Maybe by now you’ve started noticing how much junk is out there flying under the flag of content marketing. And maybe you’ve been rolling your eyes in irritation, x-ing out of articles that fail to deliver on their headlines and scrolling through results pages trying to find something of value. So perhaps, as you consider your own nonprofit website, you’re feeling skeptical about my assertion that content marketing can be your most effective tool.
You’re not wrong to be skeptical. Much of the content out there really is junk.
Even the stuff that isn’t overtly promotional is still often badly targeted (which is why you’re encountering results that are irrelevant to you), badly written (hence the eye rolling) and contains little of value (cue your cursor x-ing out of the article).
All that content lacks the key characteristic of being helpful. It promises the world in the headline, and then the actual article is filled with obvious platitudes and thin research. I call this stuff “clickbait-and-switch marketing.”
I bet, right now, most of us could whip up an article for a realtor’s website titled “3 Tips to Make Home Buyers Line Up at Your Door.” Maybe one paragraph about the transformative power of a fresh coat of paint, another about welcome mats freshening up the doorstep, and a third about baking fresh bread an hour before prospective buyers come. In fact, go ahead and Google “home selling tips” right now and you’ll see what I mean.
Why could we each write that, despite not having any unique expertise in house selling? Because the article isn’t saying anything that isn’t obvious. Either it’s common knowledge or easily found. If the article isn’t going to say something beyond the obvious, why publish it?
One answer to that question is that it could get you traffic — clicks and eyeballs. But traffic isn’t the goal, right? Engagement is. if visitors shows up at a page and are just annoyed at how shallow and useless it is, you’ll be doing more harm than good.
As a reader, you’re looking for new, useful insights. As a nonprofit to build authority and trust with your website, you need to provide them.
Why so much junk?
Presumably, the organizations pumping out this stuff would prefer to put out quality material, but that’s really difficult and expensive to do at scale. So they are making a calculation that quantity is going to matter more — that getting a click and the first shot of traffic is the most important thing.
Sometimes that bargain works, but usually it’s the wrong approach, and that’s definitely the wrong calculation for nonprofits that are in it for the long haul. You have deep roots in your community, and you are not building your organization to flip, to exit or to have “an acquisition event,” the way many startups do. Your reputation is one of your most important assets.
So you are in the lucky position of being able to commit yourselves to quality over quantity on your nonprofit website and in other material you publish.
That said, your content marketing campaign won’t be very effective if people hear from you only very rarely, and especially if it’s only “when you get time” — because we all know that actually means “never.”
You have to manage content marketing like you would your annual auction event, your annual Christmas appeal letter and any other campaign or project. You have to put it on the calendar with deadlines, you have to make someone accountable for it and you have to budget money for it.
And you have to look for efficiencies while still insisting on a high bar for quality. Which is actually another competitive advantage you have over your marketing peers in the corporate world. Because in general, nonprofits are pretty good at finding efficiencies. Most of them take some twine, some volunteer hours, some donated juice boxes, some broken furniture and somehow work miracles every day until they become vital institutions in their community. Nonprofits are the most resourceful and entrepreneurial thing going.
How do you add quantity to the quality on your nonprofit website and elsewhere?
1. Think and act like a journalist. This is my number one tip. Reporters are able to crank out a ton of quality content, not by being experts but by pulling insight from other people. This means getting good at asking questions.
Reporters, or your own staff member operating like a reporter, can interview the experts within your organization and among your partners — and then either put that in a Q&A form or ghostwrite an article for the expert’s byline. That way you get insight from a variety of voices without waiting for those experts to actually write the material, which usually doesn’t happen despite the best intentions.
If you can find someone on your team who can build this newshound behavior into their regular schedule, you can expect a regular stream of content. Like a newsroom does, that appointed newshound can brainstorm a bunch of possible article ideas (with contributions from the rest of the team), prepare interview questions on the best ideas, and then start interviewing and writing.
2. Repurpose content for different formats. You probably spend a lot of time preparing for the Executive Director’s speech at the annual meeting — or perhaps the slides from a conference presentation that your program director is making. Somebody already puts hours into creating this valuable content; now you can spin it into it several different assets and take these messages to exponentially more people.
For example, if you have some kind of live presentation coming up:
- Spend a little to have a professional designer make your slides stand out from the usual templates and clip art.
- Spend a little to make sure you have a decent video and audio recording of the speech.
