As marketing in general has gone digital, the number of online marketing tools for nonprofits available has exploded. This sector is known generically as martech, and as you can see from ChiefMartec.com’s annual market map, technology companies offer your business or nonprofit agency many opportunities to spend a lot of money if you want.
But we’ll leave the gold rush to the speculators. The toolkit you need for content marketing in a nonprofit is much simpler.
Below we will cover the most common tools that your nonprofit can use in key stages of the content development process. Following in the footsteps of those who have gone before, we’ll find a path through the marketing technology landscape, touching on many that my team and clients use and that I use myself.
Most essential of the online marketing tools for nonprofits? A content management system.
A CMS is the interface between you and the complicated code running your website. When you log into your CMS to create content for your nonprofit’s website, you’re not met by lines of a computer programming language; you’re looking at pleasant boxes, buttons and drop down menus that walk you through the task you want to perform.
A CMS allows you to create a blog post, publish it, schedule it, revise it, manipulate its design and extract some basic information about its traffic — even with next to no IT knowledge.
When your nonprofit’s website was launched, you probably paid someone to develop it and may still be paying them to maintain it. They most likely set up a blog page and installed a CMS of some kind. So the easiest thing is just to continue using that chosen CMS. It will likely be one of these free tools:
By the way, be careful not confuse WordPress.org (which is the free software your developer probably installed) and WordPress.com (which is the freemium site that lets you set up a blog at an address like www.mysite.wordpress.com).
For professional sites, you want WordPress.org, which is a tool that operates on the administrative side of a site that you will own like www.mysite.com.
The main advantage of WordPress is that, being so well established, it has a large ecosystem of helpful plug-in applications like the social share buttons, author bio box and subscription forms you see surrounding this article.
Fortune 500 companies can afford to hire developers to regularly customize their websites. For the rest of us, WordPress offers the best balance between professional quality and the professional skills necessary to make it work.
Powerful technology that may not be necessary? Marketing automation software
Marketing automation software is a category of tools that are very powerful and provide a lot of insight. But they are also quite expensive.
The main advantage of marketing automation software is that it tracks site visitors as they move from one page to another, so that you know where in the sales funnel each visitor is. Which is wonderful information to have, because your website can then automatically serve up — or email directly — the content that will be most meaningful for that individual visitor.
Growing technology companies and ecommerce sites this kind of automation software because it can help make a difference of a few percentage points in converting visitors to buyers. On volumes of hundreds of thousands of visitors, that can make the expense of this software worthwhile.
In other words, marketing automation software helps manage — and optimize — the campaigning aspect of your content marketing project.
If your nonprofit agency is working with very large numbers of visitors and primarily lives on the web — as many of the tech startups doing content marketing are — then this is a tempting tool to have.
But if your organization is working locally, and if most of your work is based on one-to-one relationships, then this expense is harder to justify. The American Campaign to End Hunger and the Boy Scouts of America may need marketing automation tools. Our imaginary after-school program called the Sunny Center probably don’t.
[Update and good news. One aspect of marketing automation — email nurturing — has become more user-friendly and affordable since I first drafted this. So let’s pick that up again below in email tools. -rm]
A small nonprofit like Sunny Center is going to have fewer strangers showing up at the site to download their special report. Instead they are going to spend comparatively more time than a large organization emailing existing contacts personally to say: “We have this report we want to share with you.”
So a shopping list of online marketing tools for nonprofits probably won’t include marketing automation software at the beginning.
Frankly, even larger and well-funded tech companies that should know better get ahead of themselves in this regard. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of setting up shiny new marketing tools that your nonprofit agency doesn’t have a plan to get value out of.
Some of the leading marketing automation tools out there include:
The lowest tech part: Tools for writing and editing content
The most important and the most labor-intensive stage of content marketing — planning, writing and perfecting the words — is actually the least tech-enabled. One word processing program is much like another.
But one feature our team considers indispensable is collaboration between everyone involved in an article. And the most familiar word processing program — Microsoft Word — isn’t ideal for that. If you’ve ever circulated an email with a Word doc attached and then tried to incorporate all the feedback into the original document, you know what I mean.
Essentially, this is a version control problem. Everyone downloads that attachment to their computers, makes edits or suggestions, sends it back, and suddenly you have six versions of the same article floating around. Meanwhile, none of those individuals know about the comments the rest have made.
So I encourage you to convert as soon as possible to a document creation program like Google Drive, which includes Google Docs (word processing), Google Sheets (spreadsheets) and Google Slides (slideshows). Of all the online marketing tools for nonprofits available today, you’re likely find Google Drive to be your most invaluable.
The above image shows my assistant editor Shari and I working on the draft of this article. Because it is saved in the cloud, either of us can access it, at different times or simultaneously, even though we live in different parts of the country.
Our comments, suggested edits and changes are all coordinated in one place so we don’t have to move Shari’s comments over into the “main document.” There’s just one document and therefore no version control problem.
That becomes especially helpful in work for clients where the document might get input from the writer, Shari, me, a proofreader, our primary contact at the client, other stakeholders at the client, the individuals we quoted or interviewed, a designer and social media marketing specialist.
