Monday, May 31, 2010

Pro Bono Public Relations for Nonprofits: 7 Questions Agencies Ask

What are your guidelines for pro bono public relations work?

It’s a thoughtful question. I’ve had too many nonprofits over the years ask me to “do something” so they get news coverage, even though it’s not clear what they are doing that would merit news coverage and how it would help them if they were to get it. “We do good and we need money” is not a compelling message. Is there any charity that doesn’t?

Having said that, here are some questions that I and most other agencies will ask, plus a few stories of the proverbial nonprofit clients from hell.

1. Is the nonprofit respectful of professionals’ time? That includes planning meetings in advance, showing up on time for meetings, running them efficiently and asking for help with sufficient advance notice that no one has to stay up until 1 a.m. to meet deadlines.

2. Are the goals clear? Is there a consensus on the board on the goals? The answer is no, there isn’t much a PR firm can do. A PR firm can, however, help define goals.

3. Are other people willing to do some of the factual research? Specifically, if a nonprofit asks me to write a press release about an event, I expect them to be able to provide such information as the time, date, cost, location (including the street address) and biographical information on any speakers or entertainers. “They’re famous; everybody knows who Mr. Entertainer is and where the ABC restaurant is located” doesn’t work. Most professionals are not keen on volunteering time to look up addresses and basic biographical information.

4. Can the nonprofit be trusted to provide accurate information? This is closely related to No. 3, and you would think this would go without saying. But it doesn’t. My “no-good-deed-goes-unpunished” issues with nonprofits over the years have included one that gave me the wrong street address for an event (the reporter who couldn’t find it was understandably irate), and one that told me the mayor was going to speak. Turns out the mayor had never confirmed it. I ended up having to interrupt a vacation and pay my staff to work extra hours to clean up that mess.

I’ll post three more key questions next week.

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