How to Pitch a Nonprofit Story to the Media

Make it Timely, Newsworthy and Relevant

Woman reporter in a newsroom.
Dream Pictures/The Image Bank/Getty Images

You likely love your nonprofit CEO, but he or she might have a blind spot when it comes to the news.

Is he or she pushing you to enhance the profile of your organization by sending press releases or story pitches to national or local media? Did you cave and send out a blanket news release? Or maybe you even made a phone call or emailed a reporter about your upcoming event, the fact that your organization appointed a new board member, or that you've reached the highest fundraising goal ever.

And those reporters yawned, never replied, or were even rude.

What did you do wrong? Well, most of us are not journalists, so it's hard to figure out why one story gets in the press, and another doesn't. But what we do know intuitively is that there is a lot of competition out there vying for the attention of those reporters. And we know that reporters have limited space and air time, not to mention sheer energy to chase every idea down.

It might help to know that the media ask themselves three questions when faced with a possible story. They are:

  • Why now?
  • Why is this news?
  • Who cares?

Most nonprofit story ideas are not breaking news, and may not appear relevant and newsworthy at first blush.

However, experts such as Katya Andresen, who wrote a ground-breaking book on this topic several years ago, suggests the following tactics to overcome our stories' shortcomings and to make them appealing to a reporter.

  • Make it exclusive. If a media outlet receives a remarkable story first, it might consider it big news because they will have a "scoop" that makes them look good.
  • Make it different or unusual. Stories that are new, novel, or original are news because they have the "gee whiz" factor. That may land the story on the front page or at the top of the hour.
  • Involve a big name. Our culture seems obsessed with the famous, so adding a celebrity to your story can make it attractive to the right media.
  • Go to the extreme. Any superlative that can be used in the story--first, biggest, smallest, oldest--can provide the "gee whiz" element.
  • Play up the stakes. Conflict or controversy is news — media love stories with protagonists. The battle between the two sides creates drama and emotion, elevating a ho-hum issue to an engaging story.
  • Be part of the solution. The media hear a lot about the negative impact of the issues we seek to address. If we can position our cause as a rare "good news" story, it will be an attention getter. If your organization has come up with a solution, let it be known.
  • Put a face on the story. Compelling human-interest angles of any kind are news because journalists are always looking to put a human face on their stories.
  • Newsjack a national story: Reporters love a local angle on a national news story. It helps them give a local perspective to something that is already making the news. Newsjacking requires being alert to breaking news and then spotting your connection. Say, there is a hurricane swooping in somewhere, and your organization is sending volunteers to help. Let your local press know that. ​
  • Provide pictures. Newspapers and magazines love photos, and television reporters have to bring in visuals to get a story on the air. Let the media outlet know those photo opportunities are available. If dealing with a small publication, have some pictures of your own to contribute. You can make them available on your website.

Getting your local media interested in what your nonprofit is doing takes thinking like a reporter, finding the topics that will appeal to a large number of people, tagging onto breaking news elsewhere, and personalizing the story.

Also, don't over contact the press. Make sure you have something likely to appeal before asking for coverage. After you've provided a couple of excellent stories that have panned out, your media contacts will sit up and take notice whenever they hear from you.

As for your overeager CEO? Provide a little education on what reporters like and also offer some alternatives for getting the word out. Suggest putting that story in your newsletter, on social media, in your annual report, or as an email blast to select supporters.