Friday, February 22, 2013

Low or no-cost nonprofit advertising

New and small nonprofits need money to survive, yet far too many think of formal public relations and marketing as something only for-profits or huge nonprofits do.  Some are actually almost antagonistic about the concept, seeing it as a waste of time and money.

If you are very new, local donations may be your only source of income for quite a while. When I am approached to work with a nonprofit, one thing I do is look for local publicity on the organization.If I stood on a street corner in your town and asked 100 people if they had ever heard of your organization, how many affirmative responses do you think I would get?

You can have the noblest mission in the world, but if no one knows about it, it won't attract donors. Donors in the nonprofit world are the equivalent of investors in the for-profit sector.  People invest in for-profits because they see a chance for a good return on their dollars.  Private donors, including foundations and corporations, support nonprofits because they see a good return on their emotional attachment to a cause.

Social media and a web presence are fine and an integral part of marketing for many nonprofits, but it isn't the only option for publicity.

The trouble with social media is that people have to have a connection with you before they will go to your page or read your tweets.  Very few people enter "nonprofits supporting X in my community" in search engines on social media sites.

PR campaigns seem unbelievably expensive when you don't have much money to invest in it. The good news here is that there a lot of free or nearly free ways to get your name out locally.

Broadcast media often have a budget for free advertising, because they are required to provide public service announcements.  Local stations and newspapers usually have a weekly "what's happening" page and it's nearly always free to list an event on that page.  Call the station or paper for information, and mention that you are a nonprofit.  Be prepared to tell them what you support and how in as few words as possible.

Do you have a particularly compelling mission, or are you connected with a high profile cause, such as cancer or heart disease? Ask the radio and TV stations if they will do an interview on an event you are hosting or participating in.  If you are just opening, send out professional looking press releases to the local media.  Often, stations are looking for filler between the headline stories they are covering and will mention you or even offer to interview you, if it's a particularly slow news cycle.
Other strategies are less direct.Go to local business meetings.If you will have any paid positions, attend a job fair.  Join any nonprofit organizations in your area or state.  Is the local art council having an open exhibit?  Go there and mingle with the crowd, and introduce yourself to anyone that even makes eye contact. Your introduction should be short but informative. "Hi, I'm Mary Doe, the executive director of the XXX organization."  If they show any interest, hand them a business card which should include your website URL.  Most people will at least look at the card and that cements your name in their consciousness better than a simple introduction, even if they toss the card later.

None of this will break your budget, and it may lead to contacts that you can develop.  At the very least more people will know who you are, which leads to increased credibility when you do ask for money.  

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