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Low-Cost Solutions: Nonprofit PR

Published on April 17, 2019, at 10:05 p.m.
by Gabby DiCarlo.

It’s not easy to start a nonprofit and with low funding, sometimes public relations efforts are out of the question. 

Since donations are the number one source of funding for nonprofit organizations, specifically individual donations, organization costs come before marketing proposals. Marketing budgets make up just five percent of most nonprofits’ operating budgets — a small number compared to larger corporations that spend about 11% operating on a $10 million revenue pool.

Out with the Old

Tried and true nonprofit tactics usually consist of community relations, word-of-mouth tactics and minimal social media tactics, as told by two Alabama nonprofit executive directors, Alexi Bolton and Pam Jones. 

“There is basically no strategy involved,” said Bolton, creator and CEO of Inspired Arts. “Many times we do what we can, when we can.” This sentiment is echoed by Jones, executive director of Tuscaloosa SAFE Center, who said that office staff devote energy when they can but they have no formal training or communications expertise. 

Raising awareness is the largest task at hand, Jones noted. Bolton and Jones both mentioned that neither of their organizations participates in media relations or attempts to earn media coverage to raise awareness. Instead, they focus on deliverables and advertising because these are typical nonprofit tactics.

Digital media competence is necessary for staying relevant. Often, nonprofits are focused solely on tangible advertising or awareness tactics and neglect to include digital processes such as social media, paid media, owned media (such as websites and professional pages), and so much more.


Why Nonprofits need PR

Traditionally, PR is the cheapest option out of all marketing efforts, because it utilizes the power of intentional words to convince news programs and journalists of a newsworthy cause. It usually consists of a news release sent to a journalist or news outlet on behalf of an organization that is making an announcement — a relatively easy task with Google and a keyboard. 

Thankfully, PR has extended to the digital scene and with social media in hand, the world is your oyster. Many across the world use social media for personal use anyways, so switching to a business profile and doing some research can usually bring one up to speed. 

PR is not only social media and newsworthy releases — it’s also blogs, connections, events and partnerships. Reaching out to different organizations for promotion is an easy, inexpensive way to get seen, especially if you have a worthy cause — which many nonprofit organizations do. 

Jones knows the challenges facing nonprofit organizations with a mission for awareness. Jones said, “You have to get creative and think outside of the box,” when raising awareness for your mission. 

Even though the Tuscaloosa SAFE Center is the only sexual assault resource center of its kind in West Alabama, getting the word out is still a struggle. Not only is there low funding, but also many times it comes down to one or two employees who are responsible for external communications. Recently, they partnered with the Alabama Panhellenic Association to promote Sexual Assault Awareness month through all 17 Panhellenic sororities displaying awareness banners outside their houses — an inexpensive PR tactic. 

Why There is a Struggle 

Inspired Arts is an arts camp for at-risk elementary and middle school girls. Bolton serves on the Inspired Arts board of directors, a governing body that most nonprofit organizations have, where she and other board members make decisions regarding the organization’s activities. 

“So many [nonprofit professionals] are so passionate about the cause, and once they get into an administrative role, they don’t know what to do communications wise,” said Bolton. Another challenge Bolton mentioned was the multiple publics to whom nonprofit directors must appeal for different reasons. Unfortunately, another huge hurdle for nonprofits, mentioned by both Bolton and Jones, is a lack of manpower. 

With a lack of general employees, trained in communications or not, nonprofit organizations struggle to market their ideas, mission and values to the public. 

Nonprofit organizations have a place in traditional PR; they just have to pull up a seat at the table. 

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