Book & Guide

Publicity for Crowdfunding & Online Fundraising

In 2011, we partnered with the American Red Cross to launch SXSW4Japan, a nonprofit crowdfunding campaign that raised over $125,000 in 10 days at SXSW (South by Southwest), a festival/conference.

One of the keys to our success was the focus on publicity. Without the help of journalists from the New York Times, CNN, Forbes, and many others, our campaign wouldn’t have made as much impact.

Think of publicity as an accelerant; it can help your growing crowdfunding and online fundraising campaign spread like wildfire.

But it’s a mystery to many: When should you use publicity? What should you say? How should you say it?

Let’s demystify how you can use publicity for crowdfunding and online fundraising.

Benefits of publicity for online fundraising

There are three benefits of leveraging press for your crowdfunding and online fundraising campaign.

1. Publicity extends your reach.

Journalists are amplifiers. As people unfamiliar with your nonprofit read, hear, watch your story from the press, some will be added to your audience.

2. Publicity brings credibility.

Did you know that 73% of people prefer to learn about an organization through a collection of content, such as blog-posts and news articles, rather than in a traditional advertisement? Readers and viewers see the press as an unbiased third party, which helps build credibility for and brings legitimacy in the public’s opinion to your online fundraising campaign and to your nonprofit.

3. Publicity elevates search-engine rankings.

One of the determining factors for search engine ranking is the number of sites that link to your website. Press coverage that includes a link to your website or campaign helps you move up the search engine ranks.

How to get publicity

Most nonprofits still send old-school press releases to reporters, often sending the same release to everyone on their press list and hoping that someone bites.

Today, that approach is almost guaranteed to fail.

It might be a stretch to say that the press release is dead. But it’s not a stretch to say that it’s no longer the most effective way to get the attention of a reporter or editor who might help you publicize your campaign.

The first thing to remember is that reporters and editors are people – and they are people who are inundated with requests from organizations and companies that want publicity. Knowing that, how do you stand out from the crowd?

1. Identify journalists

In order to get press, you need to connect with journalists, not their publications. Though it will take lots of time and research, find journalists who write for publications and audiences that align with your mission and values, learning what “beats” or topics they cover.

Muckrack and Twitter Search are two free and searchable resources you can use to find the right journalists. Keep track of these journalists by creating a simple database; a spreadsheet of the Microsoft Excel or Google variety would suffice. Remember to include their contact information and interests.

Don’t forget to look internally within your support base for any journalists who are already familiar with your organization.

2. Build a relationship

Just like fundraising, publicity is all about the relationship. Begin a dialogue with your press targets (the journalists you identified in step 1), and focus on creating a long-term relationship.

If you’re only cold-calling them, they’re not very likely to respond. But if you have something to offer and you take the time to get to know them, you’ll have a better chance of getting a response when you’re pitching a story.

To do that, try to identify the reporters and editors in your community who are most likely to cover nonprofits and begin reaching out to them. Follow and engaged with them on Twitter or Facebook. Commenting on their recent articles is also another way to engage with them. Your goal is to earn their permission to pitch story ideas, so refrain from pitching to them right away.

You can also send them an email and ask them about what kinds of stories interest them and how they like to be pitched. Learn about their media outlets – which types of stories are most likely to appeal to them and which ones aren’t.

These conversations will help you frame your pitches when you are looking to get some attention for your campaign or event. If you have a warm connections (someone to vouch for you), then use those connections as ways to get introduced.

You’ll understand which parts of your effort are most likely to resonate with their audience – and the personal connection you build will help them notice your email when it shows up in their inboxes.

3. Pitch to journalists

After you’ve established and built a relationship, you’re in the best position to pitch the story. Journalists want to hear to news directly from the source, instead of an intermediary.

Publications like Huffington Post, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Mashable, and GOOD Magazine regularly run features and stories on social good and charity, making them a good match for nonprofit pitches.

Pitching is an art; so let’s talk about how you should pitch in more detail.

When to pitch to journalists

There’s no secret formula to timing. We’ve seen nonprofits successfully use press right when they launch their crowdfunding and online fundraising campaign as well as way after their fundraising ends.

The golden rule is to pitch a journalist when you have an interesting story to share. You can pitch throughout your campaign’s journey too so they see how the story unfolds.

Assembling a crowdfunding pitch

Your crowdfunding campaign’s pitch should consist of a few parts:

1. The story

Before you pitch, you have to craft a story. Using what you’ve learned from building a relationship, have a point of view, and put yourself in her shoes and create a story that she would be interested in writing about.

Think about types of fundraising campaigns you’re most apt to support outside of your own cause. The fact that you’re raising money for a good cause often isn’t enough on its own to attract publicity. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of legitimate charities that are doing the exact same thing every day.

To set your campaign apart, you should pay special attention to what’s different about your effort. Can you aim to break a record? Is there a physical feat for donors that you can include as part of your campaign? Is there a challenge of some kind that will help attract interest? Is there something that others can learn from your approach?

The key is to find something that differentiates your campaign from the others. Ask yourself, why is this newsworthy? Why would the journalist want to write about me? Why would her audience want to read the article?

No one knows your nonprofit and mission like you do. Instead of delegating your pitch to a volunteer or an agency, write it yourself.

2. The “elevator” pitch email

When you’re ready to pitch, you should pitch your story via email to the journalist. Your pitch should be like an elevator speech — brief and concise. Your pitch should be short (a few sentences) yet tell your story. You can exclude most details as the goal of your pitch is simply to intrigue the journalist.

In To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink, he advises that you have have to answer three questions in preparing your pitch:

  • What do you want them to know?
  • What do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to do?

If you have good answer for these questions, the pitch will easily develop.

End your pitch with a call to action such as “If you’re interested, I’d love to talk more about this story…”

3. Press release

If you’ve piqued the journalist’s interest, send them more information. This is when your written press release plays a role; we walk you through how to write a press release over here.

4. Press kit

Along with the press release, send the journalist a link to your press kit. Do not attach it to the email! The press kit is a compilation of resources, e.g., document, a PowerPoint presentation, that contains more information about your nonprofit. Consider this as an appendix to your pitch.

The press kit should include at minimum:

  • A one-page document that summarizes your mission and approach
  • Contact information: email addresses, phone numbers, links to your nonprofit’s website and social media properties
  • Relevant impact stories with multimedia (videos and photos)
  • Your nonprofit’s logo

In closing, let’s talk about press wires for a quick second…

Buyer beware: press release services

There are a couple of services out there that help you publish your press release. These services usually charge a couple hundred bucks and promise to get your press release distributed to thousands of journalists and publications.

The reality is that unless you’re a well-known and well-publicized nonprofit, it’s highly unlikely your press release will be picked up by any publications.

That’s not to say that these services aren’t useful. They’re actually very valuable for search engine optimization (SEO) as they generate inbound links to your website and help you rank higher on search engines.

If you have the budget, we recommend that you use a pay-to-publish service to boost your SEO; such services charge around $100 – $200 per press release. Otherwise, we recommend developing a relationship with specific journalists and pitching them directly instead.

This guide is co-authored by Peter Panepento, assistant managing editor for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, where he oversees the paper’s Web site, social networks, and data journalism. 

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