How nonprofits can avoid a media disaster

How nonprofits can avoid a media disaster

More often than not, a writer/blogger/journalist will have the same misconceptions about nonprofits and the people/causes they serve than the average lamen. They will assume all homeless shelters are full of cots and sleeping beds, when in reality, emergency shelters are far less abundant than interim/transitional housing shelters. They will likely see your agency's work through a narrow lens: an art gallery stages exhibits, a mental health agency manages medications for crazy people, a substance abuse agency gives out methadone and has some kind of multi-step program. Chances are, they won't understand your agency's holistic model - that an arts organization conducts classes/workshops in inner city schools, that most human service agencies - i.e. mental health, housing, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse - now serve as one-stop shops for services ranging from housing and employment to primary care and therapy.

For this reason, it's imperative that nonprofits develop relationships with local media and are prepared when they get interview requests. Here's a guide that may be helpful:


Develop relationships with local media

Many reasons to contact local media

1. press releases for an upcoming event

2. volunteer projects

3. advocacy/policy-related issues

When contacting media, don’t just send an e-mail. Introduce yourself over the phone and provide brief info about your agency

1. Frequent/consistent contact with local media leads to great exposure down the road

2. It helps ensure that your agency isn’t unfairly portrayed

Give priority to local media outlets that cover your immediate neighborhood

1. Local publication/news sites are far more inclined to write more in-depth about your agency and your members/cause

2. A writeup in a smaller publication can lead to interest from larger outlets

Make sure your website is media friendly

1. Once a reporter or blogger knows about you, the first place he/she goes is your website

2. Set up a media or press room, stocked with news releases, fact sheets, and free-to-use photos and videos.

3. Include links to media stories that have been done on your organization

4. Provide up-to-date email addresses and phone numbers of people reporters can contact immediately

Make sure your agency is connected with key local/city/regional media through Twitter

When the media contacts you …

Respond right away to any interest by any media anywhere

1. Journalists work on deadlines. If you don't respond right away, they will find another organization.

Before answering questions, take note of the following...

1. Which media outlet(s) will be publishing/broadcasting this story?

2. Ask the journalist if he/she can summarize what the story is about, and why he/she has contacted your agency.

3. Do not move forward with the interview before having a conversation with a leader within your agency

Before answering questions, make sure the journalist knows the following...

1. Try to dispel misconceptions about your agency (i.e. an interim housing shelter isn't a sleeping bag-style emergency shelter)

2. If possible, provide any statistics that sppeak to the transformative impact of your agency

Do not ask if you can review final copy of the article before it goes to print...

1. This is considered unethical and will only strain your relationship with that media outlet

2. You can, however, offer to check facts and make yourself available to answer further questions

In general, when talking with the media…

Emphasize the individual stories of the people your agency serves. The media are always looking for feel-good stories.

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