If you’re a nonprofit in 2017, you might be feeling weary from your traditional outreach and marketing efforts. You might have a sense of doubt as you drop a pile of appeal letters into the outgoing mail, or you could feel somewhat stunned when a human actually answers your repeated phone calls. Yesterday’s modes of nonprofit marketing just aren’t getting the same results with today’s audiences.
Modern donors require something more in exchange for their attention—something many marketers in the private sector have already figured out and that can be transformative for nonprofits: content marketing.
What Is Content Marketing?
One way to define content marketing is a “plan to grow and engage your customer base that is built around discovering what you can do for someone else, developing and delivering related content, and then measuring the results.”
In practical terms, this means pausing to spend more time on what your target audience needs instead of what your nonprofit wants to tell them. Before people will listen to your appeals, they need to know you and trust you. Content marketing is about developing material that focuses on their interests and needs so that you build that credibility.
This type of marketing is strategic and requires you to always think about your target audience and what you want them to do. The end goal can still be a donor making a gift or a corporate partner sending you teams of volunteers, but content marketing starts the conversation in a different way—one that provides value to your audience first.
9 Tips to Get Started
The first step is to grab a notepad, sit down with your team, and start talking. Discuss the points below and make some decisions. This won’t be your last meeting about the overall plan, but it’s enough to get going.
Define Your Audience
For every content marketing initiative, choose one group of stakeholders to reach, be it your potential donors, existing recurring donors, or other group.
Identify What Your Audience Needs
Resist approaching your plan from what you want to say, and concentrate first on what your audience wants to hear. If you’re a youth services organization trying to build relationships with local businesses, you can develop helpful content about summertime activities for their employees who are parents. Start by identifying the needs of those parents and children.
Define the Ultimate Goal
Whether your long-term goals are to acquire X undesignated gifts, acquire strategic partners, or increase your volunteer force, it’s unlikely a single blog post will instantly achieve any of those things. However, understanding your end goal will help you identify and craft the content that will move a prospect further down the funnel.
Specify the Content Pieces for Your Funnel
As mentioned, you need to build a track of content that nurtures prospects toward greater acts of support, like making a gift. Think of these multiple steps in the pathway as micro-conversions toward the ultimate goal.
For example, a single blog article could ask a reader to take actions as small as:
- Sharing your content on social media
- Signing up for a newsletter
- Giving you their contact information
- Clicking the “contact us” button
- Taking one small advocacy action like downloading your legislator call sheet
These series of steps can draw people in more deeply into your mission and increase the likelihood of a donation or personal fundraising page.
Identify the Content in Your Funnel
This could be blog posts, toolkits, ebooks, or whitepapers. The more valuable it is to a reader, the more likely they will be to take an action like signing up for your mailing list.
Leverage Your Expertise and Authority
Look around the table. Your experts and writers might be right there. You can also interview your supporters and stakeholders in the community and on your board to capture their insights.
Identify the Best Channels
Don’t attempt everything. Much of your content will probably go on your own website, in your own newsletter, and on your social media accounts. But don’t feel like you should have a presence on every platform that comes along. This goes back to understanding your target audience—find out where they are, and take your content there.
Establish a Timeline
It’s important to have reasonable expectations because content marketing takes time to show results. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be planned and tracked. Set a date for when you want to achieve a certain goal—acquiring X new donors or subscribers, for example—and plan backward from there. Create a process to track your metrics and progress toward your goal.
Remember to allow time for the stages of writing and copyediting: clarifying the assignment, choosing the writer, researching/interviewing/writing, and editing.
Plan to Measure
Some people make the mistake of not taking content marketing seriously enough to measure it. If you pick a single metric and source of data, you can build from there. You can measure clicks from organic search results or visitors to your website (via Google Analytics); email signups (from your email newsletter software); or the number of people who fill out your contact form.
A Final Note About Those Appeal Letters
As for your old school appeals, if mailings are working for your organization, you don’t need to cut them off entirely. However, content marketing can help you integrate offline and online strategies so that you can reach greater audiences and enable them to do more, and more easily. If your content marketing plan is effective, you should begin to experience organic growth and increased attention from the right people. The donors may even start calling you.
Shari Shallard is an Assistant Editor at McGuire Editorial Content Marketing Agency and a writer specializing in content marketing, edtech, and B2B communications. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.