Two of the 7 core strategies nonprofits must master in the post-digital age are:
(1) Building a robust content marketing strategy, and
(2) Becoming proficient with online social marketing and fundraising.
These strategies are equally important and must be integrated. I’ve written numerous times on the subject, both here [see “How to Build a Well-Oiled Nonprofit Online Content Marketing Strategy,” “Nonprofit Content Marketing, Storytelling & Social Media,” “Social Media without a Content Marketing Strategy Sucks,” and “Why Nonprofit Social Media is a Waste of Time”], on Clairification and elsewhere.
In a post-digital age, it’s THAT important.
Today I’m going to focus on content marketing because your communications really begin there. Ultimately, nonprofits are in the business of storytelling, and a strategic approach like content marketing is an ideal way to tell that story.
And it shouldn’t be difficult to build a case for making content marketing a core nonprofit strategy. Core. Not ancillary.
If you don’t prioritize content marketing, you won’t do it.
Here’s what one marketing guru and one fundraising expert have to say:
It’s weirdly ironic to me that nonprofits have a struggle making a business case for content. Because mission is the story, right?” – Robert Rose, Content Marketing Institute
Nonprofits are crazy not to focus more on content marketing. – Joe Waters, Selfish Giving
Content marketing can be used for everything from building awareness… to creating and sustaining interest… to boosting engagement… to securing investment.
Every step of your donor’s journey relies on how well you master content marketing. Or don’t.
Don’t despair! You can do this, no matter your cause or your size.
You just have to come at it from the right framework.
Content marketing is not something to simply be relegated to “marketers.”
The entire organization must participate and, in particular, development professionals must play a significant role.
If you, the development professional, wash your hands of responsibility for developing content, you’ll pay a huge price.
Because… development staff, uniquely, are concerned that content is donor-centered.
And unless the content you put forth is relevant, meaningful, inspiring, newsworthy or otherwise useful to your donor or would-be donor, it won’t matter one whit that you put it out there.
Make no mistake: If all you do is tell me how great you are… how many people you served… how big you are… how many awards you won… how many grants you received… how venerable and respected you are… how many staff and volunteers you work with… how many offices you’ve renovated… or how your revised website is awesome… I’m not going to pay you much attention.
Ego-centric content won’t get noticed.
It won’t be read, shared or otherwise acted upon. It will be as if it never even existed.
And then all the time and effort you’ve put into developing your content and building an online marketing and social media strategy will have been one giant time suck. For nothing.
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
— MacBeth, Shakespeare
Have I got your attention?
Meaningless (to donors) content won’t get noticed.
Sadly, too many nonprofits have a slap-dash, frankly idiotic, strategy when it comes to content development.
Most commonly it is driven by three well-meaning things:
- What the Executive Director (or board) thinks is important.
- What program directors think is important (often stuff they want to “sell” – e.g., tickets, appointments, enrollment, membership).
- What deadlines dictate (e.g., it’s time to publish our monthly e-newsletter)
None of these reasons take into account what your audience of donors and prospective donors care about.
Meaningful (and therefore actionable) content begins and ends with people – their needs, interests, and passions. Not yours.
Meaningful (and therefore actionable) content begins and ends with transformational values. Not transactions.
I don’t care that your patient caseload needs a boost. Or your sales of gym memberships are down. Or you need more students. Or need to put more butts in seats. Or you still have golf tournament tickets to sell.
If you can’t make a match between (1) the needs you meet plus the values you enact and (2) the needs I have plus the values I hold dear, then you’re not going to grab my attention.
If you can deliver values-based, donor-centered content, then you’ve got the makings of an honest-to-goodness content marketing strategy that can take wings online and enable your mission to soar.
5 Steps to Build a Values-Based, Donor-Centered Content Marketing Strategy
#1 Determine Goals and Objectives
The goals of your content marketing strategy should align with your organization’s business goals. The key for nonprofits is to ask:
What are we trying to drive? Where do we hurt the most?
Generally, you’re trying to drive some sort of action, right? Maybe it’s cash donations. Or volunteering. Or event attendance. Or signing a petition. Or building your email list. Maybe it’s just engaging influencers to share your message with others to drive broader awareness of your mission and build your reputation, trust and authority.
