How to get publicity for a good cause

How to gain publicity and funds for a charity or cause…

Many people imagine gaining publicity for a charitable cause will make a story more saleable – but this isn’t always the case. How to get publicity for a good causeHere we give some tips on how to get started – and a reality check…

Firstly – don’t underestimate the hard work gaining publicity for a cause will take. Every week Featureworld receives at least one story about a family trying to raise money for one reason or another. Often the stories are heartbreaking – children diagnosed with cancer or other life-threatening illness – who are desperately raising money for treatment abroad that is not available here. Or they might be from those who’ve gone through a terrible trauma such as a stillborn baby or the death of someone else who is very close to them. They have often set up a group and want publicity to raise awareness.

And to put it in perspective, all of these groups and individuals are up against professional charities – who invest tens of thousands in employing professional publicists – trying to gain mentions in national newspapers and magazines for their cause as well. And national magazines and newspapers simply can’t print every request.

However, if you are going through a nightmare or trauma, just concentrating on setting up a campaign can actually be a welcome distraction. It can give you a huge feeling of purpose, that you are doing something and of course your efforts will also help others.

The first step: Set up in a professional way

If you have made the decision to run a campaign, your first decision is do you raise money for an established charity – in which case you can either ask people to donate directly to that or donate the funds you raise yourself – or will you go it alone? You might consider going it alone if you need to raise money for a specific cause. For example, if your child needs treatment you have to pay for and you need to raise the funds. Otherwise, to ensure people feel confident they are donating to a bona fide cause, you need to set up a separate bank account, website, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Websites can be kept very simple – these days many hosting services such as 1&1 offer reasonably priced websites that you can do yourself. You then need to include a home page where you say why you are raising the money, How to donate page that gives bank details or an address to send a cheque to and a blog where you can update people on how you are progressing. Don’t forget to include relevant photos, perhaps of the friend or relative you are planning to help. Your Twitter and Facebook account should link to your website and you should either include an email address or form for people to contact you on. You might also consider setting up a JustGiving page where people can donate.

Write a press release

There’s no point in spending time doing a website if no-one knows about it so put together a simple press release. For example it might begin: In Date, our son Name was diagnosed with this Illness and we need how much money to give him the chance of survival. You then need to briefly explain what the treatment is, why you need to pay for it and the fact that you’ve set up a fund to raise the money. Then link to your website. Send this press release out, along with some photos, on Twitter, Facebook and to all the local press in your area – hopefully your story will be picked up and in fact many local papers will hugely support such causes in your local area.

Don’t under-estimate social media

Social media can be an enormous help in gaining the cash. So it’s important to tweet your website on Twitter and share it on Facebook. Don’t forget just putting it on these mediums will not get your cause circulated. You have to make that happen. For example, with Twitter you will need to follow and tweet people to ask if they can retweet your request. Followers will want updates so you will need to regularly keep them updated, perhaps tweeting your blog. But with luck hopefully your website will be retweeted and people will donate. At best it will go viral, your campaign will be picked up by a celebrity, endorsed by them and retweeted to their millions of followers. In fact even if a small amount of Twitter users who see your tweet all donate just £1, you could be well on your way to realising most of your target money.

Gaining national press publicity

An article in the national press can make a huge difference to the success of your campaign. Sometimes the story might be picked up by the national press when it appears in a local paper. Otherwise it’s a good idea to speak to a specialist story placing agency such as our sister site, Featureworld. As well as marketing your story with a saleable line and gaining much bigger publicity, they can organise multiple deals and those deals might also be paid – which will boost your fund. Occasionally, publicity such as this can even result in a well-wisher coming forward with the whole amount of money.

The difficulties you might face

Many fund-raisers feel snubbed when national papers and magazines fail to show interest in their story. It can be very hard if you are the mother of a child who has cancer and are trying to raise money for a treatment to be told no-one wants to print your story. People often get upset and ask, ‘but why does a story about a celebrity get in and my mum dying from cancer doesn’t?’ But it isn’t personal. The fact is that just because a story is worthy does not make it more saleable. The issue is that the national press is looking to print stories that are quirky or unusual enough to sell newspapers and magazines – and editors often feel they have seen these fund-raising stories before. Readers too will think the same and unless there is something different about them, they won’t be read. The truth is that doing a bungee jump or a skydive is a local story and not often a national one. And if others before you have already had this ground-breaking treatment or experience the story might have been done before. Sadly it is not enough that you have a sad story to tell. It is also not enough that you have started a website or want awareness – in fact people often say they want ‘awareness’ not realising lots has actually been written on their subject before (they just don’t usually buy newspapers and mags and that’s why they haven’t read about it.)

Making your story ‘different’

To gain national publicity your story will probably have to have something unique about it to make it different from all the other thousands of fund raising stories that are offered to the press every day, not only by individuals who are fund raising but by the hundreds of charities, many of whom employ professional full-time publicists – so try to decide what is the most unique thing about your story. There might also be a personal story behind this – perhaps you were turned down for a cancer drug because you live one foot from the postcode that does provide it on the NHS? Or maybe you will be the first person in the world to try out this new treatment. Or sometimes it’s a matter of timing – a story about a mum fighting for her life to watch her children grow up will be most placeable at key times of the year such as Christmas and Mother’s Day.

Keeping publicity going

One of the hardest things is to keep the momentum going. Sometimes people will have a good start and might gain thousands of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook as well as press articles, but find keeping up the fund raising difficult. Or they will feel they are getting nowhere and give up. Often this is because they become overwhelmed with the work involved – so it’s a good idea to recruit some relatives and friends who are committed enough to continue the efforts. Perseverance is often key.

Whatever, you will need to find new angles on your story as it unfolds. This can be as simple as ringing your local reporter with an update on progress. Or this might include holding a charity ball or dance, if your story involves your child seeing if they will hold a fund raising event for your cause. At the same time ideally you will be updating your website regularly and expanding it. You might create a photo gallery or a little online charity shop. And you will want to be blogging regularly and tweeting your blog to keep people interested and to let them know you are still fund raising. Joining with other bloggers – such as groups of blogging mums – can also be helpful to spread the word.

Gaining sponsors

Having T Shirts or mugs printed, getting celebrities or businesses involved are all things that fund raisers imagine will happen. But when you plan, take on board that businesses are struggling in a recession anyway and simply might not be able to stump up cash. Unfortunately be aware many businesses already receive many requests – as do celebrities. So while this can become part of your strategy to raise funds, it can’t become your whole strategy.

Taking the knocks

Be prepared for setbacks. if the treatment you are seeking is controversial, accept there might be criticism. Don’t forget too to factor in costs – such as keeping a website running, telephone calls and postage. They will all add up. And accept not every event you do will be a success and not every event will raise lots of money.

But… quite part from raising money, the attention gained can often give families a boost – just knowing there are others who care and feeling they are doing something positive, even just sharing their experience, can really help.

Read more:

Featureworld: We sold our stories to help others.
Gaining local press publicity
Five ways to create a buzz

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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