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Five Qualities That Make You a Good Expert Source

Reprinted from

Would you like your nonprofit to get the call when a reporter, producer, lawmaker, or other VIP needs an expert source on the issues you work on? Make sure your nonprofit proves it has these five qualities of a good expert source.

1. A Well-Understood Niche

When people are seeking out experts, they are looking for answers to very specific questions. Experts on broad subject areas are a dime a dozen. What's more valuable are experts on very specific niches within a larger field.

Let's take animal rights for example. Say you are a reporter working on a story about how animals are treated in circuses and other entertainment venues. You wouldn't be interested in talking to some general animal rights advocate who would give you broad quotes and statistics about animal rights. You also wouldn't be interested in talking to someone who focused on protecting cats and dogs from abuse, or someone who advocated vegetarianism to protect farm animals.

You'd want to talk to someone who knew something about elephants, tigers, and sea mammals in captivity, and specifically about how those animals fare when they are performers. Therefore, you'd look for someone who made it known that they worked on those specific issues.

At the same time, you shouldn't define your niche so narrowly that people outside your field don't understand the distinctions you are making.

2. A Solid Track Record

Can you back up what you are saying with a description of your experience, research, or training? Do others in your field consider you a leader—and if so, how do you know that? Sometimes a good title is all you need to be deemed credible, but more often than not, you'll also need some kind of track record to back you up. A list of publications you've written, conferences you've spoken to, and articles where you've been quoted previously can all demonstrate your track record.

3. Trustworthy

No one likes to be misled with bad information or an incomplete story. Always tell the truth. If you don't know an answer, it's OK to guess, but make sure the person you are talking to knows you are guessing.

It's also important to be up front about any biases your organization has. If there's a broad range of opinion on your issues, be clear about where you fit on that spectrum. It's OK to have strong opinions and to advocate for them, but you'll win points if you are transparent about your bias, acknowledge that you represent one particular point of view, and even point a reporter to someone who can offer an opposing perspective.

4. Accessible

You are no good as a source if people can't reach you when they need you. Put your contact information out there. Reporters are often working on deadlines that fall outside normal business hours, so give them your mobile number and take calls in the evening and weekends if that's when they need you (it's OK to ask if the call can wait until a better time, and, if not, to say you only have a few minutes). Check your messages regularly and return calls and e-mails promptly.

5. Cooperative

Being a genius or a great speaker doesn't make you a great source unless you give people what they really need. If a reporter only needs a sound bite or a few short quotes, think and speak in bullet points; don't ramble on. If someone asks about an issue you find boring or inconsequential, don't blow off the question and start talking about what you care about. Answer the question first, then suggest a few additional points.

Kivi Leroux Miller,
© 2012, Kivi Leroux Miller, Reprinted with permission.

five-qualities-that-make-a-good-expert-source_Kivi_Leroux_Miller.jpgKivi Leroux Miller is president of, where she writes the top-ranked blog on nonprofit communications and teaches a weekly webinar series on nonprofit marketing, communications, and fundraising. She is the author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause.


Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice