Once upon a time, many moons ago, I was a lawyer.
Here’s what I learned:
If you tell a story with a purpose, knowing what you want folks to think and believe, you’ll be able to persuade folks to do what you want. The quicker you can get something across, and the more you can help folks to visualize your purpose, the better.
This is exactly what you can do – lickety-split — with content marketing.
But you still must begin with the basics. The stuff any good lawyer knows.
You don’t put stuff into evidence if it’s unrelated to helping you win your argument.
You don’t use arguments that contradict or undermine each other.
You stay focused.
Every argument contributes to the story you want to tell.
Content worth offering has a purpose.
Just as the point of the lawyer’s opening statement is to set the stage for winning, never forget that the point of social media and content marketing is to keep your business in operation.
This means you must deliver content that attracts investors – either purchasers of your products or services or philanthropic donors.
This means if you think social media is window dressing or a just a pastime for an administrative assistant (“See if you can get us more fans and followers”), you’re missing your purpose.
If you think “I need to post every month; any old thing will do,” you’re not going to get very far. Ultimately you want to raise money, right?
You need to think about your desired action response. You need a call to action. It can be active, like “Donate,” “Volunteer,” “Come to our event,” “Share this message” or “Sign this Petition.” Or it can be subtle and indirectly expressed, like “feel like this is wrong” or “feel something has to change.”
Content marketing is really about courtship.
You’ve got to make folks like and trust you. This is true if you’re a lawyer arguing a case, and it’s true if you’re a fundraiser trying to sustain a supporter relationship. You’ve got to woo folks before and after they get introduced to you. Before and after they make a gift. The gift (or other customer relationship with your nonprofit) is just the beginning of the relationship. If you don’t keep the relationship going, it’s going to die a natural death.
It’s a lot like a first date. If your date is a big blowhard and doesn’t try to get to know you, listen to you or express any interest in what you think, you’re going to want to get the heck out of there as fast as you can.
You can’t talk to your supporters like they’re brick walls. That’s how people used to do marketing. It was all outbound. “We’re great.” “This is what we do.” You should support us.”
Donors want to be participants.
They want to be heard. People don’t stay in relationships if they’re not active in them. They fall by the wayside.
Today’s charities only keep 2 out of 10 new donors. They keep only 43% of donors overall. This says to me that there’s very little participation going on. And nonprofits really should know this in the age of “big data,” as there are lots of ways to track participation to see the kind of impact you’re having with your content.
Nonprofits don’t ask enough questions about constituent engagement with them.
- How many open this?
- How many click through to read this?
- How much time did they spend on the page?
- How many comment on it?
- How many share it?
You need to measure the return on your relationship building.
Why don’t nonprofits do this more?
I believe the number one culprit is the way marketing was introduced to nonprofits. Very grudgingly. Back in the day, nonprofits didn’t want anything to do with “business.” It’s the reason they called fundraising and marketing “development.” Later on, when they decided to become more “businesslike,” they added in marketing departments. And these were siloed from development. They weren’t integrated.
Today, fundraising staff must think not just like lawyers, but like marketers. And vice-versa.
Everyone must sit together at the table and ask important questions. Like “why aren’t we making our case?” Like “why are we losing donors so fast?”
One of my favorite books is Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human”. His premise is that we’re all in sales. Every day. Whether we’re trying to get our kids out of the house in the morning or persuade our boss to give us a raise (or persuade a jury to decide in our favor), we’re constantly coaxing people to induce a specific, desired behavior.
This is what fundraising is all about. We’re all in fundraising now.
Fundraisers and marketers alike are oriented towards driving revenue to support your organization.
Sales and fundraising are the same thing. They’re about making a match between what you have to offer and what your customer wants. Consumer marketers are selling a product or service. Nonprofit marketers are selling an opportunity to change the world.
Too often in nonprofits, however, marketing communications become a bit divorced from fundraising objectives. I’m not saying that marketing departments are oblivious to desired outcomes. I’m just saying it’s easy to lose sight of these aims.
You can’t afford to lose the forest for the trees.
Rather than keeping the big picture – the organization’s vision and mission – at the forefront, folks get lost in crossing t’s, dotting i’s and meeting deadlines. In the quest for perfection, sometimes a focus on craft (wordsmithing, visuals, design) comes at the expense of assuring the content delivers its’ required punch.
In the rush to get things checked off the list, sometimes the purpose gets buried under the work-plan — layers of ‘to-do’s’ such as who’s going to write, design, photo shoot and promote the content, and when.
One of the reasons I continually implore nonprofits to formally integrate their fundraising and marketing functions is because, otherwise, something inevitably gets lost in the translation.
You must focus your content and messaging on your large mission-focused common goal.
It’s the only way to get your marketing and fundraising staff speaking the same language.
