How to Go Viral: Media Outreach for Personal Fundraisers

(May we have your attention, please.)

One of the most frequent questions we get at Razoo is, “How do I get strangers to donate to my online fundraiser?” The truth is that most personal fundraisers don’t get donations from strangers — crowdfunding works by creating a page where you can gather support from your family, friends, co-workers and supporters. But once in awhile there is a special fundraiser that takes off and inspires people from all over the country to donate. How do they do it? In most cases, it’s because they’ve enlisted the help of the media.

Media outreach might sound like a scary concept, but trust us, it’s not! Believe it or not, people who work for newspapers, magazines, news stations and websites want to hear from anyone who has story ideas. The media has to crank out a tremendous amount of content each day to keep up with our 24-hour news cycle so you’re actually doing them a favor by approaching them with an idea for a story. Don’t be shy about reaching out to the media. They want to hear from you!

Before you start reaching out to the media to tell them about your fundraiser, there are a few things you’ll want to do first:

  • Make sure your Razoo page is in tip-top shape. This page is the centerpiece of your fundraising efforts so it’s vitally important to make sure it’s as compelling, attractive and engaging as it can possibly be. You can find a guide to making your Razoo page awesome here. If you need feedback on your page, let us know! Our Crowdfunding Support Specialists are happy to help you improve your page and your story.
  • Fine-tune your story. This is what you’ll be trying to sell reporters on: your story. Not only is it important to your fundraising efforts overall to have a well-written and engaging story on your page, it’s essential if you want the media to help you reach new audiences. Find out more about how to tell your story here. You’ll also want to make sure your story makes sense to people who don’t know you personally, so it may be helpful to have someone else give you feedback on any parts of your story that aren’t clear or could use more detail.
  • Get donations. The media tends to pick up stories about fundraisers that are already gaining traction and getting donations — it’s highly unlikely that anyone from the media would publish a story about your fundraiser if it hasn’t already some donations. They will be looking at how many donations and comments your page has gotten to gauge how interesting your story might be to others, so if you’re still struggling to get your first few donations or you haven’t raised more than $100, focus on reaching out to your family and friends first before contacting the media. Not sure how to get donations? Read this!

So, if you’re confident that your page is awesome, your story is compelling, and you’ve got donations rolling in from family and friends, here’s how to start contacting the media.

What’s Your Angle?

The media isn’t going to pick up your story just because they want to help you. They’re going to publish stories based on how interesting it might be to their readers. So sending them a link to your fundraiser asking them to help won’t work — their interest isn’t in helping you raise money, it’s in publishing a good story.

You’ll have a better shot at getting media coverage if you figure out what kind of story you’re telling and how it’s relevant to the media’s interests.

So, what can you do to convince the media that they should be interested in your story? Here are a few tips:

  • Tie your story into a current event. The media is interested in what’s happening right now so one of the best ways to get them interested is to connect your story to something bigger happening in the world. For instance, if health insurance is in the news and you are fundraising on Razoo because you need help with medical bills after losing your insurance, that would be a great way to grab the media’s attention because it shows the impact of a larger issue on an individual.
  • Tie your story into annual events and/or holidays. We all know the big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but think outside of the box when you’re pitching your story! Many causes have “awareness months” — check out this calendar to see if there are any related to your cause. So, if you’re raising funds for a friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, the media might be more receptive to your story during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re a veteran, you’ll want to make sure you contact the media about your story around Veterans Day and so forth.
  • Tell a story bigger than your fundraiser. Regardless of what we think at Razoo, online fundraisers are not interesting stories by themselves to most reporters. So instead of focusing on the reason you’re raising money, try to tell a broader story that involves your fundraiser. For instance, some stories that have gone viral recently involved chance encounters among strangers, like a police department starting a fundraiser for a student found sleeping outside of his school, and a university student starting a fundraiser to help one of the school’s janitors. Think of the events that lead to your fundraiser being created — is there a story there that might interest the media?

You’ll have more luck if you send a specific idea to the media, rather than a general plea for help.

Choose your targets

Unfortunately there’s no way you can grab a megaphone and tell all members of the media about your story all at once. You’ll have to do a little bit of legwork to find appropriate media outlets for your story as well as the names and contact information of specific reporters. The good news is that Google makes this much easier.

