Through public relations efforts, nonprofit organizations can raise awareness of their mission and values. However, nonprofits assign an average of just five percent of their budget to public relations campaigns. Although hiring PR consultants may be an added expense, an effective PR strategy can bring in more donations and raise awareness, making the investment worth the initial cost. So, what exactly is public relations and why is it important for non-profit organizations?

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Essentially, the goal of PR is to promote an organization’s positive image and engage with its publics to build long-lasting relationships.

There are several reasons why nonprofits prioritize advertising over public relations efforts, one of which being a lack of understanding about what PR is and the impact it can have on business efforts. Also, many nonprofits try to do everything including securing press coverage. This is problematic because without the right media relationships, securing press coverage can be a time-consuming task riddled with rejection. Many organizations, not only nonprofits, also think that you have to “pay to play” so they secure press coverage through paid advertisements, instead of through earned stories that are strategically pitched and placed. This is because advertising has a built-in guarantee and always delivers a measurable result. However, sometimes impressions of information are not enough, and advertising only contributes to the noise that people try to avoid.

These are the reasons why some nonprofits don’t prioritize public relations, but what are the reasons why nonprofits should prioritize public relations?

It’s earned media

When dealing with marketing or advertising, media coverage is not free and can even be fairly expensive. In comparison, public relations professionals work to gain free coverage for their clients. Since non-profits typically do not have a large allocation of funds, public relations professionals can be a big help in saving money while simultaneously gaining media attention. PR practitioners earn media on behalf of a nonprofit client by strategically pitching stories to relevant news outlets which can include television, radio, and print outlets.

It’s more strategic than advertising

Public relations works best when it is integrated with strategic management. One of the many aims of public relations is to help organizations reach goals. When nonprofits have goals that include increased awareness, recognition, or donor involvement, PR is essential. We live in a time where the average person in the United States sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. This insane amount of bombarding consumers with advertisements has made consumers become immune to advertising. To many consumers, advertising isn’t trustworthy; they see it as an exaggerated of the product or organization; it creates noise in their everyday lives that they don’t find necessary. On the contrary, according to research, press coverage of nonprofits and for-profit organizations is seen as trustworthy and not a direct advertisement to consumers. It elevates the brand by giving the organization a positive image on the media outlets the consumer prefers and trusts, rather than creating a negative image of the firm by blasting their lives with advertisements.

It’s communication-based, not sales based

Where a lot of nonprofits fall short in their advertising and marketing efforts is that they are too focused on the sales/fundraising side of it without clearly communicating their purpose, goals and brand. Public relations aims to create and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and stakeholders; it is communication-based. Public relations is not a tactic to help increase the bottom line, instead, public relations focuses on exchanging information with audiences to build relationships. This helps nonprofits succeed over time, rather than just throughout one season or one campaign.

By: Megan Finkbiener, Public Relations & Digital Coordinator, and Justin Ashwell, Partner