While good media coverage is great for establishing your
nonprofit’s credibility with funders, prospective donors, and the public at
large, bad media coverage can do permanent damage. Of course, when a reporter
calls, you’re probably going to want to talk with him or her – a total shutdown
on media interactions won’t do your nonprofit any good either. Keep the
following cautions in mind, however, and prepare accordingly:
- You may
spend a lot of time for little reward. Some reporters haven’t done much
homework before picking up the phone, and you may spend a long time just
getting them up to speed. An even worse situation occurs if you get talked into
writing large portions of text for a print journalist who never actually
bothers to mention your organization’s name. Also be wary of freelance journalists
who are shopping an article to publications without a firm commitment. Either
way, you can spend many hours with no payoff.
article or piece may be careless, wrong, or unflattering. Print journalists
are famous for talking to you by phone, scribbling down some notes, then mushing
it all together and putting quotation marks around something that you don’t
remember saying – and perhaps would never have said. In any personal
interviews, try to speak slowly and carefully, avoid sarcasm or parodies that
could be quoted out of context, and never, ever, say anything “off the record”
if you don’t want to see it in print. Better yet is if you can ask the
journalist to get your signoff on any quotes from you to be used.
- You won’t
be sent a copy of the article or show. People commonly ask journalists for
copies or tapes of the final piece, but unless you’re famous or the journalist
owes you a favor, you’ll likely find that both the journalist and the media
outlet are too busy to provide anything more than a link to the relevant page
of their website – if that. Try to find out when the piece will be run, and
then follow the news yourself.
- You may
be surprised at whose side the journalist was really on. Especially if your
organization does controversial work, you can be sure that some of the
reporters who call will be taking the other side. And if they do, they may try
to bait you with innocent-sounding questions like, “Wouldn’t you like to tell
your side of the story,” or “I’m very interested in why you believe such and
such.” With good planning and care about who you agree to speak with, you
should be able to develop relationships with a select list of media professionals
who are accessible, interested in your work, and can be counted on not to
misuse your time and trust.
Track and save any favorable media coverage. You can send
these pieces out with mailings, reprint them in your newsletters (after getting
permission of course, to avoid copyright violations), mention and link to them
on your website or social media page, and attach copies to grant proposals.
For more information on working with the media, see Effective
Fundraising for Nonprofits (Nolo).