Using Press Releases to Promote Your Nonprofit

Boost Your Nonprofit Website Traffic with Press Releases

workingonpressrelease.jpg Vision/Getty Images

Even though the media are more fragmented than ever, press releases can and should be an essential component of your media strategy.

Put your press releases online and draw not only the media, but also general readers, potential donors, and volunteers to your nonprofit website.

David Meerman Scott, writing in The New Rules of Marketing & PR, points out that the new media world consists of far more than the usual outlets. Beyond TV networks and major newspapers, there is a world of websites, blogs, social media, and diverse reporting and opinion-makers that organizations need to reach. The only way to do that is to make information broadly available through many outlets. Meerman calls this the "long tail of marketing and PR."

Press releases may even have more sway with journalists than other forms of communication. According to research by Cision, 36% of journalists trust organizational press releases to be the most reliable, compared to just 6.7% for social media.

When Should You Distribute a Press Release?

Businesses and nonprofits should write press releases regularly. Think broadly when considering what information deserves a release. Here is a list of possibilities for a nonprofit organization.

Send a press release when you:

  • Have a new take on an old problem—Can you provide background information to the press?
  • Develop a new program, especially if that program breaks new ground with a unique population or a persistent social problem
  • Have new information to share (nonprofits should think about any studies they do or surveys they perform)
  • Your CEO or other prominent staff or board members speak at a conference.
  • Win an award
  • Produce a product or a helpful publication
  • Receive a significant donation or grant
  • Reach a goal in a fundraising campaign
  • Send volunteers to help with a crisis

You can probably think of a lot more possibilities. If not, check out the online press rooms of some large national nonprofits to see what press releases they write. An excellent source is the online newsroom of The American Red Cross. They post news releases consistently on topics ranging from tips on handling an emergency to how to donate blood.

Craft an Email List for Your Press Releases

For most smaller nonprofits that depend on local support, a simple spreadsheet for local media will suffice. Set up rows for the name of outlet, name or names of key reporters, what they cover, phone numbers, email addresses, and social media accounts such as for LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Reserve space for notes on the last contact, a preferred method of communication, and other relevant information. It will be essential to check this list frequently and update it. Also, don't limit your list to traditional media. Instead, include media influencers, such as bloggers, and well established social media personalities. 

Larger nonprofits will want to set up targeted lists for their favorite news outlets, plus they may wish to purchase a subscription to a media database to help with staying up to date. Such databases include Prowly, Cision, and Muck Rack. These services may provide media monitoring, as well. That is, they can keep track of where your organization has been mentioned in the media. 

Use an online distribution system to send your press releases to a broader audience. This needn't cost a lot and, even if distributed to a limited geographic area, just having the press release on the distributor's website will boost your placement on the major search engines.

Popular Press Release Distribution Services include:

Being present on one of these services might also result in your release showing up in the alerts that Google sends to anyone who signs up for specific keywords.

Post the Press Releases in Your Online Press Room

Press releases should be considered as content for your website. Provide an online newsroom where you can organize them by date and topic.

Potential donors and volunteers find press releases very helpful, providing appropriate background information and history. Journalists like online newsrooms for doing background research on your organization before producing a story.

Online press releases also help optimize your website. Write and post press releases frequently. They provide a reason for the search engines to crawl your site and index your press releases.

The online newsroom can also host links to articles that have appeared in the media about your organization. Nonprofits and businesses proudly post media interviews with their leaders or experts, for instance. You can also post special event announcements and details of new programs.

All of these items are fresh content for search engines. In the same way, a frequently updated blog on your website encourages indexing. Be sure to post the press releases in reverse chronological order. When you have enough, you can group press releases by keyword or topic.

Optimize Your Press Releases by Using Keywords and Keyword Phrases

Search optimization is a highly specialized area, but even the search amateurs among us can learn how to do basic optimization.

Research your keywords and related keywords to see which would work best for your press release. There are many keyword research tools online, and some are free. Try services such as WordTracker, LSIGraph, and Google Ads Keyword Planner. You can even research keywords right on Google with its handy "related" suggestions that appear at the bottom of each search page. 

You will want to choose keyword phrases in your press releases that do not necessarily receive the most traffic. That seems counterproductive, but it is tough to rank highly (preferably within the first couple of pages of results) on the most popular keywords.

Pick a related keyword or phrase that is a bit less popular, but perhaps more precise, and your press releases may rank more highly.

For instance, the phrase "child abuse" (according to WordTracker) received thousands of searches in one month. But "child abuse prevention" received far fewer searches. If you have a free brochure on how to prevent child abuse, you might do better using the latter phrase. Fewer people search for that, but when they do, you may well rank higher on the search page.

You could also optimize for several related phrases such as "prevent child abuse," and "signs of child abuse." Using several related keywords throughout your release also avoids the problem of "overstuffing" keywords, a practice that search engines dislike. Think about the various ways someone who was looking for this information would search for it. What words or phrases would he or she put into the search box?

Consider placing your keyword phrase in some, but not all of these key areas in your online press release. Don't overdo it, though. Overstuffing keywords will work against you. Only use them when it is natural to do so. And use variants rather than the same term over and over.

  • Meta Tag
  • Meta Description
  • Title of the press release
  • The subtitle of the press release
  • The first paragraph of the press release
  • In the subheads that you use to break up the text of the press release.
  • At the end of the press release

The Bottom Line

Now is not the time to give up on press releases or to think that you should only send them to a few reporters. A few tweaks to your press release strategy may result in a surprising increase in traffic to your website. You'll reach reporters, plus a whole lot of other people who can spread the word about your nonprofit.