I wanted to share something I’m kinda proud of. Recently I was able to help a client place an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle about an important issue here in the city – Superfund sites that threaten neighborhoods.
If you would like to read it, click on the link.
Op-ed, meaning “opposite the editorial page,” is an opinion piece written by the submitter, whereas a regular news story is written by a reporter and is unbiased (we hope). Any positive media story is wonderful, but an op-ed is a platform that allows you to give a fuller picture on a topic. If you are lucky enough to get an op-ed, you need to be ready to incorporate it into your stewardship and public outreach.
Here are a few tips to consider about submissions:
Nobody has to publish anything you write. Editors are busy, they have a good understanding of what is important for the community, and they have limited space. They publish word counts and other formatting requirements; follow them. If they are willing to consider your submission, be grateful. If they aren’t, be understanding.
You need to have something to say. Chances are the topic is already newsworthy; what do you have to offer that is genuine and compelling? In this case the paper has covered the ongoing cleanup at the site and the media has given a lot of attention to the train wreck and spill in Ohio. What my client could offer was the perspective that the same chemicals that threaten residents from the train wreck threaten residents in Houston and have been for more than 20 years!
There is a difference between important and interesting. The instructions for doing my taxes are important this month, but they sure aren’t interesting. It doesn’t matter how important your issue is; if it isn’t interesting enough to grab people’s attention, no one will read it.
It needs to be in your voice. Your authenticity and believability flow from your unique way of explaining or adding color to an issue. The paper doesn’t need something that reads like a regular news story; they already have reporters who do that. It also shouldn’t read like something that was written by a committee.
Be accurate. Your opinions need to be backed up by facts. Be ready for editors to ask some tough questions. For this op ed, we provided footnotes with links to the sources of all of the statements in the piece.
Manage your board’s expectations. I have been involved in op-ed submissions where we had been accepted and then we were bumped by a bigger story.
Have an action plan ready to go after the piece is published. In my client’s case, we had a donation popup on the nonprofit website as soon as it was published. We put a pdf and link on their blog page and quickly sent emails out to all of their supporters. It will now become part of the marketing collateral that they use with grant submissions and new supporter outreach.
One final note - It helped that my client Texas Health and Environment Alliance, along with its collaborator CEER, had already established a strong reputation for leading with the facts and focusing on science instead of hype. After all, reputation is a nonprofit’s strongest calling card.