Somewhere in the list of struggles that nonprofit organizations face every day is gaining visibility with their intended audience. The question always looms: how do we grow awareness of our cause with potential volunteers and donors who share our values?
That is a distinctly different goal than building brand awareness to increase sales. While the basics of growing awareness are consistent for most industries, nonprofit and for-profit alike, the approach is really where the line starts to blur.
Before we take a look at the primary differences in approach to nonprofit public relations, let’s look at public relations as a whole, and break it down from there.
What Falls Under the Umbrella of Public Relations
Public Relations is a communication strategy focused on building mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the public or communities of people that an organization seeks to serve. But what exactly does that entail and what does a public relations agency do?
There are many different types of communications a public relations firm will employ for their clients in their efforts to communicate your organization’s mission to the public. The elements of public relations can be divided into two categories of services provided: those for internal audiences and those for external audiences.
Services a PR agency might offer for an internal audience at your organization include:
- Internal communications
- Executive counsel
- Content marketing
- Brand and message development
The services a PR agency offers for external audiences can include:
- External communications
- Crisis communications
- Investor and analyst relations
- Public affairs and issues management
- Events for your organization (like galas or other fundraisers)
- Content marketing
How PR for Nonprofits Compares to For-Profit
While traditional public relations will work for a for-profit company, PR for a nonprofit will have a different approach driven by the unique set of goals.
Profit vs Purpose
Companies want to turn a profit—they care about the bottom line more than anything else. Social purpose, meanwhile, drives nonprofits.
Individual vs Impact
Corporate mission statements are generally focused on what they can do for the individual. Nonprofits are more focused on making broader social impacts in their industry. Both corporations and nonprofits require the participation of the public to be successful, but that participation is valued for different reasons.
Success vs Support
Companies rely on customers to drive their sales revenue and success. Nonprofits primarily rely on two essential audiences for their success: their volunteers and their donors. Without both, it’s tough for a nonprofit to succeed. Public opinion, on the other hand, is consistent for all organizations, nonprofit and for-profit alike.
So what does that mean for your public relations strategy?
If the goals are different, then the messaging will be different, even if the strategies and platforms used do not change. How, what, and where you communicate with your audience should distinctly differentiate your nonprofit PR campaign from any for-profit campaign.
The Importance of Good Market Research
For-profit companies and nonprofits are both looking to attract the attention of their audience, whether that be a customer, donor, or volunteer. Market research can help both types of organizations attract customers and show how they can provide them with a product or service they need or want—or in the case of a nonprofit, a mission they can believe in and support.
Market research is the information that functions as the link between consumer and marketer. While market research for for-profit companies will provide insight on customer purchasing habits, nonprofit market research may provide insight on how your target audience feels about your cause, related causes, what prompts them to donate, what incites them to action, etc.
The goal is to understand your audience. And with nonprofit market research for public relations, you can take this a step further and empathize with them.
Choosing a PR Agency for Your Nonprofit
While there is overlap in how to handle nonprofit public relations versus for-profit, nonprofits have very specific needs that require special expertise to run a successful public relations strategy. Choosing the right agency is crucial to that success, and there are a few additional things to look for.
Agencies that specialize in nonprofit PR understand and overcome some of the more challenging aspects of serving nonprofits over for profits. One of the primary challenges for nonprofits is proper, engaging, and persuasive storytelling. Telling the inspiring stories of your organization, especially from those who’ve benefited from your services, requires more than just “telling” a story. The best nonprofit PR agencies “craft” the story to clearly convey its powerful message to your target audience.
Those stories are crafted with words, visuals, and experiences that span across multiple channels. The better the storytelling is across all these channels, the more successful the campaign will be. Your PR agency has to be able to creatively and convincingly develop storytelling techniques that are customized to reach your audience.
Budgeting is important for any public relations campaign, but for nonprofits, the budget can vary more than it may for for-profit companies. Nonprofit PR agencies approach budget management from a different angle than for-profit agencies, as maximizing revenue is not the end goal.
All public relations agencies understand media pitching, and developing media relationships. However nonprofit media relations is another element of PR that does require a different approach than corporate PR. You’ll want to look for an agency that doesn’t just have the right media contacts but also understands what to pitch and how to pitch it. This goes hand in hand with the storytelling acumen mentioned above.
With the right nonprofit PR agency at the helm, you’ll be able to raise awareness of your cause, grow your volunteers and donors, and reach more people who can benefit from your organization’s services.