Knowing the answers to those classic reporter’s questions about your nonprofit can determine whether or not you get media coverage. Just doing great work doesn’t guarantee you’ll get coverage. You need to present your agency’s story in a way that appeals to the media.
First, Who? Yes, the “who” is your organization AND, more importantly, the people your organization serves or affects. Remember Toby Keith’s song, “It’s All About Me?” The media doesn’t care about you and your organization; they want a story that talks about their viewers and readers. Every pitch you make to the media needs to focus on the folks—in their target market—whose lives are being transformed by your organization.
Be prepared to have the media ask to interview clients and volunteers. They aren’t interested in talking heads prattling on about what your organization does. The media will want to talk to clients and volunteers to get the impact story firsthand. That means you need to identify the best clients and volunteers for your organization and practice talking points with them before you make a pitch. Be ready to arrange the interviews or at least provide the media with contact information for your clients and volunteers.
If you need to protect the identities of clients, explain why and offer solutions, such as changing the names of the clients, or photographing clients from behind while they interact with volunteers or staff. Or, ask the media if they will take photos that obscure the clients’ faces with clothing, hair or props. If the interview is videotaped, ask if the photojournalist will direct the camera on the person’s hands.
What? As in what are you doing that is different and meaningful? Or, what you can prove you do better than anyone else? Now is not the time to trot out your 45-word aspirational mission statement that doesn’t mean anything to anyone except your board and staff.
You need to clearly and concisely say what you do:
- We help kids in foster care by matching them with trained volunteers.
- We help low-income elderly people stay in their homes by having volunteers do minor repairs.
- We give ex-offenders second chances by providing them with job training.
- We provide ESL classes to refugees fleeing war.
- We help veterans recover from PTSD by matching them with trained dogs.
When? Is there a specific occasion you’re marking or is this not a timely event? For example, there is a month, a week and a day for almost everything. Think Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Volunteer Appreciation Week. A resource like Chase’s Calendar of Events can help. If your organization can tie into something like that with a good story, hooray!
If you’re marking the grand opening of a building or addition of a program, that can be a media opportunity if you plan it right. Consider tying into a special anniversary or benchmark achievement.
Or, if you want to get coverage of your program because you want to build awareness with the hope of scoring more money and volunteers, let the media know that your great story is not time sensitive and that you can work with them to arrange a story at their convenience. They will appreciate your flexibility on a slow news day.
Where? Where is work being done? Are there good visuals? The media wants action, people and color. Forget about inviting them to take a photo or video of the ED sitting behind a desk.
Suggest an interesting location where your services are offered that might make a good background. If your volunteers do home repairs, that’s where you should plan an interview. If your provide ESL classes at a library, do a media event there. Dress up a media-opp with colorful banners, signs and t-shirts with your logo and stock or approved client photos. Add balloons, ribbons, toys or educational tools that, props that help tell the story of your agency’s work.
Why? Why do you do what you do? Why is your organization necessary? Do you address unmet needs or enrich your community in some other way? Why is your organization the best solution?
How? How do you do what you do? Do you depend on volunteers? If so, brag on a special volunteer or two (and don’t say you can’t pick just one volunteer). Do you use special equipment or operate on a special site?
Do you fulfill your mission with money raised in the community? If so, talk about impact of donations. For every $25 donated, we can:
- Train a volunteer
- Provide school supplies for a child
- Feed a horse so military veterans can get equine therapy
- Buy materials for a performing arts camp
Another How is to latch onto a breaking news event. For example, if your organization provides services to victims of domestic violence, during recent incidents involving major sports figures you could have called your local media and talked about how domestic violence is an issue in your community. You could talk about how your agency is addressing the problem in your community.
An example would be a natural disaster and your agency is collecting cleaning supplies to send to the affected area. You could invite reporters to interview volunteers packing supplies into boxes.
If there is a news report of a pit bull attacking someone and your organization is a rescue group for pit bulls, you could invite a reporter to come get acquainted with pit bulls who are loving and playful and are good around people.
Take some time to answer the 5Ws and H. Come up with a story angle that is different from what you’ve seen done before, then contact the assignments desk of your local media outlet to pitch the story. Getting the media to talk about your organization makes good business sense, it is free publicity and it’s like getting a seal of approval.