Free and Low-cost PR

It is obvious that organizations need a variety of marketing materials to promote their “brand,” their image, and their products and services. Clearly, most groups need a basic marketing brochure that looks professional and describes their programs, history and value to the community. Annual reports are not only required to maintain your tax status, but can be used as marketing tools – give them to donors, to thank people who have supported you, and to foundations when you submit grant proposals.

However, as important as marketing materials are, implementing additional public relations strategies can add real value to your work, usually at little or zero cost. Generally, the community needs to know who you are before you can be a real powerhouse at raising money. For example, Community Action Agencies want to get corporate sponsorships for a special event in their community, but only the government officials and the constituents know them. Some of our children’s organizations want to seek faith-based dollars, but they have no visibility with the key churches that could provide the dollars.

What can you do to get your organization positioned effectively so that the people who need to know about you do know about you ?

1)        Be clear on who you are trying to reach . Try to rifle rather than shotgun your approach.   If you are trying to get to the corporations, target business journals. If you are looking at targeting the religious community, go to the key churches in your neighborhood.   The key here is to focus on the market that you want to reach and get an article, a blurb, a request for volunteers in their publications

2)        Feature Stories – Develop a relationship with local newspaper reporters that cover your particular issues and approach them to do a story for you. The holidays are a great time to do this. During December the whole country gushes with emotion for human interest stories and the newspapers are constantly providing coverage.

3)        For m a Speaker’s Bureau – There are excellent opportunities to speak in front of key groups such as Rotary Clubs, Women’s organizations of Churches, your local Chamber of Commerce, et cetera.   These groups are looking for people to give presentations and if you have a good speaker (either your CEO, board member, volunteer or consumer who knows first hand of your services and impact) use them to help promote your organization.   Remember to collect snail and email addresses from the members of the group after your talk.

4)        Newspaper articles are generally better than television spots for fundraising purposes – this is because you can reprint newspaper articles to include in grant proposals, direct mail letters, and a media/press release file.

5)        Tie Public Relations into Fundraising – Understand the reading habits of your constituents.   If you are doing national fundraising, it is a good idea to get an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy ( ) because almost all of the national foundation and corporate philanthropic officers read this publication. Make sure you are identifying the potential funding sources you want to reach in 2004 and 2005 and get visibility in the publications they read including small association newsletters and journals.

6)        Articles Give You Credibility – If you send out your own marketing materials, it is a bit suspect, because you are tooting your own horn.   If you get an article in the newspaper, it immediately give you visibility and credibility (assuming it is positive).

7)        Op-Ed Pieces – When your local newspaper does a national story on an issue close to the heart of your organization, email the editor of the editorial page and ask if you can write a 500-700 word Op-Ed piece.   Many years ago when we were working on a homeless campaign, I wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Denver Post and we received almost $15,000 in donations. Last year, when an article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News about the termination of one third of the staff of a local foundation I wrote an Op-Ed on the issues it brought up that appeared in the local paper that Saturday, which generated a whole series of additional coverage by papers including the New York Times

8)        Letters to the Editor – You might not read letters to the editor, but I can assure you that the key decision-makers in your community read them.   When you are working on an issue, or you want to respond to an article in the paper, get your volunteers to write letters that support your position.

9)        Radio, Television, and Public Affairs Programs – These media outlets are required to run a certain amount of public service announcements and public service programs. Most of the time they air them on Sunday morning at 4 am. While you won’t get much publicity at 4 am, try to shoot one of these for your organization because you will be able to use the video for your promotional activities down the road.

10)    Offer the Supporter Visibility –   When you are planning a special event, or even a board or membership meeting, invite one of your key funders/donors to attend and be part of the program.