[ This article is part 2 of our Content Marketing Basics Class series. Learn what content marketing is and how it works in part 1 of the series: Content Marketing 101: Understanding this modern marketing tactic ]
Sometimes trying to break through an extremely noisy digital world and get noticed by the people who matter can feel like walking through Disney World on spring break, desperately searching for your lost child with a common name.
“Michael! Michael! Can you hear me? Where are you?”
You might earn a curious glance from other parents with children named Michael, and maybe all people named Michael will turn their heads toward you—but the one person who matters, the Michael with your last name, never seems to be in the right place at the right time to hear your cry.
The same can be true in the communications arena, when you post an announcement on social media, write a blog post or create an amazing infographic, then simply pray that the right people will see it and engage.
You’ve created content — maybe even amazing content — but if you’re just putting it out there for the masses, with no direction or plan, you might as well be screaming “Michael!” at Disney World.
Content marketing must be part of your plan
Several years ago, it would have been considered adequate to create a communications tool (a newsletter, for example), publish it, mail it to your donor base and call it a day. You could mark it off your to-do list until the next issue came due. Your donors, media and other important audiences would receive the newsletter, read it, attend an event you promoted within its pages, fill out the included donation card and mail it back to you. Done.
Today, it's different. We can no longer trust that anyone will read our newsletter. Most would rather search for what they want to know online.
You need them to find their answers, and you need those answers to come from you.
The challenge? People and organizations are publishing content online at record-breaking paces. In fact, Smart Insights reports that in just 60 seconds, people publish online:
• 500 hours of video to YouTube
• 149,513 emails
• 3.3 million posts on Facebook
• 448,800 tweets on Twitter
• 65,972 photos on Instagram
• 1,440 blogs on WordPress
The solution? Content marketing.
Why content marketing?
Your audiences expect it.Key findings of Abila’s Donor Loyalty Study reveal that, “Content is NOT just king; it’s money. Nearly 75 percent of respondents say they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content, including vague content, dull content, irrelevant content and inconvenient formatting.”
It’s effective.Content marketing is the most effective way your nonprofit can manage to break through that clutter and be found, heard and funded. You provide something of value for your audiences, they find it, it tugs at their heartstrings (or makes them laugh, or instills another emotion), they decide they want to help in some way, they make a donation or sign up to volunteer, then they share it with their friends.
It works because it starts with you giving them something of value, rather than you simply announcing why your work is important. Content about how fantastic your organization is, how much money it raised last year, or how many people are involved will not be shared. It might not even be read.
For content marketing to work, it must be interesting, visual and focused on those whom your organization affects. You must tell stories.
It’s a natural fit.Nonprofit organizations are naturally rich with storytelling potential. Your work ultimately affects life (whether it be people, animals or the environment) in a positive way. Someone or something is hurting, requires help or needs something to change.
Ultimately, you’re changing lives, and the stories behind those lives are your content.
Because your mission is of human interest, your nonprofit organization will find content marketing to be easier and more effective than any for-profit, product-focused business.
People love stories. They read and watch them. They relate to them. They share them. And all of that works in your favor when you’re a nonprofit looking to make change in the world.
Remember the famous quote from Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” That why works in your favor.
Are these obstacles keeping you from trying content marketing?
Let's consider the realistic obstacles nonprofit organizations may face when creating and implementing strategies like content marketing:
Don't let these common challenges deter you from implementing a content-marketing strategy — and don't simply find the least labor-intensive, easiest and cheapest way to get it done. As with any successful marketing or communications strategy, you will get the best results when you adequately prepare for a well-planned, comprehensive, overall strategy.
How to tackle the restraints
Limited staff. Content marketing can be a lot of work, and nonprofit communications and marketing teams are frequently smaller than average. Ideally, your organization should consider beefing up the staff devoted to communication and marketing, recognizing that the stories they tell and the engagement they encourage are keys to fundraising and getting people involved in your organization.
If hiring more staff isn’t an option, keep reading.
- Traditional media—television, radio and even newspapers
- Printed materials—rack cards, newsletters, reports, infographics, brochures, fact sheets, letters and much more
- Online media—social media, external blogs and online news sites
No one person can do it all and do it well. Adding 20 hours to your workweek so you can manage to be “everywhere,” will only increase your stress, ultimately creating burn-out and employee turnover, neither of which will benefit your organization.
There are other options.
