Resources for great content — the well written, interesting, helpful and insightful content that comprises effective content marketing — surround you. Now, your nonprofit marketing plan simply involves using those resources well.

I hope after reading the previous piece in this series on content marketing for nonprofits, you’re feeling reassured that your agency has its own trove of expertise just waiting to be tapped. (And click here if you haven’t yet read 5 Ways to Create Great Content for Your Nonprofit Website.)  Before you dive into interviewing and writing, let’s talk about doing it right.

Below are several guiding principles or best practices that, when adhered to, will ensure your content development aligns with the goals of your nonprofit marketing plan.

Content for a nonprofit marketing plan should use the special sauce

Content marketing should never be limited to achieving its own goals. For example, getting an important video to go viral should not be the end objective.

nonprofit marketing plan. A viral video isn't the goal.

You should have a content strategy, and that strategy should be an outgrowth of the organization’s larger business and marketing strategies. Beautiful content that engages people without being in alignment with your overall goals isn’t going to do you any good.

For example, consider the fictional youth services organization we introduced in Part 4, Sunny Center.

Suppose that, like other youth services agencies in their city, Sunny Center has a mission statement that emphasizes personal growth and development for local children.

But Sunny Center has a special sauce, the ingredients of which are good relationships with the schools, a thorough familiarity with the schools and the ability to connect schools and parents. Sunny Center will build programs that take advantage of their special sauce.

In other words, the content Sunny Center develops shouldn’t align only with their mission but with their unique vision, point of view and set of resources.

Sunny Center’s goal is similar to many other youth development programs, but their secret sauce is about connecting parents and schools, so their content should build on and support that.

Sunny Center should not just write white papers that inform their Chamber of Commerce members about how important youth development is. That’s using a tactic just because you heard somewhere that content marketing uses white papers. That’s putting the format before the function, and we talked before how that’s a recipe for blandness.

Sunny Center should do that if and when they feel this will help them use their special sauce by “getting to the parents.” They should be clear about their larger strategic plan of building relationships between parents and schools and where content will fit in.

Effective nonprofit content marketing is consistent

You can’t put up a few blog posts and hope the world will beat a path to your door. You really have to put in an effort over a long period of time — at least several months — and you have to be consistent during that time.

Content marketing is much like building an endowment. The material you develop is an asset that you want to see grow and increase in value over time.

When you first start adding content to your nonprofit marketing plan, I suggest you factor in a workable process to produce at least six months’ worth of material. That doesn’t mean you need to publish something every day for six months — you determine your own pace and frequency.

But come up with a realistic content development plan that you can maintain consistently for at least that period of time.

Content marketing is like building an endowment -- an asset you want to see increase in value. Click To Tweet

Smart content marketing understands its target customers

This usually involves developing buyer personas. In the case of content marketing for nonprofits, we can think of that as donor personas, partner personas or as user/client personas, depending on whose interest you are trying to attract with the content.

So many nonprofit blogs make the mistake of focusing on the wrong kind of material for the audience they are trying to connect with.

For example, it seems obvious to publish a lot of material that serves clients. Sunny Center might have a lot of material about doing well in school, for example. But if their content strategy is to build relationships with institutional partners, this content isn’t going to do the trick. It’s not aligned with the goal.

Conversely, many nonprofit websites focus too much on their own news, which may not be the best way to attract parents to sign up their kids.

The key is to get clear about who the audience is and then go from there. Whether or not you actually develop a fully-developed, written-out completed persona, be sure to research what your target market actually wants to know and to hear about.

Without understanding that, even with the best of intentions, it’s too easy to drift back into a mode of telling the reader what we want them to hear — our successes, our process, our values.

Or we end up telling our reader what we want to know — researching questions and issues that we personally are interested in. But this risks being too self-centered to be effective.

Again, communicating how you are and what you do has its place, but if we define content marketing as material grounded in being helpful to others, then you must understanding where your audience is coming from.

Track and measure your content marketing

Suppose you commit to six months of effort the record shows that it does absolutely no good.