- After the event, spend a little to have a transcript made of the speech.
- After the event, reuse those assets in creative ways across your platforms.
- The video can go on your agency’s YouTube channel, either in whole or broken into a series.
- Post the slides on Slideshare.
- Post the transcript — or an abbreviated version of it — as a blog post.
- Give the transcript to a ghostwriter and ask them to develop a short strong opinion piece.
Naturally, you should do all of this keeping in mind what we discussed earlier about selecting what channels to maintain. It may not be realistic for you to keep up a YouTube page. Your strategy might involve putting videos on Facebook instead.
And no matter where you distribute each piece individually, they should ultimately be promoted in your newsletter and, of course, reposted on your blog.
Now suppose you missed your chance and you don’t actually have a decent recording of that speech your E.D. made last month?
- Ask them to read the speech again in front of a camera in your office and work with that.
- Have your experienced reporter sit down with them in front a good mic and record an interview asking questions on the same subject to get a “natural language” version of the same speech. Put that video interview on social media, then make transcripts and publish those (after lightly editing them for readability) as Q&A-style articles on your blog. Click here to see a sample Q&A article.
- Use that to pitch your expert as a potential guest to podcast and radio hosts. Here I am on a podcast — not selling my services, just discussing topics that I’m knowledgeable about and that interest the listeners.
- You can still have a designer tackle the PowerPoint slides and put them on SlideShare so all your contacts can share them on LinkedIn.
3. Get to the big goal in stages. One tactic I advise is to create larger assets — like an ebook or an online course — by producing the content in stages, which means first writing a lot of blog posts.
You’re actually witnessing that approach as you read this article. My overall goal is to create a comprehensive guide to content marketing for nonprofits. But instead of sitting down and writing a huge guide — and having nothing to show for it until I’m completely finished — I’m writing these individual blog posts. The key is making sure that they can stand on their own AND that they can roll up into an ebook eventually.
4. Pull together “roundup” posts. A roundup post is one that collects short responses from multiple people on a single question.
Consider, for example, if one of the issues people are talking about in the community is how to build more youth leadership. Our fictional agency Sunny Center can develop a clear and open-ended question on this topic and send a quick email to a range of partners, posing the question and explaining that they’ll quote their responses in a blog post. Not everyone will find time to answer, but the responses that do come in can be quickly assembled into an article.
One great advantage of a roundup is that once it is live most of the people included will eagerly share it themselves, so it has its own amplification built into it.
5. Ask yourself what your closest friends know. This is a default behavior I really recommend. It’s relatively efficient and stays focused on capturing and sharing new insight.
To do this, first make a mental list of your internal experts (e.g. program staff). Be broadminded here and don’t limit yourself to people in leadership with the most authority. The guy who clears the snow from from Sunny Center’s sidewalks is an expert in something and has some unique perspective. We might be surprised at where his perspective intersects with Sunny Center’s youth development mission and with their content needs.
Then add to that list any external contacts close to your organization who have insights, expertise and experience that would be interesting to capture. This might be your board members, organizations that partner in your program delivery, your vendors, your funders, or people in the local business community who support you. Basically anyone you like working with or who inspires you.
Now, pick one of these people, interview them, transcribe the results, edit it and share it, usually on your blog. Encourage those interviewed to share it on their own networks.
It’s a repeatable, low-key, and highly effective process.
For example, the Sunny Center might have blogs that feature:
- The after-school program staff talking about what they’ve been observing with the children recently.
- The board member who works in the city health department talking about nutrition programs parents should know about.
- The donor who is a successful businesswoman talking about the summer and after-school experiences that made a difference in her life.
The commitment is real. But it’s achievable.
I don’t want to minimize the time and expense involved with content marketing. Getting three interviews like in that last example and getting them up on your blog doesn’t just happen magically. Someone has to put in some time. (Like I said, someone with journalism experience can do it pretty efficiently and effectively.)
But the most valuable part of it — the expertise — is free, and nonprofits have that in abundance. That’s what makes content marketing a great way for smaller organizations to keep pace, and even surpass, better-funded competitors. If it allows startups to gain ground on Fortune 500 companies, it can allow nonprofits to cut through the noise too.
Interested in reading other articles in Give to Get? Click below:
I have a vision of a content marketing agency that consistently produces standout material aligned with my clients’ business goals.