- Bring in outside help. Working with an outside agency that knows your organization and audiences, understands content marketing, offers a wide variety of related services (including social media, graphic design, writing, photography, website design and website management) and is available as needed can be an efficient and cost-effective way to expand your capabilities without having to add staff.
- Identify key channels and tactics, and focus your energy there. Don’t try to be present on all social media outlets. Pick two that reach your audience best, and focus your time on making the most of those platforms. Find other tactics you can live without, as well. Maybe you focus primarily on social media and only on media relations when necessary, for example. Doing one or two tactics very well is more likely to be effective than doing 10 tactics only so-so.
Limited in-house skill sets. If your organization only has one or two people dedicated to communications and/or marketing, you’re likely to find that there are some tactical production needs that can’t be covered in-house. This, too, is a good reason to bring a creative-communications agency to the table. Frequently, agencies are able to employ multiple individuals who are particularly strong in certain areas and can pull in the right person for the right project.
For the cost of only a day’s work, you can essentially hire a professional photographer, a writer and a designer for three hours each. Having the same talent on staff could require hiring three different people—and paying their salaries long-term. An agency will only cost you when you need the help.
Alternatively, you could find and hire:
- a freelance writer if you need help writing blog posts
- a freelance designer if you want that blog post to offer a downloadable tool like a workbook
- a freelance photographer if you want to have in that blog post or workbook photos that feature the actual people (or animals, state parks, etc.) your work benefits.
Just be sure that if you go this route, you are allowing yourself a little extra time to coordinate the work among those outside vendors.
Limited budget. Don’t put it off. Acknowledge that the more information about thousands of subjects is available online, the more committed you will need to be to reach your ideal audiences. Don’t wait for a significant financial gift or grant, and don’t ignore content marketing until you “have more money available.” Your decision to finance your content-marketing strategy must be proactive and strategic.
“Nonprofits have to make budgeting for content a priority when creating their budgets,” says Russell Sparkman of FusionSpark Media in an article on the Content Marketing Institute blog. “The reality of the world we live in today is that content for advancing nonprofit goals is as essential as oxygen is to breathing. It can’t be an afterthought or a task relegated to the when-we-can-afford-it shelf.”
Also, recognize that a potentially significant portion of your audience engagement will come as a result of content marketing. And that audience engagement is what will drive people to support your organization.
Content marketing if often a better decision than traditional marketing, particularly for organizations with small budgets.
- Content marketing is a more affordable alternative to “traditional” marketing, such as newspaper, television and billboard advertising. The cost to plan, produce and publish those types of advertisements is far more expensive than the cost to hire an agency to produce content for you.
- Content you create for content marketing will accumulate over time, building your library of stories, tips and other items that could be useful for your audiences for years to come. And because it’s published on a medium that you own (your website or blog, for example), you can keep it available for as long as you’d like. Compare that with the three-week lifespan of a television ad, for example. Once it’s over, no one will see that ad again unless you pay to publish it again.
It all comes down to this.
The communications test of our times has only one question: How do you reach your audiences?
It’s not by simply yelling a common name in a large, crowded theme park. It’s about knowing that Michael needs his mom or dad (and vice versa), and you need to be absolutely sure he can find you. Engage with the crowd. Go to where you think he would look for you. Be visible. Say what he needs to hear. And don’t let him go once you find him.
Your audiences—potential and current donors, volunteers, media, funders, elected officials and more—want to hear from you. They want you to provide the information that matters to them. They want to be able to easily understand what you tell them. And they want to make a difference in the world. Make it easy for them through content marketing.
Want help getting started?
CorComm Creative is a team of writers, designers, photographers, content marketers, social media pros and project managers who can help you develop and execute a content-marketing plan that will help you reach your organization’s goals. Contact us to learn more.
- “Nonprofit Marketing in 2017: Challenges, Strategies and Examples,” by Ann Gynn. Content Marketing Institute. June 11, 2017.
- “Are You a Nonprofit Content Marketing Idiot?” by Claire Axelrad. Maximize Social Business. Accessed April 25, 2018.
- “A Content Marketing Strategy Guide for Nonprofit Marketers,” by Venus Tamturk. CMS Connected. Nov. 6, 2017.
- “Donor Loyalty Study: A Deep Dive into Donor Behaviors and Attitudes,” by Rich Dietz and Brandy Keller, Abila. 2016. Accessed April 25, 2018.
- “How to Mobilize Donors with Nonprofit Content Marketing,” IronPaper. Insights blog. April 12, 2017.