How Nonprofits Can Get the Press Coverage They Deserve

The beginning of the school year always takes me back to my days as a rookie reporter, when I covered the  public education system in Greensboro and High Point.

Within a few weeks of starting that job, several unchangeable laws of journalism became clear. School board meetings never ended before 10 p.m. My deadlines could never be stretched past 11 p.m. And everybody agreed there weren’t enough “positive” stories about the schools.

If I had a dime for every time a parent or teacher told me I was missing the feel-good stories, my salary would have matched the superintendent’s. But there was a reason I wasn’t writing those positive stories -- nobody told me about them.

Many of my days (and nights) were spent eye-balling test score reports, sitting through long meetings, and covering the controversy du jour. There just wasn’t enough time to visit PTA groups or wander the halls to witness all the cool things that were happening. I needed a shortcut. I longed for  someone to bring a neat project to my attention and say, “Hey, take a look at this.” And yet, that almost never happened.

Today we have a lot of nonprofits right here in North Carolina doing great work. But, to be candid, they aren’t much better than the schools when it comes to speaking up on their own behalf.

I’m privileged to co-write a regular column for the Raleigh News & Observer called “Doing Better at Doing Good.” It’s about social innovation and entrepreneurship, and nonprofits routinely receive coverage in it. The column runs twice a month, so we’re always looking for ideas.

 I can count on one hand the number of times somebody has contacted me this year to suggest a story idea and provide the context that shows how their idea fits into a larger trend.

That’s one mistake nonprofits make that costs them positive media coverage. I’ll talk about several more – and how to turn them to your advantage – during a session scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 13 at the N.C. Center for Nonprofits’ conference “Transforming Times.”  Hope to see you there; you’ll leave with a number of ideas for working with reporters to get the coverage your nonprofit deserves

Stephen Martin, director of public relations at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, is author of The Messy Quest for Meaning, which explores how to find a calling.

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