Best Ways to Get Nonprofit News Coverage

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Which would you rather read about? A new type of loan offered by a credit union or a Rwandan woman fleeing violence in her country and finding safety in Maine? Trick question. 

It’s the same story told from two angles. The story of a program, created by one of our clients, gives asylum seekers very cheap loans to help them secure their first apartments. It’s an amazing program, but if it’s not framed very carefully, it could seem pretty boring. We got the story picked up by a local reporter at the Portland Press Herald, but it could have just as easily gone unnoticed. That’s because it can be hard to get nonprofit news coverage especially when newspapers are floundering and reporters are stretched thin. So here are a few tricks, many gleaned from the years our writers spent in the newsroom

How To Get Nonprofit News Coverage

1. Learn What’s Newsworthy

To be in the news, something needs to be timely. It needs to impact an adequate number of people, and it often needs to pertain to money. Exceptions to these rules are the weird and the outrageous—stories that shock, enrage, or befuddle. These are the robberies, the plane crashes, and the offensive or ridiculous things that people say which now dominate our news.

As a nonprofit, focus on learning which details matter to the people you’re trying to reach.

A common pitfall is focusing on something that only matters to your organization. As an example, nonprofits will often announce when they hire someone. The press release says who was hired, and maybe a little about their experience, but that’s not newsworthy unless you’re the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or of similar importance to your community.

It’s better to be contextual and say what that person will do accomplish. For instance, you could say that, as a result of a new hire, you’ll be doubling your summer programs, something that affects hundreds of members and is expected to bring dozens more visitors to the area this summer.

2. If You Don’t Have News, Make It

A client of ours holds an event each year called “Touch-a-Truck.” During the event, kids clamor over fire trucks, police cars and the like, which flash their lights, honk their horns and raise their ladders. There are hot dogs, music and a mascot from a baseball team.

What does this have to do with what the client? Nothing really.

But kids in fire hats make great photos, so reporters always show up., and news coverage is guaranteed. Likewise, first responders love the event, and the families attending post pictures of their kids on Facebook and Instagram. For those reasons alone, the Touch-a-Truck event is one of the client’s most popular. It’s also a savvy way to show its community connection.

3. Don’t be Weirdly Formal

Reporters and editors are always receiving press releases written as news articles, and there’s merit to this approach. If the publication needs content, they might just run the press release, especially if it matches AP Style.

But if you want someone to write an actual article on your event, or whatever, your only objective is to sound like low hanging fruit. Be juicy. How does one be juicy to a reporter? Anticipate their needs and interests of reporters without overselling. Here’s what not to do:

“Dear reporter: I’m excited to share that my organization will be hosting Julie Danny on Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. Danny is an award-winning philanthropist who speaks at many events about important events. Details in the press release below.”

Instead, focus on the reasons why people would see Julie speak. Make it easy.

“Hi reporter: Would you like to cover a talk we’re hosting? It’s about food insecurity, a big issue in our community. You’d be able to chat with the speaker, as well as a few people who rely on the food pantry.”

See the difference? 

You don’t even need the name of the speaker or the time of the event. For your initial contact, that’s distracting information. Instead, lead with the question (the call to action). Then, anticipate what the reporter needs to know—for instance, that there’d be “real” people to interview.

4. Enlist Your Family … or Strangers

If you’re struggling for ideas, look to your better half. Pitch the idea to someone at home. See if you can capture their attention when they’re tired and don’t want to hear about work. (That’s what reporters have to do.) Or you can grab someone in line for coffee. Make a game of it. See if you can genuinely capture their attention with something happening at your organization.

If you can’t, keep practicing—or choose a different topic.

If you found this useful or you’d like help with any of the above topics, sign up for a free consultation. Trueline is based in Portland, Maine, and can help get nonprofit news coverage for your organization both locally and from far away.