An op-ed is an opinion article written by someone who is not affiliated with the newspaper, magazine, or blog in which it is published. It’s distinct from letters to the editor or opinion articles authored by the publication’s own editorial board. And it can be a great way to reach new and influential members of your target audience, especially at the local level.

You can use an op-ed to communicate positive messages and dispel misconceptions about your mission, to earn recognition for your organization’s work and to increase public awareness and advocacy for your cause. For example, Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Representative of Oregon’s 1st District recently published this powerful op-ed in The Oregonian, arguing for paid family leave.

Cover the Basics

The first step to crafting your op-ed is to identify an appropriate news hook. Whether it’s an upcoming event, a local policy debate, or breaking news or research, a clear and timely news hook will increase the value of your op-ed to readers and editors alike, improving your chances of getting it published. Make sure any op-ed you submit answers these questions:

  • What is the issue?
  • Who is affected?
  • Why does it matter now?
  • What should be done?

Take it to the Next Level

Even if you answer those questions and have a great news hook, it can be difficult to place your op-ed due to the high volume of submissions publications receive on a daily basis. For example, The Oregonian only publishes a handful of the dozens of submissions it receives each day and the odds of being published in The New York Times are even slimmer: one in hundreds, including many of which have been commissioned by the newspaper’s editorial staff. In general, the larger the publication, the fiercer the competition for an op-ed spot will be. So how can you make sure your submission gets noticed?

Here are five ways to make your next op-ed stand out from the crowd:

  1. Make it personal. Don’t be afraid to weave in your own voice and share your own stories, especially if you have personal experience that can help your audience better understand or relate to the issues you will discuss.
  2. Make it local. Whenever possible, localize your op-ed by leading with a story or statistic that hits close to home. Anecdotes from volunteers or from those you serve will help demonstrate the positive impact your organization is making in the community, and will help win even greater support for your cause.
  3. Make it relevant. Always make sure your opinion is current by tying it to the latest news cycle and using recent statistics or impact data to support your views.
  4. Make it meaningful. Show readers how the issue affects them and why they should care, even if they aren’t the ones receiving direct services from your nonprofit. Add educational value for your audience by linking to relevant organizations and reports, or including an infographic to visually break down any complicated research findings.
  5. Make it memorable. Get creative, be funny, share an unexpected opinion, make a surprising connection. Remember, your goal is to strike an emotional chord with your readers, so they’ll share your article with others. Don’t be afraid to take some risks!

When it comes to trying to place your op-ed, remember that most publications want exclusive content, so prioritize your favored outlets and submit to just one at a time–then allow about two weeks for the editors to accept or decline your submission. If your op-ed isn’t accepted for publication, don’t be discouraged. Try submitting it to a second-choice publication or rework it, wait for a better news hook, and resubmit it at another time.

If your op-ed is accepted, congratulations! But don’t stop there. It’s hard work to get an editor’s attention, so don’t squander your new access. Let the editor know he or she can call on you for future opinions whenever needed and then be responsive. Also, find out how frequently they publish repeat authors and come back to him or her regularly with fresh ideas. Remember, this is just the beginning to one of the most important media relationships you will cultivate for your nonprofit, so be sure to maintain it for the future.

Are op-eds part of your organization’s communications strategy? Share your experience in the comments below.