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NonPRofit Motive

We spend plenty of time here at the Cision Blog discussing corporate and agency PR, but the nonprofit PR sector is always there buzzing alongside it, facing many of the same challenges, utilizing many of the same tactics. While responsible nonprofits enjoy a certain intrinsic trustworthiness that their for-profit counterparts work hard to earn, nonprofits still rely on strong, consistent PR positioning to engage audiences and build a base of support.

“It can be a challenge at times, for people to switch from agency to nonprofit and vice-versa, because potential employers may have the sense that the cultures are different to the point that the switch wouldn’t work,” Nikki Snodgrass, Public Relations and Social Media Manager at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), said.

“Interestingly, nonprofit and client/agency best practices are extremely similar. Developing relationships and partnerships with other organizations, brands or services is a great way to strengthen a pitch and maximize exposure.”

Snodgrass made the leap to CAF in 2013 after eight years in an agency environment, citing a desire to gain more organizational experience. The Architecture Foundation’s core mission is to educate the public on “why design matters,” engaging architects, engineers and the general public in an open dialogue on the importance of urban design.

In addition to their popular architecture boat tours and walking tours, the organization hosts hundreds of events annually, including Open House Chicago, an internationally recognized, city-wide event giving the public rare behind-the-scenes access to some of Chicago’s most stunning and architecturally significant spaces.


Photo credit: J. Crocker

“PR surrounding Open House Chicago 2014 went extremely well,” said Snodgrass. “Each department (at CAF) has become more and more effective on gathering audience information, developing effective programs, executing the social media campaign, designing art, fundraising identifying our experts and new media, and marketing.”

Through this collaboration, Snodgrass was able to execute a multi-tiered campaign that targeted hyper-local, local, national and international consumer outlets, as well as business publications that would be interested in the economic impact angle.

“In 2014, more media impressions and number of outlets were generated than any year previously,” she said.

While this differs little from for-profit event marketing and PR, the nonprofit sector also relies on these media impressions to drum up support from internal stakeholders, potential members and volunteers.

“Presumably, (or ideally!) our board members, CAF members and potential members will see CAF figured more prominently in the media, positioned in a positive way due to any number of our programs or initiatives/exhibitions, and be more inclined to get involved,” Snodgrass noted.

Sarah Weitzenkorn, a blogger at The Elderberry Blog, former broadcast journalist and former director of the Team in Training program at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, also spoke to the importance of engaging volunteers to advocate an organization’s PR and marketing messages to a wider audience.

“Volunteers—who become advocates for us—are vital to the success of our organization,” Weitzenkorn said.  “Word-of-mouth about a successful and positive experience is worth more than any advertising, so answering questions, encouraging their participation (whether through a hand-written note or an email) and being available was important to me.”

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In addition to traditional media and word of mouth engagement, blogs and social media have emerged as a sort of hybrid, as citizen journalists with an interest in the public good seek to offer a helping hand.

“Blogger outreach has become increasingly important, in terms of outreach, as their audiences are often just as robust as traditional media,” Snodgrass noted.

Louise Canuto of the Travel the Unbeaten Path

Louise Canuto of the Travel the Unbeaten Path, photo courtesy of Travel the Unbeaten Path

Louise Canuto, author of the travel blog Travel the Unbeaten Path, started a nonprofit feature series in late 2014. A former marketing and PR manager familiar with the struggles of promoting small nonprofits, she decided to expand her coverage beyond travel, and the gambit has paid off: To date, the most popular post on her blog is a feature on Paws’itive Teams, a nonprofit dedicated to training service dogs.

“Meeting the ladies from Paws’itive Teams in San Diego was such a treat,” Canuto said.

“My interview with the founder of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic has also received so much positive feedback, and online engagement from amazing sources such as the vice president of corporate citizenship at Johnson & Johnson and the founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good,” she added.

“My nonprofit series is very new to my blog, but thanks to tools like Cision, I receive requests for features weekly.”

Other tips and best practices for nonprofit PR should sound too familiar to PR pros in any capacity.

Snodgrass, from an organizational perspective, emphasizes the importance of building relationships with influencers and organizations who reinforce your key messages.

“CAF’s relationships with high-profile designers/firms, Chicago tourism organizations and museums, bring CAF into a larger and more relevant story from a media perspective,” she said.

Canuto recommends to “be on the lookout and don’t snub social media users who willingly share your brand and message. Show them some love by retweeting, replying, re-posting images (with permission); you’d be surprised at how much people enjoy to be featured and recognized.”

 Featured image courtesy of CAF

About Stone Hansard

Hansard is an associate features editor and features writer for Cision Blog, covering trends in journalism and content marketing, innovative new editorial platforms and more. He is also the supervisor of Internet Media Research at Cision, and occasionally covers jazz for Prior to joining Cision in 2010, he was the music director at WVFS-FM, the alternative radio station at his alma-mater, Florida State University. Give him a bowl of fancy ramen and a Bulls game, and he’s a happy camper.

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