To Do Good, Communicate Well: Public Relations Tips for Non-Profits

non profit

By Molly Borchers, Senior Communications Strategist

One of the things I love most about my job is meeting great people doing great things for the San Diego community. I have the privilege of supporting the community relations department for one of my client partners, which means I help them spotlight the great work of compassionate organizations like Ocean Discovery Institute, Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank, Workshops for Warriors and many others.

Nonprofit-word-cloudAfter moving here from Ohio, I was struck by the beauty of San Diego’s beaches, bays, palm trees, rivers, canyons, mountains and deserts. With a little time, I was equally in awe of the people who are so deeply connected to their tight-knit communities, of all the passionate innovators who live here, of just how much people love this town.

As of 2014, there were 9,364 501(c)(3) non-profits in San Diego County. That’s a lot of people doing a lot of good. But a major problem for these organizations is that they often don’t have the time or the funding to toot their own horns.

It’s critical for non-profits to raise visibility in order to get funding and fulfill their missions. Here are five communications and public relations tips for non-profits who think they don’t have the bandwidth or budget to promote themselves:

  1. Map out a plan: At the beginning of each year, make it a priority to develop your non-profit’s communications road map. There may not be a lot of time or resources available, but try to carve out space for one promotional activity each month and set calendar alerts to stay accountable.

An example of what that could look like? Perhaps in January, you write and distribute a press release about a fundraising event you’re having. In February, send out a targeted media pitch on the topic you’re trying to generate awareness for. In March, apply for a major speaking opportunity. And so on. By making sure you have at least one activity a month, you sustain the communications momentum with the least time investment possible.

  1. Leverage strategic partnerships: I don’t have to wax poetic about the value of building your network. Once your network is in place, though, leverage the help of strategic partners to support your communications efforts.
    1. If your non-profit has received a corporate grant, ask that organization if they’d also be willing to support you with promotion.
    2. Try meeting people in the communications/PR field. You never know what counsel or advice they’d be willing to give.
    3. Collaborate with other non-profits with similar missions to see if you can pool resources.
  1. Don’t ignore free tools like blogs and social media: I’ve spoken with non-profit leaders who view social media as a low-priority, time-sucking task. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Organizations of all types have three communications channels: paid (advertising), earned (media coverage) and owned (websites, blogs, social media, newsletters). Only one of those is truly free.

Why eschew free platforms where you have the opportunity to both control the message and engage directly with potential donors and volunteers? My tip: find 1-2 hours to develop a strategic social media and blog plan. Then, hire an eager college intern to help execute. They can schedule most social media posts in advance via HootSuite or Buffer. Blogging brings excellent SEO benefits and can help elevate your website to the first page in Google. By using an intern to help, you’re helping them build their portfolio (doing yet another service to the community) without taxing your regular staff resources.

  1. PR measurementBe intentional with measurement: Often, communicators confuse output with outcome. For example, an output is “number of media mentions” or “speaking opportunities secured.” However, an outcome would measure the impact of that effort. Did your communications efforts increase volunteer inquiries or donations? That’s where the measurement gets juicy.

I recommend measuring a bit of both. Perhaps set a goal for number of media placements and then measure them on a graph against website visits, number of volunteer inquiries and donations, then see how the promotion efforts correlate with your desired outcomes.

  1. Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask the experts for a little help. There are several communications agencies who offer services priced to be very friendly to non-profit budgets. Sometimes there is even an opportunity to receive pro-bono work, depending on your relationship with the agency.

Work for or volunteer for a non-profit? If you think we can be of assistance, let’s connect. Email me at mborchers [at] Engaging in highly targeted, measurable social media, PR, multimedia programs can help you achieve your mission.


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How I Survived My First Networking Event


By Chris Jensen, Jr. Communications Coordinator

Networking is the easiest way to make a connection that doesn’t involve a glowing screen. While LinkedIn may be quick and easy, “connecting” is not as memorable as shaking someone’s hand and having a conversation.

Since PR is built on relationships, we enjoy our fair share of networking at (W)right On. It was only a matter of time before I was tossed into the ring.

Karl-Strauss-Beer-GardenMy first event was Inbound Marketing Week, and luckily for me, it was held at a brewery. I had a great time at the event, and the tips my colleagues gave me at a team brainstorm helped me navigate this new, uncharted territory (The beer didn’t hurt either).

