Sunday, December 7, 2008

PR Tips For Not For Profits in Tough Times

The financial crisis means the year ahead looks fairly bleak.

So spare a thought for not for profit groups that may struggle financially but still have to communicate with their communities. They will need to market themselves even more to attract volunteers, promote their services and raise funds.

So what are the low cost PR tools and tactics they can use? I'd like to compile at list and circulate it to the groups you and I both know who would welcome practical PR tips for the challenging times ahead.

I'll share a consolidated list with anyone who leaves a comment on this post.

Here's my six ways to stretch a PR budget in tough economic times:
  • Freshen up, recycle and reuse communications activities that have worked in the past.
  • Skill up your team to do as much of your media and marketing as possible.
  • If necessary bring in a mentor to help develop additional skills and build in-house capacity.
  • Continually measure your marketing to see where your dollars should be going.
  • Build in word of mouth marketing into your communications. It's the oldest, most reliable and least expensive of all the tools and tactics available to you.
  • People are increasingly online so ealy in 2009 experiment with new digital tools (Facebook, Youtube, blogs etc) to reach them at minimal cost.

Got your own cost saving ideas? Share with others by leaving a comment.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob, I would like to add to the list:
When dealing with advertising agencies, be prepared to haggle over the advertising price or seek editorial opportunities. Advertising agencies are also finding the climate a little tough as well and are in a position to offer better prices.

Anonymous said...

G'day Bob, Great starting 6 items. Now is also a good time for like minded not for profits to see if they can collaborate and work together more, thereby sharing any costs.
David Waylen - Volunteering SA & NT Inc.

Elouise Holmes said...

I would say this regardless of whether or not there is a financial crisis. It is always useful to develop relationships and with the media in particular, it is good to always try and be helpful to them and not just approach them whenever one needs favours e.g. a story one wants to be featured. It is not always about sending media releases and sometimes, it may just be about providing information. Journalists are a group that are under pressure with less of them on the ground so they are a busy lot, with huge ground to cover and tight deadlines. PR and communications people probably outnumber journalists nowadays so we might as well be useful and helpful to them. It is tempting to keep firing off media releases to get a sense of being active and busy in our roles but I would caution against that temptation lest one gains the reputation of constantly sending rubbish to the already heaving inboxes of journalists. The worse mistake is being regarded as an annoying pest by journalists and that impression tends to stick, especially if you keep leaving messages in their voice mail to "follow-up on the media release you e-mailed", etc. Make sure your material is really newsworthy, well-written and contains all the important information that the journo would need, especially your contact details, so that they can get back to you if they are interested in pursuing the story. Huge file attachments are a no-no, just send your release in e-mail format, rather than attaching files that not only eat up KBs/MBs but may also fail to open.

Not-for-profit groups may not have a lot of money for publicity and advertising but they are rich in interesting stories, particularly to do with volunteers. They also have specialised knowledge and expertise in their own fields, so offering your CEOs and managers as spokespersons on specific areas is one way of getting media coverage. This is particularly useful if you lead or are seen as an authority in your field or area. There are lots of ways to approach this but the point is, financial crisis or not, NFPs have an edge!

Elouise Holmes, Communications Manager for Volunteering Victoria

Veronica said...

Look at the untapped talent base in your NFP organisation. Are there people on your Board, or other committees, or even amongst your staff and volunteers that may be able to assist you in your communications and marketing effort? Perhaps you have a Board member who knows someone or an agency that may be able to assist your organisation by providing pro-bono services or even helpful advice or hands on help. Well connected members or your organisation should be assessed to see how you may leverage off their connections and talent to promote your NFP.

Aleeza said...

I agree that NFPs have a lot to offer, and I think also a lot to teach 'for-profit' PR people. My top media and comms tip is that it's all about relationships. In particular, building genuine two-way relationships with a broad range of broadcast, print and internet-based media. Think of PR as the equivalent of a 'contact' sport.
I'd also like to add that in an over saturated information environment, cut through is so important - and not easy to achieve. You need to think, act and write different. Most importantly, be stragetigc: you don't always need to distribute media releases across the country to every outlet imaginable to get a great result. This is where a great media relationship comes into its own. You may be able to achieve national coverage in one go, thereby saving your media talent from doing countless repeat interviews!
Great work Bob.
Aleeza Zohar, senior communications officer, the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health

Albert Maruggi said...

The most useful comment I can make is pass along this report about Tweetsgiving, please note my comments in the report comment section. All the best,

Bob Crawshaw said...

