Why is Public Relations Vital for Nonprofits? | Building a Smart PR Strategy

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This is an excellent description because it verifies that public relations for nonprofits are not a single action but a communication strategy. As a nonprofit, the public decides your organization’s…

10 minutes read
Why is Public Relations Vital for Nonprofits? | Building a Smart PR Strategy

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This is an excellent description because it verifies that public relations for nonprofits are not a single action but a communication strategy.

As a nonprofit, the public decides your organization’s fate. If you are not known or seen as impactful, donors will not give, and your nonprofit will fail to reach its goal.

Public relations for nonprofits can help define their organization, reach a larger audience, and increase donor and volunteer activity. In this article, we discuss steps to create a public relations strategy for your nonprofit.

We have also included successful nonprofit public relations campaigns and who should be on your public relations team.

  1. Public Relations Strategy for Nonprofits
  2. Who Should Be on Your PR Team?
  3. Examples of Successful Nonprofit PR Campaigns
  4. Measure your Results

Public Relations Strategy for Nonprofits

public relations for nonprofits

Nonprofits that address public relations like a strategy will have more success and better relationships with their donors and the community. Your PR strategy will need to include your campaign goals, your target market, how you will reach your desired audience, and the support you can get for your PR campaign.

6 Steps to a Successful Nonprofit PR strategy:

  1. Set campaign goals
  2. Understand your target market
  3. Create campaign branding
  4. Use different methods to reach your target market
  5. Pitching the media
  6. Develop personal relationships

1. Set campaign goals

SMART goals are a popular technique used by for-profit companies and nonprofits. The reason for this system is to give you a sense of direction, focus, and motivation to reach your goals. The SMART Goal System gives you five areas of focus to help you plan your next PR campaign.

1.1 Specific

Your PR campaign goals need to be as specific as possible. When creating a PR strategy, you should ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Why do you need the campaign?
  • How much do you hope to raise?
  • Do you have other non-financial goals?
  • Is there a message you want the public to know or understand?
  • Do you want to find new potential donors or volunteers?

1.2 Measurable

Once you have asked the questions, you need to work on the answers. Your goals should be measurable to give you a clearer idea of when you will accomplish them.

A financial goal is easily measurable and maybe the most significant reason for your next PR campaign. If your PR campaign goal is not to raise funds, you need to find another way to measure your goals. Here are a few examples of measurable goals for your nonprofit PR strategy:

  • How many people do you want to reach through social media?
  • The number of views you want on YouTube?
  • How many shares do you want on Facebook?

1.3 Attainable

The third thing you must think about when planning your PR campaign is whether your goals are attainable. If you are a smaller organization with no advertising funds, you rely on word of mouth and your current donor base. The number of people you can reach through these sources will be a lot less than you can get with traditional and social media advertising. You must keep this in mind when writing down measurable goals for your next PR campaign.

1.4 Relevant

Public relation is a vital tool to reach your organization’s mission. When creating a PR campaign and promoting your organization to the public, your mission should be top of mind. Your PR goals must run in tandem with your mission. Otherwise, the PR mission will confuse and potentially ruin your public image.

1.5 Time-based

Most people are procrastinators, and without a specific timeline, your campaign will likely fail or not even get off the ground. Give yourself a deadline to meet the PR goals you have made. This will not only help motivate you but can also be used to encourage donors and volunteers to give.

2. Understand your target market

public relations for nonprofits

Before starting a PR campaign, you must have a clear idea of who you are speaking to. This is essential when creating social media posts and writing emails, solicitation letters, and press releases.

This is also important when deciding how you will reach the public. If your goal is to find more younger donors, it could be a waste of money to mail letters. Most younger donors research nonprofits and give online. Defining your target audience before creating your campaign will help point you in the right direction.

3. Create campaign branding

In addition to identifying your target audience, you should also outline your organization and campaign branding before starting a PR campaign.

Today, social media has expanded word of mouth about your nonprofit. This is fantastic, but it also means you have limited power over what is said and how people react to your organization. There are things you can do to address this problem and define your organization before other people try to define you.

When creating a public relations strategy and deciding how the public sees your nonprofit, you must keep your organization’s mission in mind. If your mission statement reads more like a textbook, it will not be helpful to add it to your PR campaign. You still want to include it, though, so it may be best to create an image or key phrase to help donors relate to the work you do.

