Publicizing Your Nonprofit Event: 4 Key PR Tips

Recently, I've been putting my public relations skills to the test  to help promote an upcoming nonprofit event here in Seattle. Throughout the process, I've learned a lot about what it takes to really 'get the word out' with a limited budget and an even more limited time frame.

If you're planning an event for a charity or nonprofit, here are a few tips you may find useful:

Original image by Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons

Original image by Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons


Target Niche Communities/Localize the Story

There's no real harm in setting your sights high. For us optimistic types, it's not unusual to think things like "Wouldn't it be great if CNN picked up the story?" or "Maybe news of our event will go viral!!".  Still, the stark reality is : the chance of a small-scale nonprofit event getting press on even the local TV news is quite low.

High hopes aside, it's precise, niche targeting that will actually take your event details from a press release onto the radars of local journalists/bloggers and eventually into people's calendars. Think of a reason why hyper-local communities (neighborhoods, church groups, school districts, community centers) would take an interest in your event and target your PR campaign to them.

Remind People What's in It for Them

A good cause should be enough to get people off their sofas and over to your nonprofit event - right? Yes, it should be, and for your existing supporters, it will be. However, a good cause simply isn't enough to get those less gung-ho folks to attend.

Appeal to their competitive spirit and turn the event into a competition (i.e. "The neighborhood that raises the most, gets a free barbeque hosted by us in the park") or appeal to everyone's love of 'free' things by giving prizes away to participants (i.e. free t-shirts for those running in a charity race). The perks don't have to be large or costly - even suggesting that attendees compete for a title - such as 'best costume' or 'greenest neighborhood' - is enough to get people's interest.

Make the Journalist's Job Easy

Some journalists and bloggers see a press release as an opportunity for a great story. Most see it as a big block of text that's primarily too promotional and not newsworthy enough to turn into a valuable news story. In their eyes, a bulky press release is a lot of work for potentially quite little reward.

To convince these local news-makers to write about your event, you have to make it easy for them. Contact them directly, offering to guest-write an engaging blog post on the cause behind the event and why it matters to their readers. Provide them with visual content, such as images, infographics and video. Offer to arrange for them to interview the chair of the event. No matter how inspiring you find the subject, journalists and bloggers want one thing: quality content to share with their readers. Make it impossible for them to refuse you by giving them everything they need upfront.

Build-In Social Media from the Start

It's nice to think of social media as a generator of free and spontaneous publicity. While it may be free, social media may be far less spontaneous than you'd think. If a conversation starts 'trending', there's often a dedicated PR team (or at least some sort of organized group) behind it. When planning your event, it's up to you to kick-off the conversation on social media.

Consider social media engagement during the event's initial planning stage. Include a hashtag in the event press release, as well as any other promotional content you plan to distribute. Create a Facebook event, and consider promoting it through targeted Facebook ads. Share video by using popular apps like Vine or Instagram.


What do you think is the key to successfully promoting nonprofit and charity events? Have you found that a 'good cause' simply isn't enough? Share your tips in the comments - I'd love to hear from you!