Nonprofits up outreach in a tough year

With the economy affecting all areas of the PR industry, the nonprofit sector has had to accordingly reshape the way it's reaching out to sponsors. Incorporating digital and traditional media, nonprofits increased outreach to corporate sponsors and initiated campaigns targeting existing donors in a tough year.

With the economy affecting all areas of the PR industry, the nonprofit sector has had to accordingly reshape the way it's reaching out to sponsors. Incorporating digital and traditional media, nonprofits increased outreach to corporate sponsors and initiated campaigns targeting existing donors in a tough year.

Barbara Leshinsky, EVP of development with the Ad Council, says her team specifically reached out to corporate donors at the end of last year in order to capitalize on possible year-end surpluses.

“At the end of 2009, there was some fiscal recovery and we took advantage by sending out a letter to our corporate donors in December, asking if they would like to donate at that time,” Leshinsky says. “We knew some companies would have a better idea of where in their budget they could afford to spend by then, and we got a fantastic response. Some donors even paid funds for the next two years.”

In total, it garnered about $1.8 billion in donations for the year, which was in line with previous years, according to Leshinsky.

Deborah Long, president of Virginia-based Cohesive Communications, which specializes in nonprofit counsel, says these groups are also turning to current sponsors to ensure stable donations through mail circulars and phone campaigns.

“Nonprofits are committing more to outreach within already existing donors, with the focus on increasing the value of the members they already have,” Long says. “Awareness campaigns have remained constant, as nonprofits can't stop producing them even though the economy has a downturn.”

Sal Fabens, PR director with United Way, adds that reaching out on the community level through locally targeted campaigns has been an emphasis, as individuals look to focus on helping their communities during tough financial times.

“We're getting increased requests regarding family volunteer opportunities. It seems that many families are opting to engage the whole family in activities that can help others who are not faring as well during this downturn,” Fabens says. “Based on anecdotal evidence, we've been experiencing a marked growth in volunteerism.”

Recently though, it has been the newer tactics and channels employed by nonprofits that have gotten the spotlight. According to a 2010 Trend Tracker study on nonprofit PR by Cone, 49% of Americans believe social media is an effective tool for nonprofit outreach, and 29% encourage mobile messaging. This trend proved its worth following January's earthquake in Haiti, when the American Red Cross raised millions of dollars via a text messaging campaign.

“We did research following the earthquake in Haiti, and found about 13% of individuals said they donated through text, and 20% said they would actually prefer to give future donations through texting,” says Alison DaSilva, EVP at Cone. “It's an amazing example of how this tool has grown for nonprofits.”

The Cone study also showed the relationship between nonprofits and corporate partners, with 56% of the more than 1,000 American adults surveyed reporting they feel better about nonprofits that work with a corporate sponsor.

But traditional media remains a proven tactic. Eighty percent of respondents in the Cone study said newspaper, radio, and TV ads are effective marketing tools for nonprofits. WestGlen Communications, which produces and distributes PSAs, says its research shows nonprofit client ads increased by 23% in 2009 over the previous year.

“When ad sales are down in broadcast and radio, they fill that dead space with PSAs. In late 2008, channels were already asking us for more advertising,” says Annette Minkalis, EVP of WestGlen. “Even though money is tight for nonprofits, they were still campaigning in 2009, because they knew they needed to be out in front of the public.”

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