Getting your organisation's message out into the community is an essential step in reaching the widest possible number of people whom you can serve or help, or who can serve or help you. It should therefore form an important strategy in achieving your group's goals.
There are many ways you can do this and finding the best methods for your group will depend on your size, your needs and your resources. But whether small or grand in sale, you should ensure that most or all of the following means of disseminating your group's message are covered in some form or other.
Get out there
As a board member, it is your duty to carry your organisation's message to the community. Examples of some ways you can do this include:
- Speaking at conferences and seminars about your organisation.
- Hosting lunches or events to introduce the organisation and its mission to potential sponsors.
- Acting as the group's media spokesperson.
- Lobbying politicians and government officials about the key issues facing the group and its members.
Get tongues wagging
The most effective method of reaching the community also just happens to be free. Use your meetings, regular communications and newsletters to let people know about your events and activities and encourage them to tell their friends and friends of friends. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful selling tools because it also comes with a reliable, credible endorsement.
All community groups need a one-page information sheet about their organisation that answers the questions:
- "Who are we?"
- "What do we do?" and
- "Why is it important?"
This handout can be given to anybody who wants to know about your group – or who you want to know about it. It can be sent to funders, attached to fundraising mail-outs, included with press releases, put in a rack in the waiting room, given to volunteers and new staff and pinned up on bulletin boards.
Get used to email
Make sure you have your members' and supporters' email addresses. Communicating this way is not only virtually free in money terms, it's also relatively trouble free and ensures people are reached instantaneously. When you send an email to supporters, ask them to send it on to people they think would be interested in your organisation. And add a line to the bottom of your email signature that publicises your community group, including a link to your web page.
Start up a newsletter
Every single community group should have a newsletter, which will help you to:
- Tell your members what you're doing
- Strengthen your network
- Advocate for your cause
- Recruit and maintain members and give them a feeling of "inclusion"
- Act as a fundraising tool.
Newsletters can be in hard copy or electronic formats (but the best are distributed in both formats, depending on the recipient's preference). Electronic newsletters are cheaper (no paper or postage costs) but there will always be people who don't have email access and others who would just rather read print.
Whatever the format, your newsletter should be regular, short and simple (the shorter and simpler the better), easy to read (no jargon) and well laid out (big chunks of text are definitely out).
If you have a special event or a special fundraising drive to promote, you might want to consider paid advertising. The main reason for paying for advertising is that it gives you control. A news report is edited according to the tastes of the media outlet, space constraints and news demands of the day. With advertising, your message will come up when you want it, where you want it, and in your own words.
- Some advertising, PR and graphic design companies do some of their work pro bono or at a cut price for community groups so see if you can get on their lists.
- Most radio and TV stations, as a condition of their licenses, are required to broadcast a certain number of public service announcements per week. Approach your local stations for a freebie.
- Newspapers also run free or heavily discounted ads for community groups, although some insist on the need for a group to be a registered charity before they will provide the discount. The decision of whether they are free or not is often at the discretion of the advertising director so if you can get to him/her, you have a greater chance of success.
- Another possibility is to get a local business to pay for your advertising as part of a mutually beneficial sponsorship agreement.
Get yourself into the news pages
Your local newspapers are always looking for local news to fill their pages so with the right pitch you should be able to get an article in from time to time.
Work your list of media contacts and try out stories over the phone to see which ideas get the best response.
If you're holding an event, send a press release as far in advance as possible, with professionally prepared photos and letterhead. Your release should not be written like an advertisement – it must be written concisely, be newsworthy, be of interest to the public and be informational (not overly promotional).
If you have a really great story to tell, try to get yourself into the bigger papers as well. It is harder to get into these papers than the locals but by no means impossible. A big name involved in an event, for example, or an extraordinary human interest story, or some startling statistics, can all help to draw the interest of the bigger papers.
The question you should ask yourself must always be, "What's the hook?" and after that, "What's the story?" And after that, "Where's the picture?" If you get all three right, you'll increase your chance of a run.
Get yourself on the radio
Send your media release to local radio stations as well. You should try to get on their news segments and if they run a magazine or talk program you should also try for an interview.
Another popular way of getting your message across is as a talkback caller. Most presenters frown on callers using their time for free ads but tend to be a lot more sympathetic if callers are plugging a genuine good cause that relates to something they are discussing on air.
Don't forget the community radio stations. They are always very keen to support their local organisations and tend to be under-utilised when people think of local media. To find your nearest station visit the Community Broadcast Association of Australia's website.
Get yourself on the telly
Unless you've actually involved a television network as a sponsor of your group or event, you are going to have to work hard to get the cameras involved and that means setting up a "picture opportunity" or TV stunt that is so spectacular, so colourful, so active and so much fun that they can't resist. And there needs to be a "story" as well! It is difficult to get on the TV news but the results can make it well worthwhile trying to come up with an idea. Don't forget the community television networks.
Get yourself on the net
AAP is a news service supplying most of the media organisations in the country. They also run a service called AAP Medianet which enables subscribers who pay a small fee to list all their news releases on their website for free. The releases don't get distributed (you have to pay much more for that) but you will be amazed at how many people rely on this service for content. If you get one interview or one extra visitor it's worth the two minutes it takes you to upload it. For more details visit www.aapmedianet.com.au.
Get yourself into the listings
Major and local papers, weekly freebie newspapers and magazines, and various websites all have "What's On" sections. The calendar of events is an often overlooked resource – but it works. The reason is that the people who read these columns are looking for things to do. They are motivated and looking for options so if you have an event coming up, make sure you're in the listings. Call your local papers and magazines and ask how to get in their listings (be aware that they usually need a fair bit of lead time).
If you're holding a locally based event – a ball, a fete or a garage sale, for example – don't forget the old tried and true poster. Make your posters clear, simple and colourful and stick up copies wherever regulations allow (check local council regulations before you start plastering posters on light poles and make sure you go around and take them down after the event is over). Ask local businesses if you can put one of your posters in their window. And don't forget libraries, office noticeboards, cafés, or laundromats – basically anywhere people gather and there is a board or space for information.
Get a free ride
Approach local businesses that do regular mail-outs in your area and ask if they would mind dropping in an extra sheet advertising your organisation or a particular event you have coming up. Remind them that research on buying patterns has shown that people respond to companies and products that support community causes – and that it will be a way they can support your group without having to fork out any money.
Another piggybacking option is to chase up the editors of any other newsletters you know that are vaguely linked to your area and ask them to include an article about your organisation or promote an event you have coming up. Look for school newsletters, local progress associations, arts organisations, your peak association, local politicians, your local council or even other community groups whose members might be interested in your organisation or event.
These days, there is an online chat group for almost any issue. If your group is anywhere close to that issue it is well worthwhile putting in a posting. Make sure you include a link to your website or social media profiles so interested people can follow through.
Get it on the web
Every community organisation should have an internet presence (a simple website is not that hard to set up; chances are one of your members will do it for free). A website can help you to reach a new audience and is extremely important for keeping in touch with your existing supporters. Once it's up and running your website needs to be updated regularly and you need to ensure that other like-minded groups link to it. You should also make sure that your web address is included on all of your correspondence (hard copy and web-based), and on your advertisements, posters, etc.
Engaging supporters through social networks represents a minute financial commitment, but a larger commitment in terms of time and effort.
Develop a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other relevant social networks. Use them to engage with supporters and the public, as well as to promote your events, your group's work and other news.
When developing a social media presence ensure someone is responsible for engaging with supporters online, and keep all 'posts' engaging, exciting and meaningful. Also try to use all forms of media, including videos and pictures, to help engage an audience.