Thanks to all who have provided comments. It's been a great response so far. I'm also receiving ideas through Facebook and email. Looks like we can give not for profits a worthwhile Christmas present of valuable PR ideas.

Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound said...

First, write press releases regularly and post them online and through press release distribution services. While these releases might be picked up by journalists, you should be writing them specifically for consumers who will find the releases through the search engines when they're searching for information.

---Sign up for my free email tutorial "89 Ways to Write Powerful Press Releases" at It's like a getting a master's degree in press release writing.

---Second, you must go far beyond traditional media with your message. Set up a profile on Faceboook and start Twittering. Read the free Twitter Handbook at
Investigate social networking sites that target a specific niche.

---Third, my free ezine, "The Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week," is chock full of publicity ideas each week. Sign up at

Bob Crawshaw said...

I can thoroughly recommend Joan Stewart's weekly newsletter. She always comes up with simple but powerful ideas. Thanks Joan for your comment

Bob Crawshaw said...

US media relations expert Paul Hartunian has a website - - where he has over 100 tips. Paul says you're welcome to use any of them.

Kathy Young said...

Look to your existing staff - ask them if they have any friends or relatives who perhaps recently became empty-nesters or who are disabled or confined for a time. If those folks believe in your cause, you've just gotten yourself a great "salesforce" for free. This is especially true of they will take any boilerplate marketing/PR language that you supply them and drop it in on appropriate websites, blogs, forums, article directories, and social networking sites. Also, be sure to be "mining" your existing clients. Remember the adage about low-hanging fruit.

doug said...

It's a buyers market and troubled times so the natural reaction is to cut costs, renegotiate contracts and push a bit to get an advantage and save a few bucks.

However, that is a short term view of a long term situation. People do business with people and they remember what has transpired in the relationship. Troubled times are the best time to cement a relationship and show that you are really in this for the long haul. Everyone will remember that you paid an invoice early when their cash flow was short. They will also remember that you kicked them when they were down.

Think of ways you can help those involved and build trust that will pay exponential benefits in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I agree that building relationships with the advertising, or newspaper individuals is the best way to get the word out in publication. I have found that attending community events and expos as a participant with an informational table, or as a guest with business card in hand, is a great and inexpensive way to reach the public. It is also a great way to informally network with media who often have representatives at the community events and expos. These informal meetings can often begin or further develop a personal relationship which can only help one's efforts in getting seen and heard.

Tami Belt said...

I serve on the Board of two non-profits and provide my services - PR - for free. Often, non-profits want Board members who can donate money. I don't have money to donate but I provide tens of thousands of dollars of services resulting in 100K in media coverage. Most non-profits - not to mention some for-profit companies - can afford to buy that kind of coverage. The coverage can reach those who do have the money to donate, not to mention tap into a volunteer base.

Finally, being involved in the community is a viable marketing strategy. Non-Profits should not wait for donors to come to their door. They need to figure out what they need -not always just money -and what companies can help them get that. Approach them with a proposal of what they will get for what they give. It's a win-win situation

Bob Crawshaw said...

Great comments everyone...keep them coming. It's interesting to see the focus on the power of relationships. Goodwill and strong relationships are never in short supply among volunteers.

Sue Ellson said...

Hi Bob

Thanks for the reminder to post and the very glamorous title of 'Networking Queen.'

I have been involved in all sorts of not for profit initiatives in the past and my own enterprise works on similar principles.

There are several strategies that I find successful for building good quality relationships (these take at least seven exchanges before they start - including meeting in person, phone calls, emails, instant messages, etc)

1. I am selective about the events I go to and make an effort to learn a lot from three people (and follow up afterwards)

2. I attend events regularly to ensure that I am well recognised in my specialty area and always provide referrals if I can

3. I seek local, national and international coverage so that when people 'Google' me or Newcomers Network, they find many relevant references

4. I make it easy for the media to contact me and recognise my 'talent' through their research and if I cannot assist, will provide referrals to people they can contact

5. I share good news and publish achievements (particularly if they create an interesting history)

6. I use several strategies to increase the number of people on my database and keep in contact at least three times a year to keep the network 'alive.'

7. I complete as much as possible online as I can do it at any time, it is usually free (apart from time) but I am careful to remember that it is 'permanent' so I do not write anything that I don't want published in the public domain.

8. I aim for long term relationships, providing help whenever I can. Whilst I may provide help to someone and they cannot 'return' the favour, something will come to me from somewhere else.

Finally, if a NFP says that they will do 'x' with the money/resources then they MUST do that. Not use it for something else or fail to deliver. They will get a bad reputation in the marketplace and will not only lose their first source of funding, but many others.