If you’re a marketer thinking “this doesn’t apply to me because the lion’s share of our revenue comes from student enrollment, patients, ticket patrons…,” listen up! You’re all speaking to the same constituencies. You can’t be speaking with different messaging from different sides of your mouth. It’s confusing to folks.
You must get on the same page.
EXAMPLE: Integrated sales and fundraising:
I’m a subscriber and donor to a local theater group. I recently attended a play where the director got up on stage before the performance and talked first about the company’s mission. She described it as an “empathy gym.” A place where people can come and exercise their emotions. After sharing this mission with folks, she asked: “How many of you are subscribers?” When people raised their hands she thanked them profusely: “Bravo! You make this all possible. We couldn’t do this without you.” Then she asked: “How many of you are donors?” Again, she thanked these folks generously saying “You know, the subscriptions are so important but they only cover 50% of our expenses.” Then she added: “Don’t worry if you don’t have your hand raised. There’s still hope for you! On the way out there will be volunteers ready to accept your donation and talk to you about a subscription.”
EXAMPLE: Disconnected marketing and fundraising:
Imagine you need to secure donations for a program for which you have a matching challenge grant deadline looming. You tell the marketing department you’d like them to showcase a compelling article about that program in your upcoming blog or newsletter. They put it on their “to-do” list. A few days later, the E.D. emphatically tells marketing to feature an article about an award your nonprofit just won. She wants the top sidebar to feature a photo of her receiving the award. Her request moves to the top of the list; your article gets bumped underneath where folks have to scroll down to even see it. And instead of a big donate button calling folks to action, there’s a small link.
Everyone in your organization needs to focus on why what you do is important.
Your vision, mission and values are emotional. And the emotional connection to what you do should be included in all your content. Think about “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” That was an emotional argument. What’s yours?
Hospitals have a healing mission. Patients understand this. They want the hospital to be there for them. Schools have an education mission. Students recognize this. They’re grateful for it, and many of them donate when they graduate.
Sometimes your message is more subtle; sometimes more upfront. But you should always wrap your messaging in a story that targets the heart. No matter who you’re connecting with.
One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make is not taking advantage of opportunities staring them in the face.
They avoid asking for donations from those who are already loyal constituents. They’re afraid to lose these folks by “bothering” them with a request for monetary support. I’ve seen this extend even to direct service volunteers — and these are the folks who statistically donate the most!
Think about this. Your already satisfied customers deserve to be offered the opportunity to help others benefit from your mission as well. Someone who came to your play got a nice, emotional experience. Someone who came to your hospital got healed; how emotional is that? Did you ever think these folks might also want to take the next logical step and share their positive experience with your nonprofit with a friend?
I constantly marvel at the fact that the same folks who love sharing the latest “hot” restaurant or movie with their friends are unwilling to consider sharing their love for your nonprofit’s work. I’ll ask them “Why are you being so selfish? Why won’t you share this love with others?”
Marketing and sales staff shouldn’t be afraid to share your wonderful vision and mission.
Yet human beings are naturally wired to fear loss more than to anticipate gain. This leads to a culture of scarcity. No one wants to lose anything. Folks become very territorial.
I used to work at an arts organization where the marketing team cared only about “butts in seats.” Trying to get them to incorporate a fundraising message into their content was next to impossible. Guess what happens as a result? You end up with all sorts of different voices coming out of your organization. A marketing voice. Sales voice. Fundraising voice. Volunteer service voice. It’s schizophrenic.
And it makes no room for the constituent’s all-important voice. If you don’t know what your audiences care about, ask them. Trial attorneys never assume they know their jurors. They do research. You should too.
Develop a culture of abundance… a culture of philanthropy… a culture of service.
An environment where everyone is customer and donor-centered.
ACTION TIP: Get different departments together once a month to talk about your content messaging. Because everyone has a stake in it. For example, program staff can talk about what’s happening on the ground. Fundraising staff can translate this into something that will touch donors’ hearts. Marketing staff can listen to development staff; then take these stories and promote them through various media channels.
The point is to make every storytelling opportunity count. Everything should weave together seamlessly, no matter which department wrote the content.
Consistently tell a purposeful story, knowing what you want folks to think and believe
Philanthropy means “love of humankind.” That’s the business the social benefit sector is in. Everybody who works in nonprofit organizations is in that business. No one department is more important than another. No one says “It’s not my job to do that.”
The definition of a community is a group that takes care of each other.
Did you know that Darwin really posited the notion of survival of the most empathic? “Survival of the fittest” was something Spencer posited, and his theories are erroneously credited to Darwin, who used the term “fit” in another sense. Darwin found that communities that cared for each other were the most “fit” — they survived longer than communities that did not.
It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?