audiences, they can promote their cause and increase donations. 
 

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