I heard it on the news

The vast majority of donor acquisition spend today is on direct mail. But just about every report you read shows that the results are not what they once were. Our Next Generation of American Giving report also reinforced that – Mature donors first reported that they learned about the charities they support through direct mail (35% of them).  While mail was part of the mix for Boomers (19%) and Gen X (16%) mail was non-existent with Gen Y.  But there is really good news: there is a channel that is effective in reaching people for the first time across all age groups – one that is often over-looked – mainstream media.

That’s right the news at 6 and 10, the local newspaper, radio news and other mainstream media matter. As a media relations fan and practitioner at heart, that is great news. If you don’t have a solid media relations plan then you are missing a significant opportunity. (And for another post on another day, the power of mainstream media also means that you need an issue management or crisis communication plan to help protect your organization should you need it.)

For Gen Y, Gen X and Boomers mainstream media is the #1 they first hear about charities they support (Gen Y 27%, Gen X 24%, Boomers 28%). Even 24% of Matures report mainstream media as their first source of information on the charities they support, second only to mail. I don’t know about you but with a nose for news, I smell opportunity.

Where do different generations learn about nonprofits they support?

Hopefully you are already doing a great job of media relations, but if not it’s never too late to start.

I polled some friends in the media relations world and came up with some ideas that might help – one that might even be a tad controversial:

  • Seasonal Opportunities: Whatever you might be doing that is seasonal or timely will have a greater chance of getting press coverage. For example, here in Austin, the news stations have shown great interest in how Austin Zoo is dealing with the heat and keeping animals cool. Recent news coverage has resulted in increased donations from around the community.
  • Timely Opportunities: If you can offer a perspective on what is happening in the current news cycles and how it impacts your nonprofit organization or the community you serve, the chances for news coverage increase. For example, the recent  news about the post office looking to change rates for nonprofits is an opportunity to be thought leader and offer a voice on the issue that will result in coverage and (potentially good) exposure for the organization.
  • Relationships: Take the time to get to know your local TV, radio and newspaper reporters. You never know when a reporter (especially TV) might have a slow news day and need a feature story on the fly. You want to be top of mind during those moments. If you have an office/warehouse/facility they can tour, invite them out. Otherwise, schedule a coffee or lunch (or even a quick phone call). You don’t always have pitch every time you talk to them. “Are you working on anything we can help with?” is often an appreciated question from a reporter. Bonus tip: Integrate your media list with your constituent records. Your relationship with a constituent should be influenced by their skills, such as journalism.
  • Reports & Data: Local reporters want to know how organizations (both for profit and nonprofit) in your local area are making an impact — either through job creation, services offered, etc. If you can provide data and reports about the activities you are doing and how it’s impacting the local community, you will increase your chances of news coverage. Also look for opportunities to leverage industry data. Our recent “Next Generation of American Giving” research and report has some very interesting information that might match what you are seeing or support something you are doing. For instance, “tipping” or making a donation at checkout was very popular according to the research – maybe that data supports a project you are doing with a local business and might result in coverage for you and your business partner.
  • Press Releases: Be aggressive in announcing milestones, high-profile hires, accomplishments, goals, partnerships, etc. Share the press releases with the local media every time you have news to share, but don’t expect coverage every time. While I hate to admit it the number of websites that pick-up press release issued over the wire service – even locally – can help spread your story and lead to supporters linking and promoting in social media, adding to your reach. It has changed since I started my career. While the media is still the primary audience of a release, the Internet and social media have made them quality marketing tools. (I’ll get hate mail from PR purists for that one.)
  • Put a Face on It: If there is a way to genuinely incorporate stories about people, animals, cultural landmarks into your activities or outreach, it will raise the chance of garnering news coverage. For example, is a local kid/celebrity/family doing really amazing things as volunteers or fundraisers for your organization? Did a service recipient do great things or overcome great odds and can they add a face and voice to your mission? The face can be an animal or a place too.  Anything that personalizes or localizes the story can work.

You may not always get coverage, but you are consistently building a presence with the local press and staying top of mind – which can help you stay top of mind with supporters AND attract new supporters.