The Real Secret To Raising Your Nonprofit's Public Profile

  • by Christine Batta
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Often, a nonprofit organization seems to raise its public profile almost overnight. One good stroke of luck—usually in the form of a feature story, news item, or successful publication—and they suddenly have interest coming in from all kinds of new donors and media members.

So what's the secret to creating this kind of breakthrough?

In most cases, it isn't a true secret at all…although it might as well be because not many nonprofit organizations are taking advantage. That's because the real key to raising your group’s public profile is consistency. To suddenly get "lucky" with publicity usually means sending out press releases, arranging interviews, and generally getting the word out in your community on a regular schedule over time.

Keeping to a consistent PR calendar might sound simple, but it tends to be tougher than a lot of nonprofit executives would think. The biggest reason is that many of these scheduled efforts don't bear fruit very often, but keeping them up is the only way to guarantee that you'll eventually be successful. In other words, you just have to keep at it until you are successful, and usually for a long time after that.

With that in mind, here are some tips for creating—and sticking to—a good nonprofit PR calendar:

Develop themes and messages ahead of time.

Organized nonprofits, the ones that get the lion's share of attention from donors and media members, usually aren't releasing statements and news items off the cuff. Instead, they have planned out the themes and topics they're going to bring up months ahead of time, which is what you should do, too. Keeping to this practice won't just make it easier to schedule activities, but will stop you from becoming too predictable or repetitive over time.

Keep an eye on the calendar.

It goes without saying that certain types of topics and ideas do well at different parts of the year. For instance, many charitable groups have their best fundraising seasons during the holidays. Since the busy times for your nonprofit will probably coincide with the busy times for other organizations and media outlets, too, it makes sense to give yourself as much lead time as possible when sending out things like news releases and announcements. As a good rule of thumb, give others at least 3 to 4 weeks to report or respond on something that's particularly important.

Assign responsibilities and deadlines.

In order for these deadlines to be met, it's important that someone in your nonprofit organization actually be in charge of meeting them. For each press release, announcement, blog post, or other PR item on your calendar, there needs to be one specific person responsible for making sure it is published and released on time. Whether that is the same person who is actually generating the item or not probably depends on the size and structure of your nonprofit, but the point is that someone has to be accountable if things are going to get finished.

Make your PR calendar realistic.

Of course, your nonprofit could always benefit from more attention, but it's important that your plan be realistic. On the one hand, don't plan on generating more activity than you can realistically sustain, or even follow up on if donors and members of the media end up being interested. And on the other hand, remember that even the most committed champions of your cause only want to hear from you so often, so don't abuse their patience.

Be flexible.

After your PR calendar is put into place, you can use it as a guide to schedule your future communications and keep your team on track. Remember, however, that it's just a plan. And like all plans, it should be subject to change. New developments, other news items, and the effectiveness of your current fundraising can all affect your decision to change your PR calendar going forward. Use it as a good template, but not something that has to be etched in stone.

Lots of nonprofit organizations find themselves looking for a lucky break now and then that will put their group or cause in the public eye. What they may not realize, however, is that the easiest way to fall into this sort of break isn't to fall into it at all. Use a consistent and well thought out PR calendar for your nonprofit, and you greatly increase the odds that donors and members of the media will be looking your way in no time.

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