PR Tips for Funder/Grantee Collaboration

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I recently met with a small group of funders and grantee organizations about the power of collaborative PR efforts. The session was part of a day-long event, organized by the Slingshot Fund, a pooled next-gen fund that spotlights nonprofit innovation in the Jewish world.  The session focused specifically on working with the media, and I was privileged to have Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for the Associated Press join me as a co-presenter. As often is the case with such ambitiously-designed, one-day events, the hour we had for our session was just enough to dip our toes in the water. We introduced ourselves, told a few stories, made some general points, and answered a few questions. Next thing we knew, the session was over.  As the group was making their exit, I promised to distribute a comprehensive list of key takeaways and tips for engaging partners in mutually rewarding media outreach initiatives.

With our new blog going live this week, I figured it would be the perfect venue for sharing these tips with the entire world (or at least the smattering of people visiting the site … oh who am I kidding … Hi Mom!).

So whether you are a funding entity that wishes to shine the spotlight on deserving grantees, or a nonprofit that seeks public validation from key donors, here are a few high-level tips that will help you get the most from your collaborative PR efforts:

1) KNOW YOURSELF: Know your own media relations goals first. It’s impossible to explore collaborative efforts unless you understand what you yourself are hoping to achieve.

2) PLAN AHEAD: Make collaborative outreach a goal for the upcoming year. Identify something that is important for you to promote and engage your partner in the process. Understand what is important to your partner, and look for the common ground. You don’t want to experiment with collaboration reactively (i.e., waiting until something falls in your lap to call up your partner). Nothing will scare a funder away quicker than a frantic 11th hour call that “someone from the press wants to talk to you before 4:00 pm today!”

3) COMPLEMENT, DON’T MIMIC: When bringing partners into the fold, remember that you are looking for a voice that will complement your message, not echo it. The beauty of the funder/grantee partnership is that you are addressing the same problem from different vantage points. Embrace these differences.

4) INVITE OPPOSING VIEWS: This takes point #3 one step further. Controversy lends to interesting stories. Don’t shy away from collaboration if you and your partner don’t see eye to eye on every detail. As long as you agree on the basic premise of the campaign, the support details are incidental. What’s important is that, together you are able to advance a dialogue on the topic. Most reporters will be more interested in a story that has some built-in controversy. Embrace it.

5) LEVERAGE OUTSIDE RELATIONSHIPS: Who outside the funder/grantee dynamic brings credibility or interest to your pitch? Academics, pundits, pseudo-celebrities? Engage them. The more voices that you can bring to your media outreach efforts on the front end, the better.

6) EXPLORE DIFFERENT ANGLES: Understand the story opportunities that suit respective parties, then divide and conquer. A large funder might want to land stories that address homelessness on a nationwide level, while a Chicago-based grantee might want a story to focus specifically on the Chicago region. Both of these stories are achievable. The national story will need the voice of the organization that is on the ground fighting the problem. The local story will need the credibility which comes from a national voice.

7) RETHINK SUCCESS:  Don’t view success in terms of how exact your message was conveyed. Rather, think of success as HOW WELL WAS THE TOPIC EXPLORED and was my voice part of that conversation? Remember, with media relations your goal is to advance and be part of that dialogue. What’s worse?... Being misquoted in a story, or reading a story that you know you should have been a part of?

Hope these are helpful. Many more that I’ve missed I’m sure, so please feel free to add to this list.

-Rich