When nonprofits build their media relations strategies, they often focus on getting their stories told in the local media or in the national mainstream press.
But they often overlook an important potential avenue for spreading the word about their work — the nonprofit trade press.
These publications and websites — which include The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Inside Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly, The Nonprofit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, among others — can be incredibly valuable.
This is especially true for nonprofits that are looking to earn the attention of potential funders or brand their organizations as experts in fundraising, nonprofit management, talent management, or storytelling.
But before you start sending these outlets the same pitches you make to the general media, keep in mind that the recipe for pitching your story to these outlets is much different.
After all, The Chronicle of Philanthropy does not have the same focus as The Houston Chronicle.
That’s because the audience is much different than what you’ll find in a mainstream publication. These outlets cater to providing people inside the nonprofit and foundation world with information that can help them be more effective in their work. As a result, they are focused on finding stories that speak to a trend that is happening in the industry, a best practice that others can learn from, or something that challenges the status quo.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy and The Nonprofit Times are less interested in the fact that you’ve launched a new fundraising campaign than they are in learning about how you’re conducting the campaign. Have you embraced a different tactic? Are you using social media or mobile technology in a new way? Are you appealing to a specific type of donor and, if so, how?
If you’re serious about getting your organization featured in one of these outlets, you need to think differently about how you structure your pitches.
Rather than thinking about what the public would find interesting about your work, you need to instead think about your pitch in terms of what a peer who works at a nonprofit would find interesting.
If you were talking to a nonprofit executive director or development director at a cocktail party, what would she be interested in knowing about what’s really happening at your organization?
If you can answer that question, chances are you have a good chance at offering an idea or angle that would appeal to one of the industry’s trade outlets.
But you shouldn’t stop there. Here are some other steps you can take to get on their radar:
The cardinal rule of effective media relations is to know the outlets and reporters you’re trying to pitch. Take the time to read, watch, and listen to their content and develop an understanding of what they cover and how they cover it. You’ll start to see patterns in the types of stories that they like to pursue and who they quote.
As you gain that understanding, you’ll start to see how your nonprofit fits in with their coverage.
Being a regular reader also provides you with an opening for reaching out. If a story really resonated with you — or if you think they missed a key point in their coverage of an important issue — this offers you an opportunity to reach out to the reporter and let them know your thoughts.
By doing so, you’ll likely start a conversation that could lead to that reporter reaching out to you for comment the next time it covers that issue.
Pay Attention to Trends
The trade press is always interested in identifying trends in how nonprofits are doing their work, the types of projects getting support from funders, and how the economy and legislation are affecting the nonprofit world.
Often, your organization is uniquely qualified to offer insights on these trends because you’re living them.
While you might think it’s inside baseball that your school’s development team is now holding text-a-thons instead of phone-a-thons to connect with young alumni, the trades thrive on inside baseball.
It’s what they cover and what their audience expects.
Think about how your organization is either shaping or being shaped by a trend and share that information with a trade reporter. It could lead to your executive director being called as a source or your nonprofit being spotlighted as an example.
Identify What’s Unique
During my time at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, I received thousands of releases from organizations about annual dinners, fundraising events, and award recipients. Rarely did those releases actually identify what would make their event or award interesting to other nonprofit professionals.
If you’re going to take the time to send a release to a trade publication, invest a little bit of extra time to customize it. Otherwise, you are guaranteeing that that release will end up in the trash.
For example, think about what makes your annual dinner unique. During the early days of social media, I remember writing a piece about a small nonprofit that set up a Twitter table at a fundraising luncheon so that its supporters could share what was happening on social media and ask for donations from folks who weren’t at the lunch.
If you can identify how your organization is taking a different approach or achieving unusual results, you have something to share with the trades.
If you can’t, then you’re better off not sending the release and waiting until you have something useful.
Look at Your Data
For reporters who cover nonprofits, good data is often hard to find.
If your organization has numbers that show growth in specific forms of fundraising, can shed light on trends in benefits costs, or can offer insights into which fundraising channels are most effective, you are likely to get the attention of the nonprofit trade press.
Be constantly on the lookout for items in your data that are noteworthy and, when possible, get permission to share it.
Find an Interesting Personality
Like most media, the nonprofit trade press isn’t just looking for hard news, trends, and data.
It also likes to profile interesting people who work in the field. But they often struggle to find profile subjects who are outside of the “usual suspects” who dominate their pages.
Be on the lookout for people within your organization who are taking an interesting approach to their work or who might be willing to open their doors to a reporter to show them what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
There’s an adage in the media that everybody has a story — and it’s an adage because it’s true. Your nonprofit is likely full of people who have compelling stories to tell about why they do what they do — and how they do it.
When you find those stories, don’t be afraid to share them with the trades.
Think About Visuals
Photos and graphics offer another avenue for getting your organization into the nonprofit trade press.
Many of these outlets have big needs for photos and graphics to illustrate their stories — and small budgets for taking photos and acquiring images.
If your organization has a strong library of photos that showcase its work or has developed infographics and other materials that speak to interesting trends, it would be worth your while to reach out to the editors of these publications and let you know that you have images to share.
These images could end up illustrating an upcoming story — and they might open a door for a reporter to reach out and find out more about the story behind the photo.
Like other types of media, reporters and editors for the nonprofit trades are often looking for reliable sources that they can reach out to when they have a tight deadline or are struggling to find the right perspective for a story.
As you study these outlets, find out who the reporters are who cover the issues that connect with your work and let them know who you are and how your organization can help them.
In addition, make sure your website has a page for the media that makes it easy for reporters to find the right contact and to access previous announcements and releases.
The nonprofit trade press can be a great place for your organization to tell its story and gain visibility.
But to be successful, you need to take a different approach. By taking some extra time to think about your work through a different lens, your organization can get coverage through these outlets — no matter your size or mission.
Peter Panepento is principal at Panepento Strategies, a full-service content, digital, and social strategy firm for nonprofits and socially-minded companies. He was formerly an assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy and a senior vice president at The Council on Foundations. He also serves as Nonprofit Marketing Guide’s adviser on public relations.