We typically direct our fundraising advice to the third-party/amateur fundraiser. Those intrepid, resourceful individuals who devote their time asking friends and family for money and doing all sorts of crazy things to raise money for their charities. But how do you get the word out about your cause? Using press releases to publicize your event can help you raise visibility. Here is a guide to create and leverage fundraiser press releases.
Your fundraiser press release should be an important tool in your communications strategy for your event. But it should be only one part of your public outreach plan. Don’t forget the more direct grassroots outreach using flyers, brochures, emails and other communications tools to reach your volunteers and the local community. Grassroots outreach is one high-level communications tactic and can be very effective, but it is always very labor intensive. Media outreach is another high-level tactic that you should employ to get the word out on your event. The fundraiser press release is one of the main tool you should use in your media outreach.
The best way to get your fundraiser news and your organization’s “story” covered by media outlets is to do their job for them. This means creating a press release that is newsworthy, well-written and provides accurate information and instructions.
3 main tools for media outreach
- Press releases go out several weeks before your fundraiser event to give the press advanced notice and obtain coverage well-ahead of the event.
- Media advisories go out the day before the event and give media the basic information they need to get there.
- Media pitches should be created and used with the email distribution of your press release to your media contacts. These are an attention-getter and introduction to the news you are sending as well as an opportunity to “sell” your story. Your pitch should contain the key messages around your event and your organization. These messages should also be reiterated in your media follow-up after distributing the press release. More about press release distribution later.
A press release should contain all the essential information on your fundraising event and serve as a reference for any reporters who may write up an article about your event. The release should also contain a quote or two from key personnel in your nonprofit organization that convey your organization’s value, mission and vision for the event. You should also include a brief summary of your nonprofit organization’s background in an “About” section at the end of the release.
Formatting your fundraiser press release
A press release is meant to be a succinct account of your news. It is usually one to two pages at the most and should cover the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the news (the 5 Ws and H).
Your press release should represent just how you’d like the news story about your event to be presented. Oftentimes, small, understaffed papers will print your press release as is as their story rather than assigning a reporter to write about or cover your event. Newspaper editors often copy and paste portions of press releases into their stories.
Writing a good press release can be a little tricky the first time you do it. Just remember to RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING and be brief yet informative.
You want to organize your press release in what is called the “inverted pyramid” format so that the most important information (the 5 Ws and H) leads the press release and lesser details follow. That way, if the editor only has time to read paragraph one, they will still get the gist of your story.
Here’s a breakdown of this simple format :
- The Lead: Answers the who, what, where, when, why and how. Covers all the bases very briefly.
- The Bridge: Provides a link between the lead and the details to follow. This is when you would provide any details that support the lead paragraph information but didn’t fit into the lead. Use this section to explain more about why you’re doing this event.
- The Body: Further explains the information given in the lead. Includes quotes from relevant people — perhaps one from a member of your team and one from the Executive Director of your nonprofit.
- The Closing: Conveys any additional contact information, tells the reader how to participate in your event, and refers to your nonprofit’s web site for more information.
Fundraiser Press Release Do’s
Good fundraiser press releases should:
- Fit on one to two pages (if it is two pages, type “MORE” at the bottom of the first page and type “END” or “###” at the end of the release
- Be single-spaced, however there should be double spacing between paragraphs, of course.
- Include the name, phone number and email address of an appropriate contact from the organization in either the top right or the bottom of the release
- Have a short but attention-grabbing headline that conveys the news in the press release in a concise and direct manner.
- Include a “dateline” as the beginning text in the first sentence of the release that includes the organization’s city and state and the date of the release.
- Include your organization’s or event’s logo with the press release when embedding it in an email. If you are emailing the press release as an attachment, put it on your nonprofit organization’s letterhead.
- Include the summary paragraph or “About” on your nonprofit organization.
- Avoid technical words or jargon. If they are necessary, be sure to define them.
- Contain no spelling or grammatical errors. Make sure you proofread at least twice before distributing your press release and even have others review it for errors. Remember that you are trying to reinforce a professional image with the media and your target audience.
That was the easy part.
Distribution of your press release
So, what do you do once you have a professionally-written press release? Assuming you chose wisely when creating your target media list, you should distribute it to the publications that will potentially run an article on your event. If you’re like most third-party fundraisers, you are often organizing events and fundraisers that appeal to you, so make sure to target the publications that you normally read. Hopefully, you will reach others like you. No need to get too scientific about it.
Once you determine the appropriate contact at each publication, you want to find the email for that contact. Then send your release to their attention. The contact is usually an editor or a reporter covering events or nonprofits.
After a few days, call that editor or reporter, before noon if you can. Remember that these people have deadlines everyday. If you called me 10 minutes before my essay was due to talk about your essay, you probably wouldn’t have my full attention, so plan accordingly.
If you end up going to their voicemail, be succinct. Just give them the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Try to rehearse your message before making the call.
If you do get the contact’s attention and they call you back, just be honest and explain why you think the story is compelling. And call back quickly if they leave a message – remember the deadlines.
The rest is out of your hands. Hopefully, you had a chance to strike up a decent conversation with the reporter so that next time you contact them, they may recall who you were.
Fundraiser Press Release Don’ts
- Write an advertisement instead of a press release. Focus on the specifics of your event and the compelling story behind it, providing the news in a direct manner.
- Disregard the impending deadlines publications face by not returning an editor’s or reporter’s phone calls right away.
- Write a really long release that contains information that’s not relevant to the news or is overly verbose or repetitive.
- Write a release without the who, what, where, when, how and why info in the lead paragraph.
- Target the New York Times for a news story that is better suited to your local paper.
- Use poor grammar and incorrect spelling. You don’t want to come off sounding like an idiot. Even worse, you’re not giving the media something they can just cut and paste. Make their lives easy and you’re golden.
- Be daunted by media rejection. So what if an editor says no to running your news. Keep trying with the other publications on your target list until you find someone else who has an interest in your story and will run the news or write an article.
Hopefully this guide helps you create that powerful press release that gets the attention of key publications. If you need help with your fundraiser publicity campaign, we can put you in touch with quality resources to help.