That would be terrible. But it wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario would be spending all that time and money and there is no record, so you have no idea if it did any good or not.

a nonprofit marketing plan shouldn't mean burying your head in the sand

The great thing about digital marketing is that it’s possible to track it and measure it. Even if your content is failing, you will have the advantage of knowing that so you can adjust.

You can’t say the same thing about many traditional marketing methods. When was the last time you mailed out your annual reports, reviewed the data showing how effective that was and then adjusted? Do you have data on which format for your Christmas appeal letters will be most effective?

With everything digital — your blog, email newsletters, your social media accounts — you can track meaningful indicators, starting from the day you start.

This isn’t necessarily easy, but, again, you’re not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Pick one metric on one tool that you can confidently monitor, make that a row on a spreadsheet, and set a reminder on your calendar for the first of every month to fill in that data point.

Then push yourself to add a second metric and a third. You’ll steadily build a sense of what is actually happening with your digital marketing efforts.

For example, these are some sources and metrics that aren’t too difficult to gather data from:

  • Clicks from organic search results — Google analytics
  • Total visitors to site — Google analytics
  • Impressions in Google search results — Google webmaster tools
  • Email signups (monthly and cumulative) — your email service provider, such as MailChimp
  • Email conversion rate (# of signups divided by total visitors)
  • Contact form fills (# of people who fill out a contact form) — your email inbox

And ignore the people (or the voices in your own head) who will look at that spreadsheet and say, “Yeah, but . . .”

In the beginning, your measurements won’t tell a very comprehensive story, but you’re going to get better at adding more metrics and dropping the metrics that don’t matter. This data may raise more questions than answers at first, but they will be the right kinds of questions.

Content marketing data raises questions, but they will be useful questions. Click To Tweet

Incorporating best practices for content in your nonprofit marketing plan means tracking the indicators that are most meaningful to you and committing to getting better over time. You’ll get better at the work itself, you’ll get better at the measuring.

Successful content planning accounts for distribution and promotion

Too much content marketing gets produced without considering how it will get out into the world where people can see it. It sits in the “final copy” mode waiting for a decision about a designer or waiting for the person who can put it in the content management system.

Or, once someone does hit the publish button, there is no plan for sharing the material. It sits there racking up zero views, zero shares, zero comments and zero impact for your organization.

Too many businesses and marketers hope the universe will somehow magically discover that blog post, and then they’re disappointed when they never get any results. By some estimates, businesses and corporations squander $50 billion in content development in one year alone.

By some estimates, businesses squander $50 billion in content development per year. Click To Tweet

This is why it’s important to remember and appreciate the marketing professionals who are a necessary part of this work. Too much discussion of content marketing focuses on the content part and dismisses the traditional marketing part.

If your existing budget and resources don’t include help from a content marketing agency, there are a few free tricks to help expand your reach:

  • Judicious use of SEO, keywords and hashtags will help the right people find you in Google search results.
  • Asking the experts you interview to share those finished pieces throughout their own networks will improve your reach.
  • Getting your articles published on websites other than your own allows you to benefit from those sites’ own marketing efforts.

We advise clients to be creative about what “other websites” includes. If I was marketing for a small nonprofit like Sunny Center, I would ask every company that supports us if we could put a piece in their employee newsletter or in their customer newsletter with tips on homework help for parents.

Then I would ask every parent to ask their own employers for the same favor on our behalf. In short, not everything in your a nonprofit marketing plan has to be a play to get in “our local paper.”

Whatever you decide about distribution and promotion, decide something. Even the best content developed to support your nonprofit marketing plan can stumble here, so take time to account for all those channels and formats we discussed in Part 5: Your Nonprofit Blog is Not the Same as Content Marketing.

Now stop your content planning and start creating content

The ideal plan will have A through Z elements to it, but you don’t have to wait for the ideal. Our 10-step, quick start content marketing plan is a great starting point. Read that, start your planning meeting and watch content marketing inject new life into your nonprofit.


Robert McGuire

Robert McGuire


I have a vision of a content marketing agency that consistently produces standout material aligned with my clients’ business goals.

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