Need to Build a Media List? Follow These 5 Steps [2024]

You’ve built and nurtured your own communication channels – email newsletters, social media, and peer-to-peer campaigns – and already reach a dedicated and invested audience. Now that you have your direct-to-donor communication strategy set, it’s time to build a media list to grow your community.

Nonprofits rely on publicity to expand their donor bases and raise awareness about key issues. Journalists and influencers have the potential to amplify your message exponentially, so it’s crucial to make contact with reporters, writers, and bloggers who care about what you have to say and want to share it with the world.

Here, we’ll give you all the tools you need to build and nurture your media contacts.

What is a Media List?

A media list is a document containing contact information for journalists, influencers, and media outlets, who might be willing to write about or cover your nonprofit. These individuals can help you reach new donors and raise awareness for your cause.

The more contact information you can include on your media list, the more it has the potential to serve your goals. So make sure that for every name on your list you also have an email, phone number, type of reporter, employer, and so on. 

To help you build a media list, we’ve put together the following 5 steps, as well as examples and a FAQ.

1. Start With Basic Research

Identify your target audience – not only who you hope will share your organization’s story, but also who is meant to watch, hear, or read it. How can you find out who covers your beat (a.k.a. who is interested in, or reports on specific topics similar to the messages you share), as well as which mediums are right for your story?

Start by being an active consumer. Watch and listen to all of your local news outlets, read your local newspapers, and take note of who reports on stories that relate to community service in general, or, more specifically, the issues your organization is working to solve.

Understand which platforms will be the right fit for the story you’re telling. You don’t need to hold a degree in journalism to start to figure out who to contact for your pitch. Start by asking yourself a few questions.

Research Questions

  • Is what we do visually compelling? If so, television is a great fit to show and tell what your organization does.
  • Do I have advocates, volunteers, or clients willing to share their story? The emotion behind very personal stories shines very brightly in television and radio, though a skilled writer will also be able to make these characters come to life in print and online.
  • Is our work easy-to-understand, or is it complicated? Radio programs and television news broadcasts are under tight time pressure, and newspapers can provide only so many inches. If your issues are complicated, and in need of translation, and possibly some handy charts or infographics, you may want to consider web publications that can give your story more room to breathe.
  • Where does my target audience live? Stick to local media if your nonprofit service area reaches no farther than your area code. If you’re a national or global nonprofit, you’ll need to think bigger. This could include digital publications, such as NPR, or niche bloggers who focus on writing about your issues and causes.

Getting Started

Set aside time to do online research and start to make a list of people who’ve covered similar stories in the past. Bonus points when you can find someone who has personal ties to your cause, or who has spoken out in the past in support of the type of work you do.

Don’t forget about bloggers and other online content producers. Your press list should consist of traditional media journalists, as well as community members and online influencers who can help tell your story to an even broader audience.

Consider your target audience of donors and volunteers. Do you have data on the demographics of your current and potential supporters? Use that to draw a picture of the people you want to reach, and work backward from there to narrow down which publications or websites you might pitch to.

If you’re not finding what you need, you might also call or email the editorial team at the publication or news outlet you hope to connect with. Introduce yourself, and ask them for advice on who might be your best point of contact. Just remember: journalists and bloggers are almost always working on tight deadlines, so be careful not to take up too much of their time, especially on a cold call.

Not sure who in a newsroom, editorial team, or blog staff to start with? Here are some definitions to get you started.

2. Use Technology To Stay Up-To-Date

Get started collecting information on journalists around the globe using Google alerts. Create a google alert for each keyword or topic that relates to your cause. You’ll be notified by email when new content is published and can begin keeping track of the people behind the bylines. Click here for a Google help guide.

There are also a number of products available designed to monitor digital chatter about your brand. Using the platform, you can set up keyword searches and see who is talking about you and your cause, as well as stories that pop up about similar topics. (Bonus feature: this tool also uses your existing email list – in this case, your donors, volunteers, and other supporters – to help you find, and connect with, your supporters on social media.)

3. Make Initial Contact

Now that you’ve built a list of around 10-15 contacts, you will have better success with your initial pitch if you introduce yourself first. You could send a short email, or schedule a time for a quick phone call, and tell them what your nonprofit does and why they should care, as well as why your story will engage their audience.

Once you’ve established that human connection, there is a better chance they’ll remember you and your cause, and a better chance they’ll run with your pitches.

Avoid sending press releases to any general inbox, like or More people will receive it, but most people will delete it immediately.

Still not ready to hit “send?” Here are ten tips you should implement when pitching a journalist, from what to include – and what to avoid.

Build relationships with your press contacts

4. Build Relationships

Just like in your personal life, the relationships you have with your press contacts will thrive only when you invest time in them. Don’t be a pest – again, journalists are often under very tight deadlines – but stay in touch, and don’t disappear until you need something again.

Set up a time to have coffee. Find out who they are and what they’re interested in. And always thank them for their coverage. Include links to blog posts, articles, and videos in your own communications whenever possible (your emails, newsletters, or social media), and include a hat tip to the person who made the publicity possible.

