Nonprofits widen scope to boost coverage

Media coverage of non-profits has traditionally consisted of soft feature stories highlighting good people who do good things - especially after a natural disaster or prominent tragedy. However, as nonprofits have grown increasingly sophisticated in their marketing, fundraising, and deciding how to best help people in need, reporters on the nonprofit and charity beat have also modified their coverage.

Media coverage of non-profits has traditionally consisted of soft feature stories highlighting good people who do good things – especially after a natural disaster or prominent tragedy. However, as nonprofits have grown increasingly sophisticated in their marketing, fundraising, and deciding how to best help people in need, reporters on the nonprofit and charity beat have also modified their coverage.

“It's no longer about how you... raise money through a mail appeal, but what are the all the ways [nonprofits] bring more resources to a cause,” explains Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which she helped found two decades ago. “So we're covering how nonprofits are diversifying their resources by doing things such as starting businesses.”

The title also tries to pass helpful information to its readers in the nonprofit world, Palmer adds.

“We care about what's innovative, and more importantly, results and numbers that others can learn from,” she says. “Many nonprofits will reach out to us with some new program they've started, but we're only interested in whether it worked, or even why it didn't work.”

Publications that cover the nonprofit space are also interested in groups' adjustments to the digital age. The staff of The NonProfit Times has followed organizations' forays into social networking Web sites, and how those online platforms are used as fundraising tools, says Paul Clolery, the title's VP and editorial director.

Public interest in nonprofits, especially those that do charitable work, usually spikes following a natural disaster, such as hurricanes and tsunamis. However, nonprofit organizations also gain news coverage by fitting their work into economic trend stories, says David Fuscus, CEO and president of Xenophon Strategies, which represents The Salvation Army.

“There are a lot of nonprofits, so it can be very competitive when it comes to getting media attention,” he adds. “So with the downturn in the economy, for example, we've been working with reporters on stories of how people who used to be donors to The Salvation Army are now becoming [its] customers.”

Despite the appeal of charity groups, few general interest outlets have a full-time reporter dedicated to the nonprofit beat, says Mike Schwager, president of Worldlink Media Consultants, who adds that nonprofits should target various sections of a media outlet, including the opinion pages.

“Op-Ed pieces help you not only with... actual appearance, but can [also] be included in the press kit you send to other reporters,” says Schwager, whose nonprofit clients include CURE International. “That can build credibility among journalists over time and help develop a strong reputation for both your nonprofit and [its] cause.”

Pitching... nonprofits
  • Don't only focus on follow-up coverage to natural disasters. Position nonprofit clients in long-term news trend stories, such as obesity or the economy
  • Help reporters humanize a nonprofit's cause by putting them in touch with real people benefiting from their work
  • Build your nonprofit client's reputation and profile over the long haul by working with it to regularly produce editorials that highlight its work or cause

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