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Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Charity needs to tell its tale

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By Todd Cohen

It’s old news but charities rarely grab headlines.

While their work is critical to society, charities shy from touting themselves and rate barely a blip on the news media’s radar.

But until they gear themselves to get the attention they need and deserve, charities will face a tough time securing support.

Needing donors and volunteers, charities spend a lot of energy courting them.

But development often consists of little more than trolling through the same mailing lists and preaching to the choir.

Many charities give short shrift to marketing and public relations, or simply lack the time and resources to focus on communications.

That’s a big mistake because media strategy should be integral to a charity’s business plan.

While donors and volunteers often support a charity simply because they believe in its mission and work, the charity could generate more support from more backers if it learned to tell its story with more punch.

Media strategy also gives a charity a rare chance to think about its underlying mission and work.

Whether creating a business or media plan, the key is to set clear goals, find easy ways to measure the plan’s impact and tell simple stories that show clearly how the charity makes a difference in the lives of the people it serves.

Media offer a powerful tool to reach potential backers, making it just as important to build relationships with reporters and editors as it is to cultivate donors.

Many charities typically are overwhelmed with the work of delivering services and paying bills — and simply lack the time, staff or money on media work.

Still, help is available.

With a little work, a charity can find media-savvy experts such as public-relations professionals or communications professors at local colleges who, as volunteers, can help develop and carry out a communications plan.

In addition to working with the news media, charities can tell their stories through their own Web sites – recruiting volunteers and companies to contribute to the development and maintenance of the sites.

Times are tough and getting tougher, making the work of charities more important than ever.

To survive and thrive, charities need to be as creative and resourceful as they can in reaching donors and volunteers, who are more likely to pitch in if they understand the role charities play and the challenges they face in working to heal and repair our communities.

Charities have a powerful story that people need to hear. The trick is to tell it.

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