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8 Ways to Make a Nonprofit Story Enticing to the Media

Making it Timely, Newsworthy and Relevant


Katya Andresen, author of the provocative book, Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes, says that reporters ask three questions when they evaluate a "pitch.":
  • Why now?
  • Why is this news?
  • Who cares?

Usually when a nonprofit approaches a reporter or a blogger, its story probably is not breaking news, and may not appear relevant and newsworthy at first blush. Here are some tactics that Andresen and other nonprofit marketers suggest to overcome your stories' shortcomings and make them appealing to journalists.

1. Provide images.

DoSomething.org's teens having fun at a recycling project.

Newspapers and magazines love photos, and television reporters have to bring in visuals to get a story on the air. Let the media outlet know that photo opportunities are available. If dealing with a small publication, have some photos of your own to contribute.

Here are three ways to make photos and videos available to the press.

  • Set up an online press room at your website where you provide images of your logo, photos of your events, and video that illustrate the story you're pitching to the media. When you contact a reporter or blogger, tell him or her where they can see relevant images.
  • Store lots of images on your nonprofit's Facebook page. These should be available for use without permission. A writer on deadline will appreciate a good gallery of images and video that they can source immediately. Check out the photos at the Tucson Audubon Society Facebook page, for an example. Take advantage of YouTube for nonprofits.
  • Use Flickr to store photos and point reporters to them, or try out Pinterest for visuals that anyone can link to.

2. Use numbers to drive interest.

Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota

Data displayed in attractive "infographics" is the latest trend in nonprofit communications. Reporters and readers love these.

Infographics turn dry numbers into appealing graphics that catch the eye and look wonderful on a page or on a website. A news release with an infographic will get much more attention than one without it, especially if your release is about numbers. Infographics also are quite apt to go viral as bloggers and social media pick them up.

If you're interested in putting together your own infographics, WildApricot has a good collection of links to tools and instructions, TribalCafe explains the basics of infographics, and Amy Sample Ward explains how to use them to report, engage, and promote your nonprofit.

3. Newsjack a national story.

Getty Images

A local angle on a national news story is news to media in your own community, and it might even go national. The National Zoo, for instance, provided a different slant on a big earthquake in the region, and saw their idea go viral nationally.

This tactic has been called newsjacking and can be highly effective. The key is to be on top of the news every day and then move swiftly to tie the work of your nonprofit into that breaking news. You might offer an expert, promote one of your programs that involves a social issue that is taking center stage, or put together a response to an incident or disaster.

4. Put a face on the story.

Ibu Robin Lim - CNN's 2011 Hero of the Year
Bumi Sehat Foundation International

Compelling human-interest angles of any kind are news because journalists are always looking to put a human face on their stories.

A good example of this humanization is the CNN Heroes program. The people nominated for the CNN awards each year are usually the founders of a nonprofit, but the emphasis by CNN is on the individual who is doing good.

As wonderful as your organization may be, people want to hear about individuals. Pitch stories about particular people you've helped, the outstanding volunteer who has meant so much for your cause, or the recipient of your help that has gone on to great success. Focus on one person and one act for maximum appeal.

5. Be part of the solution.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

The media hear a lot about the negative impact of the issues we seek to address. If we can position our cause as a rare "good news" story, it will be an attention getter. If your organization has come up with a solution, let it be known.

The public is especially hungry for feel good stories because unrelenting bad news is just too depressing. Everyone needs hope that things will get better. Focus on recovery, not illness; on overcoming, not beaten down.

A good example of one nonprofit that emphasizes good news is an unlikely one. It is Best Friends, an animal sanctuary. But Best Friends focuses on animals that have overcome lousy beginnings to become lovable, healthy, and happy companions. Check out these uplifting tales of adorable animals.

6. Play up the stakes.

Helen Keller International
Conflict or controversy is news. Media love stories with protagonists. The battle between the two sides creates drama and emotion, elevating a, perhaps, ho-hum issue to an appealing story. Sometimes the protagonists are a disease vs a cure for it. This story about sweet potatoes as the solution to blindness in developing countries went viral for Helen Keller International.

7. Involve a big name.

Our culture seems obsessed with the famous, so adding a celebrity to your story can make it interesting to the right media. During the disastrous flooding in Pakistan in 2010, Angelina Jolie was a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and was featured in news stories, a video, and PSAs. Your celebrity could, however, be someone local and familiar with your cause, such an a local TV personality, the president of your local college, or a local sports star.

8. Give the reporter an exclusive.

Getty Images

If a media outlet receives an important story first, it might consider it big news because they will have a "scoop" that makes them look good.

It is a common question whether or not to offer a story to one news outlet or send it to everyone. A good rule of thumb is if the story is something you want everyone to know about immediately, send it (usually via press release) to everyone at the same time.

For instance, if your university is offering a new scholarship to lower the cost of higher education, let everyone know at once. But, if the story is a singular one, involving a person or unusual event, try offering it to one media outlet. If they bite, the story will likely get more attention.

Media read other media for ideas. Once the story breaks, other outlets may well call and put a slightly different angle on that same story. Getting that idea out locally could result in a national uptake, or a placement in a blog might trigger the interest of others.

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