When should your nonprofit release a statement to the news media?
Charities have been asking this question with increased frequency in light of a dizzying array of controversial news items that have a clear connection to the nonprofit world.
In past few months, we’ve seen racially tinged protests in Charlottesville, a series of devastating hurricanes, efforts to overhaul the tax code, battles over immigration, and numerous efforts to repeal Obamacare.
Many nonprofits and foundations have opted to speak out in response to some of these developments. In doing so, they have chosen to inject their voices into controversial topics — and run the risk of turning off potential donors and allies who hold differing opinions.
But while making a public statement comes with a clear risk, it also offers some rewards.
It can help draw attention to your nonprofit from the news media, serve as an opportunity to advance your mission, and inspire supporters who agree with the statement to donate or take action.
So how can you decide whether the reward is worth the potential risk?
Here are some factors to consider:
The connection to your mission — Your organization’s leadership might have a strong opinion about protests during the National Anthem at NFL games. But does taking a stand on these protests connect directly with your mission? If you’re a military charity, work in civil rights, or work to defend the First Amendment, it might make sense to craft a statement that shares your organization’s stance. But if you run a food bank, the connection isn’t as clear — and you might be better off saving your powder for another issue.
Will the right people care? — Is the media likely to be calling your leadership for comment? Are your supporters likely to be curious about your stance on an issue? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you might consider crafting and releasing a statement. If not, releasing a statement might take time away from addressing more pressing matters in your organization.
Do you have something meaningful to say? — Avoid making a statement just for the sake of making a statement. If you don’t have a strong viewpoint or a clear call to action, it’s likely that your statement will lack impact or get ignored.
Will you gain or lose support? –A statement about changes to DACA might help whip your existing supporters into action and raise your visibility with potential donors. But for some groups, such a statement might have the opposite effect — which could not only cost your organization revenue, but serve as a distraction from your work. It’s important to assess the impact of your statement on supporters before you decide to make it. Ultimately, you might decide that the risk of losing support is worth it because your organization believes it is crucial to your mission. But it’s important to make this assessment up front — and prepare for the potential consequences.
If, after reviewing these factors, your organization decides that it should make a public statement, you have more options than ever for making sure that statement is seen and heard.
Rather than drafting a full-blown news release, your organization can make a shorter, more focused statement that it can post on its website and on social media so it gains maximum exposure.
If you’re hoping that it will get seen and picked up by the media, you can also email it directly to key reporters and news outlets.
But before you can send your statement far and wide, you’ll have to write it.
Here are a few things to remember as you put it together:
Keep it short — You don’t need to write a treatise when you’re making a public statement about a timely topic. Often, a few sentences will express your organization’s opinion and ensure that people can understand your point of view.
Keep it real — Avoid jargon and flowery words. Instead, craft it in a voice that is both direct and clear. If one of your goals is to get your statement quoted by the media, it stands a much better chance if it’s clear, direct, and simple.
Be careful — If your statement is about a sensitive topic, make sure you have it reviewed by experts such as your legal counsel or a key member of your board to be sure that you’re not courting trouble.