Here are a few key points that helped me through my first venture into networking:

  • Don’t want to go it alone? Team up with a buddy (non-colleague) in your industry. This is a good chance to nurture a relationship with an existing contact. Plus, if other coworkers are at the event, this will give you the opportunity to divide and conquer.
  • In order to get in the right frame of mind before you attend the event, set the goal of meeting interesting people that do interesting things. That’s a much less daunting goal than saying, “meet three qualified prospects.” If you go in with the mindset that you’re only looking for new business, you could turn people off.
  • Think about 2-3 questions you want to ask someone in advance – don’t jump in empty-handed! Have a couple go-to questions as backups if there’s not a unique talking point right off the bat. To that point, ask questions to lead down the path about how you can help. One of our favorites? “How do you get the word out about your business?”
  • Quality over quantity. Meeting ten interns from various businesses may be easy, but having a great conversation with the CEO could be the start of a new partnership.
  • Yet, we can’t forget our next rule: Be nice to everyone, even if they’re not necessarily a direct prospect. Remember the six degrees of separation!
  • If all else fails, look for the person standing on their own. They’ll be grateful you approached them and saved them from that awkward moment. Or, if you see someone standing alone while you’re already speaking to someone, give him or her a smile and welcome them into the conversation.
  • Don’t limit conversations to people similar to yourself – stay open to everyone. While it might be easier to strike up a conversation with someone your own age and likeness, try stepping out of your comfort zone. That’s the beauty of networking – you never know who you will meet.
  • Don’t forget your business cards, and be sure to give them out. Know your elevator pitch – sometimes you only have a few seconds to explain yourself.
  • Be a connector. Is there someone from your existing network that you can connect a new contact with? In PR, marketing and similar professions, it’s important to provide value with connections.
  • Follow up via email within 24 hours. Make time that night or the next morning to send emails to everyone you met. It’s one of the easiest ways to be remembered.
  • Use a spreadsheet for following up with new connections. Organization is key in our industry, therefore, you should keep track of connections you wish to continue a relationship with. Set reasonable times to follow up so you don’t risk forgetting or annoying someone.
  • Maintain your connections with LinkedIn and social networks. While I believe it is better to connect IRL, social media helps to keep new relationships top-of-mind.
  • And remember: networking can begin as soon as you step foot out of your car, so always be on your game.

I walked into my first event a little nervous and unsure what to expect. Yet, after chatting with the first couple of people, I realized the easiest way to go about it was to just enjoy myself. Sure, you may have goals going in and specific people to meet, but the best way to achieve these is to have a good time.

Cheesy? Maybe, but you’re more likely to make real connections when you’re natural and upbeat, rather than a card-pushing robot.

Any favorite networking tips you rely on? Let me know in the comments.


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Your Competitive Advantage is Being Human

Your Competitive Advantage is Being Human

Photo via Fast Company
Photo via Fast Company

By Chance Shay, Communications Strategist

IDSD Recap – Keynote Speaker, Brian Kramer

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Bryan Kramer before I signed up for Interactive Day San Diego. I did a quick Google search and found out he speaks a lot about social content sharing and is the author of Human To Human and the soon-to-be-released Shareology. Walking into the Sapphire Ballroom at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, I figured Bryan would have some good stuff to say, but when he walked out to The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” I knew he was my type of people.

Now, I don’t know if he came up with the H2H, or Human to Human term, but Bryan was the first person I’ve witnessed provide context as to what is at the heart of brands who understand they need to communicate H2H.

The three main H2H pillars are:

  • Simplicity
  • Empathy
  • Imperfection

Thinking of simplistic brands, IDSD attendees threw out Apple, Starbucks, Nike and a few others. Not sure Nike fits there, but we’ll go with it. Empathetic brands make customers feel like the brand cares about them and their wellbeing. Brands like Charmin, Southwest Airlines, The Honest Company, Toms, Dove, Amazon and Nordstrom. What I found was consistent with all of these brands is that they make it seem like they are the same as the customer. That relatability is a consistent connection to empathy. I also noted brand imperfections – think those seen within Fox News, Exxon Mobile, etc. – can work in their favor.