But towards what end? This is where it’s critical to get inside the heads of your constituencies and ask key questions:
- What issues are top of mind with folks – and how does your organization address them?
- What problems are folks seeking to find answers to — and how could you help them?
- What relevant issues in your field can you offer authoritative comment and/or research on that will set you apart from competitors?
This doesn’t have to be complex. Pick one area, and focus. Create a compelling message, and put it out there consistently. Quality and single-minded effort is more important than quantity and diversity.
Once you’ve built a great piece of content that meets your goals and objectives, repurpose that content multiple times across multiple channels. ‘One and done’ no longer cuts it as a marketing communications strategy. People are busy. They may delete your email today. They may not see your tweet tomorrow. But if you put your content out there consistently, ultimately they’ll get the message. A blog post, for example, can be fodder for a dozen different tweets.
How will you know you’ve been heard? This is where you want to build in KPIs (key performance indicators) – metrics that will enable you to measure success. They should use the principles of SMART:
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Attainable
- R – Realistic
- T – Time-bounded
#2 Create Audience Personas
Creating content in a vacuum is idiotic. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, you can’t offer up something they’ll like.
It’s amazing how, without a plan, you can end up writing 90% of your content for 10% of your readers. So specify your audience in your content calendar, and be sure to change it up.
The best way to build a relevant, values-based content marketing strategy is to create audience personas (a generalized representation of your ideal or target supporter). Once you identify their needs, you can create content to satisfy them.
There are numerous ways to develop personas, including direct feedback from surveys, focus groups, phone calls and in-person meetings and asking your customer-facing employees for their input.
#3 Take a Content Inventory
Every nonprofit has great content hiding in plain sight. It’s now time to look at the content your nonprofit already has by taking inventory of your assets.
Show folks your “youtility”. Be useful. For example:
- Offer tips related to your mission (e.g., “How to Child Proof Your Home;” “5 Ways to Curb Global Warming;” “What to Say to Someone Who’s Been Diagnosed with Cancer”).
- Share ‘gifts’ of content (e.g., “Recommended Summer Reads;” “5 Inspiring Justice Quotes;” “Nutritious After-School Snacks”).
- Suggest opportunities to volunteer, attend events you’ve already got planned and otherwise meet other like-minded folks.
Look at the content that’s already on your website. How might you drive folks here? How might you grab bits and pieces (e.g., stories, photos, and videos) for social media messages and/or your e-newsletter or blog?
Consider what content you have that’s most timely now and, consequently, likely to have greater relevance to your audience. Do you have content to meet the needs of each of your target personas?
Once you’ve inventoried your current content assets, take note of gaps where you’ll want to create new content.
#4 Choose Content Mediums for Your Messages
There are all sorts of ways to show off your goodies. Think of mediums as the gift boxes into which you place your gifts of content, and ribbons with which you tie them up to make the most appealing.
So folks will want to open them.
Pick a bunch of different mediums for the greatest impact. Your “box” may be:
- Social Media
Your pretty ribbons and adornments may be:
- Curated Content
#5 Build a Content Marketing Calendar
Part content strategic plan and part publishing schedule, it’s the foundation of strategic content marketing. Truly a content calendar is an essential relationship-building tool that keeps you focused and timely.
You commit to content having a consistent presence, so your audiences can commit to looking for you, reading you and sharing you with their friends. Plus it gives purpose and structure to your creativity. The plan should include:
- Social networks to post on
- Frequency of publishing content by audience persona, content category, medium, and social network
- Content creation and publication schedule
- Assignment of task responsibility
You can’t afford, in a post-digital age, to ignore the importance of creating a values-based, donor-centered content marketing strategy. One that you will likely rock, very much, online.
Remember: Your audiences have expectations. If you don’t meet them, you’re dead in the water.
- They expect to get good, useful stuff from you.
- They expect to find your content easily, wherever they happen to get their information.
- They expect it to come in an easy to read, easy-to-digest format, whether it arrives via desktop or mobile.
- They expect it to be easy to act on it, should they choose to do so.
Don’t be a nonprofit content marketing idiot. Get smart!
What will you do differently moving forward?