Here’s how to find your targets:

  • Start a list. The easiest way to stay organized when you’re doing this kind of outreach is by starting a list or creating a spreadsheet with the name and contact information of each outlet or reporter you’d like to contact. You can use free programs like Google Sheets for this.
  • Brainstorm media outlets to contact. Think of any local news stations, newspapers, magazines and websites that might be interested in your story. It’s best to think small when you’re just starting out — reporters from your small local paper are more likely be more interested than, say, The New York Times or The Washington Post.
  • Use personal connections. Knowing someone on the inside is the best way to get your foot in the door, so think of anyone you know connected to local media and add them to your list! Even if they don’t call the shots when it comes to what gets covered, they may know who to contact or be able to forward an email from you.
  • Find contact information. Most media outlets make their contact information pretty easy to find — you will most often find it in their website’s “About” section, or down in the footer of their website.
We found the contact info for local news station WJLA in their website’s footer…
  • Hone your list. Reporters usually have an assigned subject they focus on called a “beat.” It’s important to pay attention to that when contacting the media — you don’t want to contact your local crime reporter about your fundraiser for Mr. Whiskers, your cat. Take a look at each media outlet website: is there a particular staff member who seems to post lots of human interest or “feel-good” stories about people in the community? If so, they are the person you want to contact! If they don’t have their email address listed, you may be able to find a Twitter handle you can use to contact them.

Make contact

Once you’ve got your list of media outlets and the email addresses you need in your list or spreadsheet, it’s time to start reaching out! Here are a few tips:

  • Write a draft. Before sending out that first email, we recommend writing a draft in a word processing program like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. This will help you collect your thoughts, catch any typos and give you the chance to read over your email before sending it to ensure that you present yourself well.
  • Use a personal greeting (if you can). If you were able to find a specific person to contact about your story, use their name! “Hello Ryan,” you’ll want start your email to a reporter from your local news station named Ryan. Generic greetings like “hi there” and “good afternoon” may be unavoidable if all you could find was a general contact email address, but make your greeting personal as often as you can!
  • Don’t attach anything to your email. Reporters won’t open attachments, so make sure you say everything you need to say in the body of your email. If you have a picture you want to share, embed it in the body of the email.
  • Keep it brief. Reporters get lots of emails every day: press releases, comments from readers, story ideas from the public. They won’t read a long email so try to limit your correspondence to four sentences or so, and make to grab their attention with the first line to ensure that they read on.
  • Make your “ask” clear. Again, reporters have limited time, so don’t “bury the lead.” Make sure it’s crystal clear what you’re asking! You can use phrases like “I have an idea for a story that would be perfect for your newspaper…” to ensure that they quickly understand the purpose of your email.
  • Include a link to your fundraiser. This may seem obvious but it’s easy to forget!
  • Include your contact information. This is another important thing that can be easy to forget! Make sure you sign your email with your full name and include your phone number.
  • Invite them to an event. Lastly, a story is only as good as its visuals. Hosting an in-person fundraiser for your friend’s cancer fund? Is your son turning 7 this weekend and donating money for his birthday to his favorite pet charity? Invite the reporter to your event so they can take great photos to go along with the story!
  • Email on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are slow news days, so you’ll have a better chance of getting in touch with a reporter then!

If you’re reaching out via Twitter, here’s how to make the most impact:

  • Consider asking for a retweet. A RT can help you get exposure for your fundraiser and takes mere seconds for the user you’re asking to do. So it’s an easy ask. If your only means of reaching out to a particular member of the media is on Twitter, consider just asking for a RT.
  • Include a link to your fundraiser. You can find a shortened link to your fundraiser by clicking the Twitter share button on your page.
  • Don’t spam. If you tweet at a reporter about the same thing every day, they could report you as spam (and you’ll probably annoy them). So just ask once.

Accept the reporter’s response (or lack thereof)

Three things may happen when you reach out to the media: you might get an interested response (hooray!), you might get politely declined, and you might get no response whatsoever.

Don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response — as we said, reporters must sort through a lot of requests and story ideas, and they can’t use all of them. It’s okay to politely follow up once, but if you still don’t get a response, accept it as a “no” and move on to the next media outlet on your list.

All it takes is one media outlet to show interest in your story, so be resilient! Usually one media outlet picks up a story, then another picks it up, and so on and so forth until people start sharing the story with one another on social media. “Going viral” starts with one story so don’t be put out if you cast a wide net and don’t get as many responses as you’d hoped.

If you’re not having any success reaching out to the media or getting any responses, step back and take a long look at the following factors:

  • How have you been reaching out to them? If you’ve only been reaching out using Twitter or email, try using another method.
  • What have you been saying? If what you’ve been writing isn’t getting the reaction you want, try something a little different.
  • What angle have you been pitching? Try looking at your story differently to see if there’s another way you can get the media intrigued by your story.

Don’t let your media outreach distract you from other fundraising efforts

Having your story picked up by the media can be a great way to reach new audiences and get support from people outside of your social network, but don’t pin the success of your fundraiser on the success of your media outreach.

Whether the media shows an interest in your story depends on a lot of factors beyond your control, such as what stories they’re already working on and what’s happening in the world. (You’ll have a much harder time getting the media’s attention during a presidential election or after a natural disaster or recent tragedy, for instance.) A lot of it also depends on sheer luck. So keep plugging away to get donations, shares, comments, and likes on your fundraiser while you reach out to the media.

Even if you don’t “go viral,” you can still have a successful fundraiser and meet your goal! Media outreach and fundraising take a lot of persistence, strategy and resilience so keep going, even if you don’t become the next viral sensation.