Again, the relatability factor: being flawed is a hugely human characteristic. That humanity will appeal to customers. The more brands embrace their relative humanity, the more likely they’ll be trusted.

What Bryan pointed out was that no brand combines all three. Disagree? Leave a comment with a brand you think meets all three criteria (Google doesn’t count).

Other key pillars brands can embrace include:

  • Connection/Love
  • Significance
  • Variety/Uncertainty
  • Certainty/Consistency
  • Growth
  • Contribution

It’s been shown that applying three or more of these to a campaign increases the potential for positive impact.

There are also a few main tones people use to communicate, including:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Joy
  • Surprise

These make sense, right? Rarely do people share content that has a tone of boredom or basic satisfaction. Brands have to share in these emotional tones because that’s human, but also because when you share in these tones, most people will respond with the same tone. Sharing something with joy is met with engagement with the same tone. This doesn’t work with trolls, but that’s probably not your target audience.

Understanding we’re in a human to human economy and that human characteristics are key to effective communication leads us to one final question:

Why do we share?


Can you pitch in one sentence?


By Chance Shay, Communications Strategist

It seems like we PR and marketing pros are always competing for attention: attention from bloggers and journalists, attention from partners and special interest groups, attention from customers.

As attention spans dwindle, the opportunity (i.e. time) to communicate effectively to these groups is dwindling as well. Long gone are the days when customers see an advertisement and make a purchase decision without texting friends for opinions, checking Yelp reviews, scanning recent coverage of the product and soliciting input from each of their social networks.

Same goes for the era when journalists had 4-5 days to write a single story (reversing the numbers would be more accurate today – 1 day for 4-5 stories). Professional communicators must adapt.

busy-press-media-reporters-journalistsOur job now is to explain why the person should care about whatever it is we want them to care about, as quickly and succinctly as possible. In today’s world of infinite access to limitless information, if you don’t pitch an article, product or concept in one sentence, you’re doing it wrong.

It might seem counter intuitive to the idea that all brands must tell a story, but it isn’t. You must tell your brand’s story in just one sentence. Make people care without wasting a breath or key stroke.

The smart folks at PR Daily put together the helpful list of tips below to make your short pitch even better. You can read the full article here and be sure to check out the screenshot of Wall Street Journal writer Christopher Mims’ recent tweet.

  1. Identify what you want and are offering. Is it an interview, in-person meeting, contributed article or slideshow? Don’t make them guess.
  1. Use hyperlinks. If you’re offering an interview with an executive or other leader, include a hyperlink to a bio of that expert. You don’t have to include everything upfront, but you do have to make it easy for the reporter to get more information if she or he is interested.
  1. Think like a reporter. What is going to interest the specific reporter you are targeting? If it’s a conversation about why a technology hasn’t taken off yet, say so. If it’s commentary about a recent news article, be clear and concise about the executive’s unique perspective on it.
  1. Consider Twitter. Check out Kristen Raymaakers recent post for tips.
  1. Cut—and then cut some more. What can the executive talk about? In one line, make it compelling and short, in both the body of the email and the subject line.


Revenue, Respect and Results: Savvy Reputation Management for Hotels

From Yelp to TripAdvisor and everywhere in between, today’s traveler loves their review sites. 80% read online reviews before making a booking decision, 79% say they trust online peer commentary as much as word-of-mouth recommendations, and 93% say they consider it influential in where they stay and play. Combine those stats with the fact that 62% say that seeing a hotel respond to reviews, whether good or bad, makes them more likely to book there versus a non-responsive location; and it’s clear that reputation management is not something modern hotels can afford to ignore. However, given the myriad of sites out there, it can be overwhelming to break into the game. Take a look at the below guidelines to ease the process and streamline a communications plan to stay on top of your digital presence… and increase revenue.

Where to begin?

As mentioned, there are tons and tons of travel review sites floating around the web. At least as you’re getting started, stick to Yelp and TripAdvisor, which are some of the most heavily trafficked. These “Big Two” are the first places travelers are likely to look when researching a trip (especially TripAdvisor), and are your best use of time in terms of establishing a solid rapport with past and potential guests.

When should I post?

