Building awareness in a crowded field

Scott Pansky
Scott Pansky

Scott Pansky

Many nonprofits face the same challenges each year – raising awareness and dollars while maintaining a strict operations budget.  The current economic crisis has only made the challenge more significant.

A recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times put the situation in perspective: As the government focuses on failing automotive manufacturers and banks, it fails to address the caring community that so desperately needs funds to continue providing services.

For charities fighting the battle to win “share of mind and dollar,” effective public relations and digital-media tactics can make a true, bottom-line difference.

While it is difficult to compete against current news trends, the ailing economy and swine flu, public relations can be a cost-effective strategy to build brand awareness and reach key decision makers.

Why you, why now?

Non-profits need to understand where their story fits in a 24/7 news cycle dominated by economics and the crisis of the day.

Has your organization identified compelling trends that tie into current news? Undertaken any studies or surveys that shed light on these issues? Reached any milestones that make an interesting story?

While you may not have breaking news, bylines and opinion pieces can position your executives and staffs as experts in their fields and can help promote the organization, raise awareness for your cause and disseminate your messages.

The key to effective media outreach is identifying the news outlets that reach your key target audiences, tailoring your message and meeting the needs of the publication or broadcast outlet.

Make sure the story is relevant to the media’s audience and explain why your story should be covered now.


Engaging broadcast talent or a celebrity as the master of ceremonies at an event or including them in a public-service announcement is a good way to gain awareness for your cause.

A cost-effective way to include a celebrity is to find someone with a personal connection to the nonprofit’s cause and ask them to donate their time. Celebrities can be local media, business or sports personalities.

Speaking opportunities

Volunteering for speaking engagements, such as panel presentations, is another way to reach targeted audiences with minimal cost.

Speaking opportunities allow an organization’s executives or board members to showcase their expertise while creating a timeframe for media to cover the respective event or fundraising campaign.

Local events work. American Marketing Association, Public Relations Society of America, Association of Fundraising Professionals, American Bar Association, Rotary, Toastmasters – you never know where a lead or referral source will come from.

Social media

In today’s media, involvement in the social-media space is almost mandatory. Social media can help nonprofits reach and grow their constituents, as well as raise awareness with new audiences.

Creating a presence for your organization on popular sites and utilities like Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter can help you recruit “fans” who will help spread the word.

Harnessing the power of the Internet has proven successful for organizations around the world. The challenge is keeping the content updated, fresh and interesting.  Word of mouth campaigns are still the best lead generator.

Scott Pansky is co-founder and partner of Allison & Partners, a strategic public relations and marketing company based in San Francisco. He teaches cause-related marketing, public relations and sponsorship through UCLA’s extension program.

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