The American Heart Association’s Red Dress Campaign is an excellent example of successful campaign branding. Thanks to this campaign, “women’s recognition of the Red Dress symbol increased to 39 and 57 percent respectively.” (National Center for Biotechnology Information)

pr non profit organizations

4. Use different methods to reach your target market

Once you understand your target audience and have created a compelling statement and image for your organization, you need to reach out to potential donors and volunteers. Public relations gives you several ways to reach your target market through traditional media, social media, events, and donor solicitation letters.

The Marketing Rule of 7 says that people need to “hear” a message at least seven times before it sticks. With this in mind, you want to reach out to your target audience in as many ways as possible. When creating your public relations strategy, you may wish to include traditional media, emails, solicitation letters, Facebook ads, events, YouTube videos, peer-to-peer online campaigns, and events.

You will have an easier time deciding how you should reach your desired audience since you have spent the time understanding them and creating a brand that will fit best with specific types of media.

5. Pitching the media

Traditionally, nonprofits have used newspapers, television, or radio to reach out to the public and tell them about the work they’re doing on the ground. Getting your nonprofit noticed by these media sources is not easy. The trick is to build connections with reporters and write press releases that help them write interesting stories.

pr non profit organizations

5.1 Press release

The best way to get noticed by your local newspaper is to write a press release that describes what you are doing and why it was important enough to cover. Newspapers receive several press releases a day and will likely ignore yours if it doesn’t stick out. We have written a blog post to help you write a press release that gets noticed and doesn’t end up in the garbage.

5.2 Media list

When sending out a press release, it is essential to send your release to the right person. The quickest and easiest way to get your release ignored is by sending it to an old email or journalist who doesn’t cover that topic anymore. Reporters change jobs quickly, so you need to make sure your media list is up to date.

Larger nonprofits have Media Managers whose entire job is to create and maintain relationships with media outlets. Luckily for smaller nonprofits who do not have their own PR staff, several companies offer media lists for free or purchase[1].

Getting press coverage has always been difficult, but thanks to services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), nonprofits can pitch their organization directly to journalists looking for organizations like them. Journalists use HARO to list story ideas along with source qualifications and a pitching deadline. Your organization can register and receive access to journalists’ requests three times a day. When you find a story idea that fits your organization, send an email about why your organization serves that journalist’s story, and wait for a response.

5.3 Social media

Many nonprofits question whether using traditional media is necessary anymore. With the creation of social media, more nonprofits can reach their desired audience without relying on traditional media sources.

Since social media is free to use, nonprofits of all sizes have started using it to promote their organization. Whether nonprofits use Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, organizations have used new tools to reach a larger audience. Crowdfunding campaigns, Peer-to-Peer campaigns, and ads all give nonprofits the chance to reach thousands of new donors daily.

5.4 Paid media

Another way to promote your PR campaign is with paid media advertisements. Free social media is great, but you can reach more people with pay-per-click advertising and display ads.

Google now offers nonprofit grants for up to $10,000 a month of free advertising on the first page of its search engine.

6. Develop personal relationships

Your PR campaign’s success relies on the people you have on the ground. Social media has made outreach easier for nonprofits, but your campaign is going nowhere fast without a strong support system.

Board members, donors, and volunteers can all help spread the word about your organization through word of mouth and tools like peer-to-peer campaigns. Finding donors that already have a solid attachment to your organization is the first step to creating powerful advocates for your organization.

Who Should Be on Your Nonprofit PR Team?

non profit public relations

With the help of a public relations team, your nonprofit will have a greater chance at a successful campaign. There are a few roles that are a vital part of your PR team. While most nonprofits may not have the money to hire staff for these positions, board members and volunteers can be an excellent source of experience and talent.

1. Communications manager

Your PR team must have a media relationship or communications manager. In most nonprofits, the director of development or fundraising manager will take on this role. Regardless of the size of your organization, a communications manager is essential and will be responsible for overseeing your nonprofit’s PR efforts, such as:

  • Developing media relationships. A Communications Manager will build relationships with local media and create guidelines for all media communication for the organization.
  • Choosing PR content. This individual will also decide on what information should go out to the media and public. This does not mean they will always write the press releases but should decide on the overall content.
  • Contacting a PR agency. Smaller organizations may want to hire a PR agency if they are planning a capital campaign or other significant event that needs publicity to be successful. The Communications Manager will be the primary contact for the PR agency or consultant.

