You can have the most newsworthy, substantive, innovative announcement of the day, and it’s still possible you won’t get any media coverage for your nonprofit.

Often times, this is because nonprofit communicators overlook the most crucial element of media outreach: the media list.

The media list

The media list is the keystone to any successful media outreach plan. Successful media outreach means securing quality media coverage in the outlets your audience reads. Successful media outreach can make your stakeholders, executive director and funders very happy people. Successful media outreach relies heavily on a solid media list.

Why? A solid media list equips you with the tools and insight necessary to reach out to reporters thoughtfully. Pitching good story ideas to the right reporters will build credibility for you and your nonprofit, and ultimately lead to media coverage.

Follow these three steps to build a solid media list that you can reference time and again when conducting media outreach for your nonprofit.

Identify the scope of your story

First, take a close look at your news story and ask yourself: who will care about this story?

If you’re pitching new evaluation data that illustrates the impact of your nonprofit’s work in your local community, then your best bet will probably be to identify reporters at local publications. If your news impacts multiple regions or affects national policy, consider nationally distributed outlets like the Washington Post, The Atlantic or NPR.

Dedicate time to research

Research the media outlet and the reporter you intend to pitch thoroughly. Just go ahead and look at their whole online presence. I’m not kidding! You want to find out what gets them excited, what their hot button topics are, what their priorities are — and document that on your media list. When you reach out to reporters, especially for the first time, you want to be informed about what they write about.

We took this approach when pitching Oregon’s Giving Tuesday efforts last winter. We identified a news reporter for the Statesman Journal, a newspaper based in Oregon’s capitol, Salem. Though this reporter’s title was simply “news reporter,” a little research led us to her Twitter profile and a collection of her past articles, which showed that she has a soft spot for causes. We added her to our media list, pitched her a story about Giving Tuesday, and landed media coverage in the Statesman Journal online.

Make the list

A one-time investment in building a clean and detailed media list will be your godsend. It will ensure that when you conduct future media outreach, you have a strong foundation of contacts on which you can build.

There are a few media list building tools out there that are commonly found at public relations agencies, but they are often expensive and bound by contracts. We prefer using a simple Excel spreadsheet to track your contacts. Make sure to include the following elements:

  • Media outlet name: We prefer to alphabetize media lists based on outlet name to quickly identify priority outlets on our list.
  • Media outlet type: Specifying the type of outlet (ie: print, online, TV, radio, blog) will inform your pitch. For example, pitching a TV news show on your fundraising event is different than pitching a newspaper. Television reporters will want to know things like: what kind of visuals are present at the event? Who will be there for interview? Are they good on camera?
  • Contact name: Address each pitch to the specific person, not the outlet.
  • Contact title or beat: Identify not only their title, but what types of stories they write.
  • Contact email: Email communication is typically preferred.
  • Contact phone number: Though most reporters these days prefer to be pitched via email, there may come a time when you need to pick up the phone, and having that phone number handy will make your life easy.
  • Notes: This is perhaps my favorite section of a media list and probably the most important. This is where you can fill in all those wonderful, relevant nuggets of information that you discovered when stalking researching reporters. Keep this section updated so you can reference in future media outreach.
  • Owner/Status: This is a handy section of a media list if multiple staff members are supporting a media outreach effort. Here, you can note who is in charge of pitching this outlet, and what their status is.

This is how your list might look in format:





You will be so thankful for your media list when an urgent announcement for your organization pops up and you need to act quick! Instead of panicking, you’ll be able to look to your handy dandy list and conduct media outreach in a breeze.

Do you have media list-building tips or tricks?