I recommend checking your reviews at least once or twice a week – Monday and Thursday is a good schedule to stick to. This gives you the opportunity to catch post-weekend rushes, as well as tackle one-offs or those who are catching up mid-week. It’s also helpful to create a Word doc or something similar to track each review and your response. If you ever need to refer back to a specific review or can’t complete a full run of replies in one fell swoop, it’s a great resource to simplify the process and hold yourself accountable. Another fantastic tool is Revinate, which (among other things) can track TripAdvisor sentiment and send you daily or weekly alerts. Daily is ideal – it can signal a need for immediate response on a “day off.”

But there are so many reviews… do I have to respond to all of them?

Actually, no. The main purpose of reputation management is first and foremost to ensure that any negative reviews are acknowledged and handled as appropriate. The second is to take an active role in the direction of your business – which doesn’t mean responding to every single comment posted. Even reviewers don’t expect that.

An easy rule of thumb is responding to all negative reviews and about 30-40 percent of positive reviews. If someone takes the time to write a lengthy note of praise or say specific team members were particularly helpful, return the favor with a thank you (and be sure to pass the good news along to deserving staffers).

What if I get a nasty comment?

It’s not if, it’s when. Even five-star hotels with exquisite service will get bad reviews from time to time – you can’t make everyone happy. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Always acknowledge – Travelers will pay more attention to negative reviews and how they’re handled than positive ones
  • Know your common pain points – Many properties have issues that are a regular gripe for guests. Some things, like wifi speed in a remote location, you can’t do a whole lot about. However, if you can do something, take heed and make the steps to work on it. The repeat reviews will decrease, and guests will note that you take comments seriously.
  • Assess the situation – Some negative reviews are straightforward and not all that serious, surrounding complaints like, “I didn’t like the wine selection” or “the wifi was too slow.” In this case, a simple, “we’re so sorry to hear that you felt X was X, and we appreciate your feedback” will suffice. However, with something heavier, like “my room was filthy” or “I got food poisoning from the restaurant,” you’ll need to invest a little more time. Draft a simple response that shows you’re taking action, but take things offline from there – you don’t want a reputation management conversation going any further than that in front of other patrons. Privately message the guest with the appropriate contact information, and be sure staff promptly responds to their concerns – and makes things right. Often, you’ll see a review update praising a satisfactory response to an issue.
  • Stand up for yourself – It’s an unfortunate fact, but sometimes, people lie about or greatly over-exaggerate situations. If something doesn’t seem quite right, check with members of the hotel team who may be better in the loop for any further insight. If you know a comment isn’t true, it is absolutely acceptable to (politely) correct the guest.
  • Choose your words – You stand behind your hotel, so show it in your verbiage. Most of the time, I recommend saying things like, “we’re sorry you felt X didn’t happen.” This acknowledges the guest’s feelings, but doesn’t necessarily fold to their opinion. However, some things are undeniably frustrating and unacceptable, like being ignored while checking in or waiting an hour for food at dinner. In this case, switch things up to convey apologies and understanding.
  • Lose the canned responses – I am a fan of putting together a document of common issues and sample replies to look back on. However, I do not support using the exact same responses each time – it’s not authentic and an obvious corner-cutter. You’re already taking the time and effort to manage your responses. Do it well.

What about social media?

Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter can act as another mode of reputation management, and most brands already have a solid presence there. Be sure to monitor avenues like messages, comments, direct tweets, hashtags and @ mentions (although this should be built into any social strategy already) for feedback or questions from guests, and develop a procedural plan with your team to outline who responds to what, what timeframes should be followed and any other expectations. Platforms like HootSuite, Simply Measured and many more offer a range of options to simplify your social listening efforts. Departing slightly from the response algorithm for review sites, always respond to messages (like on Facebook) and engage with commentary as much as possible – it is social media, after all! But the same goes for any contentious or lengthy conversations – after the initial connection, take them offline.

It also doesn’t hurt to leverage guests’ travel plans for greater brand reach. is a great way to encourage travelers to discuss their upcoming stay with their networks without icky, back alley trades or an in-your-face sales pitch. The platform, which reports 15% of users will transition to become brand advocates, employs sleek landing pages and simple content to connect with guests without ever leaving a hotel’s website.

Reputation management is a crucial tool for staying on top of public perception and presenting a caring, engaged demeanor to guests in all stages of the sales funnel. With a bit of organization and a strategy behind your approach, you’ll be ruling the digital travel world in no time.