How to Get Nonprofit Press on the Cheap

No communications director.  No budget for billboard ads. And yet....

No communications director. No budget for billboard ads. And yet….

Your board member: “I can’t fundraise without more press!”

Your development director: “Yes! And look at all the press Nonprofit Q is getting!”

Your finance director: “Well, I’m sorry, but there’s no money for a communications director.”

Your executive director: “Why can’t our board members be better at fundraising? If only they were, we could afford a communications director!”

The Press: [Crickets…]

Whether it’s a school, a social service organization, an advocacy organization or a research group fighting to cure an illness, a lack of nonprofit press is one of the most common problems I encounter. Lots of finger pointing but no visibility.

And by the way, while nonprofit press is critical, every member of the cast of characters above has a very valid point. The problem is they are too busy complaining to see a most excellent solution. Between racquetball games, a client of mine told me how she handled this exact issue.

It’s brilliant. Allow me to share it with you…


Cheap PR? FREE PR??? You’re laughing at me right now. I know it. Oh, OK Joan. I can’t afford a media relations staff person so I should go and get someone who will work for free?

Yes that is exactly what I mean. Go find an individual with top notch press relations skills, a terrific rolodex, and a real passion for the work of your organization. Tell her you can pay her absolutely nothing.

Instead, ask her to join your board.

This is exactly what Hyacinth AIDS Foundation did.

And what do they have today that they didn’t have before?

1) An op-ed in The Times of Trenton. Ran just last week. In just the right outlet. Hyacinth is NJ’s largest HIV/AIDS organization and engages in both direct service work and advocacy work. So a call-to-action to folks in the state capital through the main media outlet there? First rate strategy. Did the E.D. put in a bit more time to work with the board member to kick around ideas, messages, etc.? You bet. Did she write a strong first draft? Yup. Did the board member edit away? Uh huh. And then he secured the placement.

2) An op-ed strategy and timetable for the year tied to varying news hooks and key dates.

3) A stable of authors for each op-ed based on the topic. Sometimes the E.D. is the best messenger but not always.

4) A board member that feels absolutely terrific that he can take his expertise and make something very tangible happen for an organization he cares deeply about.

Some serious successes for the low low price of nothing.


This is good advice for everything in business. Unfortunately, people often limit their networking to those they think can help them.

But you never know when a relationship with a company or individual will bear fruit. Or when a person is connected to a company that does something / produces something that could be of value to your organization. That’s why the key word is relationship.

Because they understand this, Hyacinth AIDS has a pro bono media campaign running for the next six weeks that will reach nearly 250,000 people daily.

The company relationship started small but the executive director actively stewarded and got a call. Would you be interested in some free billboard space?

Hell, yes.

With the help of the aforementioned board member and some out of pocket expenses (that paled in comparison to what something like this would actually cost), Kathy and Hyacinth had a billboard campaign. I have featured one of the ads above (the pic at the top of this article.) The goal is simple: to get conversations started that lead to an increase in HIV testing.


So what have we learned?

1) You don’t need a full time communications director to get press.

2) Select board members strategically – not only for their capacity to give or raise money but for skills and attributes you need but can’t afford.

3) If you are successful with (2), you will have a very happy board member (and a healthier organization.)

4) Take good care of your friends and it will come back to you.


1) Send this article to those who report to you. Ask them to consider their relationships in the context of skills / attributes / relationships.  Have everyone bring 5-10 names to the next staff meeting. How might those relationships bear fruit for the organization.

2) Consider the same exercise with your board. Keep the conversation away from checkbooks and talk expertise, in kind services.

It is highly likely that when you take a close look at your organization’s family through this lens, you will see that the answers to some of your needs are right in your own backyard.

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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  • Craig

    Love this! As always Joan is right on target – both in terms of message and timing! How perfect it arrives 90 minutes before a meeting I asked for with a member in the community who is a professional PR person who has had impressive results to chat about how they might help us. Network, network, network!

  • Craig. So thanks for this. And thanks for being a member of my tribe. I am really glad it arrived in the nick of time. And if you can share with other colleagues, I’d love that. It’s so much more fun to write when more people are reading !!!!! Good luck with your meeting. Let us all know what happens.

  • Carolyn Sharaway

    Great article. As always, very informative and useful!

  • Thanks Carolyn. Really happy that my readers find my articles of value. And will tell my racquetball partner / E.D. pal how valuable it has been to share her strategy with folks (maybe I will let her win as a token of appreciation)

  • Katie Daly

    Thank you so much for providing roadmaps in your articles. They are really helpful and give me a sense of the steps not just the overall theory of how to improve something. Love your blog.

  • Katie. Sorry for the late reply. Delighted that you find my articles helpful. Writing this blog is a bit of a mission for me and when it has the kind of impact you articulate here, it’s very gratifying. Keep reading and never hesitate to suggest content.

  • legina deaver

    Great article. You learn something new everyday.

    • Legina. I like to think that I learn more than one new thing every day 🙂 So happy you found this valuable and that you will continue to join the conversation on my blog.