5. Organize Your List And Keep It Current

You already have a detailed database with information about your volunteers and donors. Why not organize your press contacts, as well? This will help you manage contact information, their beats, and what stories they’ve helped you with in the past, which makes it easier for you to keep in touch and for others in your non-profit to stay informed of your public relations efforts.

Depending on your resources, this could be as easy as building a spreadsheet; or, you can find several free and paid technology platforms to help you monitor media mentions and press contact.

Keep your list current, too. Double-check phone numbers and email addresses at least twice a year (which should be easy if you’re staying on top of Tip #4: Building Relationships!).

With CauseVox’s CRM, you can create an organized list of donors and contacts for your nonprofit.

Media List Building Tools

Now that you know all the steps you need to build a media list, you’re ready to get started. But you may be asking yourself where you can find the contacts for your list. Here’s a list of sites that you can use as tools to assemble your list.

  • LinkedIn
  • Google
  • Twitter
  • Prowly
  • Muck Rack

Media List Examples

Here are a couple examples of different media list formats. As you begin to build a media list for your nonprofit, feel free to use whichever template works best for you.


You may not be able to fill in every cell in your spreadsheet. For example, you may not have the phone number for a few of your contacts. But the more information that you can include as you build your media list, the better.

Once you have your media list compiled, it’s time to reach out. Media professionals receive communication from nonprofits all the time, so it’s best to stand out. If possible, add a personal touch with a phone call. If you aren’t able to reach out via phone, make sure to personalize your email. Here’s a sample email for someone with whom you have already made contact.


If you’re still unsure about the best approach for your nonprofit when making contact, check out this list of tips for pitching to the media.

Now that you have a clear idea of what a media list is and how you can build one, let’s dive into some frequently asked questions about media lists.

Should You Buy A Media List?

Nonprofits and businesses alike will often avoid the difficult work of assembling their own media list by buying one that’s already made. The decision of whether to pursue this option will vary a bit depending on the size of your nonprofit. For large international organizations, it may be easier to purchase a list of thousands of media outlets around the world than to try to assemble one from scratch. For small nonprofits however, the value of creating contacts from the ground-up trumps any amount of time saved by purchasing a media list.

When in doubt, we always recommend that you build a media list rather than buy one. This process will help you establish personal connections with journalists, influencers, and media outlets. It will also help you ensure that your list stays current.

What Information Goes On A Media List?

In short, the more information you have on your media list, the better. You of course will want to have contact information (like phone number and email) for each media source, but don’t stop there. Here is a list of other relevant information to include for each contact on your media list.

  • Type of media: Does this person write for a blog or a newspaper? Or are they involved with television? Having this information to hand will help you tailor your press releases so that they are easily digestible for the recipient.
  • Topics of interest: Will this contact be interested in any and all of your organization’s activities or are there specific aspects of your program that will interest them? Don’t bother media sources with stories that they won’t be interested in covering.
  • Organizational point person: Maybe you have a board member who is friends with someone who works in media. Make sure to note that on their entry in your media list so that your point person can reach out to share news.
  • Publication schedule: Does this media source put out news on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Also, how long of a lead do they need in order to include a story?

How Do You Start A Conversation With Media Professionals?

When you are just beginning to build a media list, the process can seem daunting. You may be intimidated by the prospect of reaching out to dozens, possibly hundreds, of busy media professionals. If you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone! Building a media list is a difficult task, but with determination and time, you can create an invaluable document for your nonprofit. 

Here are a couple suggestions to help you start reaching out to media professionals and building your list.

Use Quora

If you’re ever not sure where to begin with a project, you can start by taking a look at Quora. Quora is a digital platform for users to ask questions and share knowledge freely. With this service, you can learn how others have approached conversations with media professionals. Use their experiences to help you frame your approach.

Share Relevant Content

You know how we suggested above that you record topics of interest for all the contacts on your media list? Well here’s where that comes in handy. One of the best ways to begin a conversation with media professionals is to share content that will be relevant to them. This means relying on your research to target individuals who will be moved by your mission. This is also where a good pitch can help you hook someone and engage them right away.

What Is HARO And How Can You Use It To Build A Media List?

HARO is a tool that journalists use to connect themselves to experts in the field of whatever topic they are writing about for a story. While this service may not provide you with an exhaustive list of potential media contacts for your organization, it is a great place to start to build a media list.

As a nonprofit, you can search HARO for any queries that may be relevant to your nonprofit. If for example your nonprofit supports children with diabetes, and you see that a reporter is looking for information about juvenile diabetes, you can reach out to offer your assistance with their project. This strategy gives you the opportunity to plug your nonprofit in their article. You will also be building a relationship with a reporter that you can use in the future. It’s a win win. 

Should You Put Social Media Influencers On Your List?

In recent years, social media has emerged as one of the most important sources of nonprofit news for most people. This trend seems likely to continue. So if you’re putting together a media list, definitely consider adding social media influencers to help you reach more people.

This decision will be based, at least in part, on the demographics of your community. Social media influencers are especially effective at reaching a younger audience. If your community skews older, they may not be as helpful. 

Build A Media List Today!

You now have all the information you need to put together a media list and reach more donors than ever before by taking advantage of the exposure that media outlets can give to your organization. 

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