2. Organization’s spokesperson

After the communications manager, the organization’s spokesperson will be your PR team’s most important team member. This individual will be the one to hold press conferences, appear on television interviews and write op-eds for your nonprofit.

A spokesperson must be able to stay calm and have a deeper knowledge of the organization than most. This knowledge is why most nonprofits will have their executive director or board chairperson as the key spokesperson.

3. PR release editor

If you are lucky, your organization will have more than one fundraising or marketing staff member to take this role. If not, a volunteer with exceptional writing and editing skills can be put to good use here.

A PR Release editor will be the one to write and edit press releases sent out by the organization. These messages must be clear and mistake-free. They must also follow the Communication Manager’s media guidelines.

Pro tip: Staff, board members, and donors can also play an essential role in your PR campaign. Social proof is critical for successful marketing strategies. These individuals have first-hand experiences they can share with the public. Their quotes on why they support the organization and personal stories can help you reach the public and convince more potential donors to take a second look. You can use these quotes and add stories on your website, social media, and contact with the media.

Examples of Successful Nonprofit PR Campaigns

Nonprofits have successfully used Public Relations to reach new audiences, raise funds, and spread the word about the work they do. The following nonprofits are examples of how nonprofits have used public relations to increase their impact and fulfill their missions.

1. Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Pr for nonprofits

An excellent example of a nonprofit using branding successfully in a Public Relations campaign is the Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Research. The Susan G Komen Fund started using a pink ribbon to define breast cancer research in 1990. Since then, breast cancer events and other marketing campaigns have included pink ribbons. The image of a pink ribbon became synonymous with breast cancer. Today, everyone knows what that ribbon means, and everyone has a personal connection to that image.

The Susan G. Komen foundation has successfully used a single color to define its work. It has created a logo, events, and other marketing tools to reach an audience interested in breast cancer research.

2. World Wide Fund for Nature

Nonprofit Public Relations campaigns are not always created to raise funds. In some cases, the organization wants to spread the word about its mission and hopes to build a team of advocates for its organization. An example of a successful nonprofit PR campaign created to spread the word is The World Wide Fund for Nature.

Pr for nonprofits

In 2020, the World Wide Fund for Nature used a social media campaign to promote the hashtag #EarthHour and asked followers to turn off the lights for an hour. Thanks to their activities on social media, they reached people in over 90 countries.

3. Children’s Miracle Network Hospital

Pr for nonprofits

The Children’s Miracle Network Hospital started a peer-to-peer campaign based on video gaming called Extra Life. They reached an entirely new donor base of young males and raised over 10 million dollars for their organization. Since the start of the campaign, donors have built their own campaigns to support the organization through video gaming and other non-gaming activities.

Measure your Results

Nonprofit pr

As your PR campaign continues, you need to monitor its successes and failures. When examining your results, you should create a spreadsheet and record the following:

  • Media type, name, location, and contact person
  • Advertisement or Publishing Date
  • Links to coverage
  • Website Visits & Donations Received
  • Media Impressions

You can find this information on your website and by using Google Analytics, Google Alerts, or checking your social media accounts.

This spreadsheet will help you keep track of the publicity you received from each media contact point. It also allows you to see how the public reacts to each release and public appearance. In addition to creating a spreadsheet of your PR results, your nonprofit should also send surveys to your donors and ask how they heard about your organization. Remember, there is nothing better than first-hand accounts.


Nonprofit pr

Public relations is not always the first thing nonprofits think about, but sometimes it’s the best way to reach your organization’s goals. If your nonprofit wants to find new donors or volunteers, promote an upcoming event, or address an image problem you have in the community, a public relations campaign may be the best option. With a well-planned strategy and a strong group of advocates, your nonprofit can find success with your next PR campaign and benefit from it for years to come.

Donorbox can help nonprofits like yours with tips, resources, and nonprofit best practices. Visit our blog for more information on how to run a successful fundraising campaign. Check out our features for more ways our online donation processor can help increase your revenue.

Media Lists & Contacts Reference

Avatar photo

Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

  • linkedin
  • url

Join the fundraising movement!

Subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive the latest blogs, news, and more in your inbox.

Take your donor experience to the next level!
Join the 50,000+ nonprofits already raising funds online.
Join a 30min Demo to see how Donorbox can help you reach your fundraising goals!
Join a 30min Live Demo to see how Donorbox can help you reach your fundraising goals!