Also, try and work with a zero budget as much as possible - you will be amazed at what it can bring, just by ASKING for what you would like.

I hope that helps Bob - happy condensing all of this information!

Cheers, Sue Ellson BBus AIMM MAHRI

Founder, Newcomers Network

Convenor, IHRM, Australian Human Resources Institute

Bob Crawshaw said...

Thanks Sue for those great comments about networking with effect. Each time someone from a not for profit group attends an event, it is a golden opportunity to promote their organisation and its issues. And networking is no-cost PR

Bob Crawshaw said...

Seen the movie Ground Hog starring Bill Murray? It was set in the Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney.

Scott Anthony who runs Fox's Pizza Den in Punxsutawney ( has contributed a low cost idea where charities and volunteer groups work together with a local business such as a pizza parlor to raise funds.

It seems everyone is a, charity and customer. Check Scott's media release on how this arrangements works at

hc said...

Once you take the time and/or money to develop content (recording a video, interviewing someone helped by your agency, etc.) use it as many places as possible. It may have been created for one use, but it can be promoted in many ways. For example, with an event, you invite people individually, but also create a Facebook event, twitter, post it in several places on your Web site, community calendars, etc. Then take photos/video to post in all those spots afterward.

Similar strategies can apply to anything you spend time on. We are using celebrities to promote our Red Kettle campaign at The Salvation Army. We are promoting it ahead of time with our site, Twitter, Facebook and press releases, email. Then I will take video/photos and post them and send them to the news.

One last tip: Host all your video on YouTube instead of on your local server. It's free, it can't hurt to have a few more people accidentally see it, and it makes your site look more hip when your video is in the YouTube "frame."

Laura Fragiacomo said...

Keep in mind that external and internal communication are two sides of the same coin. What happens internally quickly makes its way to the outside world, and hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth carries considerable clout.

The financial crisis has already resulted in job losses in the nfp sector. It’s important to keep the employee communication lines open and honesty is critical. If job losses are likely, tell employees sooner rather than later (don’t let the grapevine deliver the news). If you honestly don’t know what’s going to happen, tell people you don’t know what’s going to happen (research shows that uncertainty is a killer) and keep them informed – even if that means you have to keep repeating that you don’t know.

If job losses are imminent, let people go with compassion and give them as much support as possible, and remember that the survivors need support too.

The grapevine is awash with stories about the human carnage committed by organisations that really ought to know better. Reputations earned for being an ‘employer of choice’ are being reduced to tatters, and no, engagement programs will not convince anybody that ‘we value our people’.

Terry Fallis (IPR) said...

Hi Bob,
Many PR agencies maintain media lists rather than creating them from scratch each time. Perhaps not-for-profits might ask for "donated media lists" in return for a "thank you" mention in the boilerplate of the charity's news release. Just a thought!


Rosanne Gain said...

I want to address local non-profits with a local audience. In good times and bad, many worthwhile organizations vie for attention and dollars. Before embarking on a PR campaign, the organization must craft their message; who they are and who they help. Do their services overlap with other groups or not - what makes them unique and stand out.

People want to know before investing: what area of the community is served: pets, homeless, elderly, disabled children, etc. They also want to know that the majority of funds go to the intended programs and recipients.

Identify the problem and the solution your organization offers. Find out how to connect emotionally with your target audience: how do you affect them in one of the following ways: home, heart, health, pocketbook. Put a face on the population served: tell their story – describe their situation, and how your services helped them. If you must present a bleak picture, be sure to provide a solution. People want to hear positive outcomes to things that affect them and their community – how do your services: improve the community’s quality of life.

Once the organization knows their message, in addition to news releases, a great way to get your story out – and drive your name up in the search engines – is online. Many cities have online opportunities to post stories and photos, often through the online version of their daily paper. Non-profit groups must invest time in exploring what is available online in their community.

Bob Crawshaw said...

And here's a great suggestion from Nicole Candler of the Public Relations Society of America

"Keep your organization top-of-mind with your volunteers and donors is key. Consider compiling regular e-newsletter or e-alerts using a e-mail distribution service. (,,,

Most companies offer a non-profit rate, and when used effectively, they’re worth the money. Plus, you can generate new interest when recipients forward your information to new readers and encourage them to participate in your organization.

These types of e-mails are easy to assemble using one of the templates that are provided and you can repurpose articles you’ve already written for printed publications, media releases and calendar of events. You can also add a link to some of the new coverage you’ve received to make sure your donors and volunteers know how your PR efforts are paying off".