Here is our team’s process for working with Google Docs:
- The author of an article is responsible for starting the doc.
- He or she drafts in that doc until the first draft is done and it’s ready to share.
- The author then invites people as needed, selecting the setting to let other people view, comment or edit.
- Those invited people — depending on their role — are part of the feedback, editing, proofreading and approval processes.
- The author or editors make changes as needed and declare it ready for publishing.
- If there are any doubts about a change that was made, we can go back in the version history.
- When the article is ready, our production assistant moves it over to the CMS (i.e. WordPress, as we discussed above) for formatting and making it live on our website.
You could also use the CMS as the writing tool. But most don’t have features for commenting or tracking changes. One person might delete a detail that another person considered essential, and the lack of notifications and tracking means it might go unnoticed until the article is live. So it’s more common to do all the writing and editing in a word processing program like Google docs and then to move the edited material to the CMS.
Breaking up the text: Tools for illustrating your blog posts
Finding images can take a surprising amount of time, given that you can search in Google images right now and seemingly have an unlimited supply.
But those are largely unusable for one of several reasons:
- They’re copyrighted and must be purchased from the source (the clue is usually in the watermark that appears when you open it).
- They are low resolution, which isn’t always apparent at first glance — but you’ll know it once you see it on your site.
- They’re from a person’s personal collection and are not intended for anyone else to publish. Google just grabbed them from an individual’s Flickr account or personal blog.
My clients always underestimate the effort involved in finding the right photo, and so did I for a long time. I was spending hours to illustrate a blog post that took less time to write.
This is definitely a case where spending a little bit of money can save a lot of time. But nonprofit life is all about economizing, right? So let’s look at the free alternatives first. Each of the sites below have vast libraries of photos that are free for you to use under certain conditions.
- Flickr’s Creative Commons
- Wikimedia Commons
- 500px Creative Commons
There are a hundred similar sites out there, but most are pulling from the same databases.
You’ll come across sites that look cool sometimes, but it usually turns out the cool photos are for sale. When you sort for the free images, you’re getting the same results as all the other sites. So it’s probably not going to be worth the effort to search in more than a couple of these sites.
In all of these sites, you want to filter for images that have open licenses and to make sure you credit the original creator of the image where the license requires that.
Usually it’s one of the versions of the Creative Commons licenses, which is a family of licenses established to promote sharing while giving creators of digital content more control over how their work is used. You really don’t have to worry about the differences between each kind of license if:
- You’re using them for a non-commercial purpose.
- You make a habit of using a credit for every one that you use.
Easy, right? The problem with giving credit is that it clutters up the design of you page and gives you another thing you have to check for quality control.
Some licenses let you get by without a credit, which makes your page design look cleaner and saves you a couple steps on the formatting, but it leaves you with fewer choices and adds time to your search.
All of that adds stress and time to illustration process.
So, if your nonprofit marketing budget can bear just a little bit more than free, your possibilities open up. Many stock image sites have deals for $1 per image depending on how you subscribe. These are “royalty free,” meaning you can use them for most marketing purposes.
My secret tip is to set a tickler on my to-do list to check Mighty Deals and similar sites every month and to search for “image packs.” It might take a while for a deal to pop up, but when it does, the pack I buys lasts my team for all of our needs for several months. That keeps my cost per image down to $1.
The challenge at this stage is how original and engaging the images are. For $1, I don’t get Pulitzer Prize winning photos, and I don’t get something exclusive. That’s why if you browse around the blogs of technology companies, it feels like you are start to see the same images over and over.
Apart from having a truly qualified graphic designer in the mix, there are two main options for solving this problem:
High quality, professional and artistic free images can also be had from a variety of other subscription sites featuring terrific professional artists and that give away limited samples, usually in HD and in large formats that look great however you are using them. A couple of my favorites are Death to the Stock Photo and Unsplash. But using these sites requires dedicated searching and patience. It’s rare that just the right image pops up when you need it. Of course, you can cut through that by paying for the premium access on those same sites.
Building your own original images is getting somewhat easier for novices. I highly recommend Canva. With a little practice, you can quickly take your stock or public domain image and manipulate it to create something original. PicMonkey also makes photo editing and graphic design easy, and I’ve heard that a new tool called Snappa promises to be even easier to use.
Here is a screenshot of the editing window on Canva while we made the header image for Part 7 of this series.
Finally, if your nonprfit marketing budget has room for a slightly larger spend, you can buy subscriptions on photo sites where professional photographers sell their images with royalty free licenses. The advantage here is the work is fresher and more unique. Twenty20 is one interesting example of this kind of photo marketplace.
Prices on these sites depend on volume, so a small content marketing program would probably spend about $15/image.
Getting it out there: Distributing and promoting your content on social media
Social media management can be time consuming. The posts themselves often take only a minute or two to write, but stopping each day to log in to three different accounts and post a sentence on each one is really inefficient. Those minutes quickly add up to hours.
Several online marketing tools make this a lot more efficient for nonprofit marketing. If you can afford a subscription to services like Hootsuite, Buffer or GetEdgar, then you will have the ability to schedule posts to multiple platforms at the optimal times and to let multiple team members in your organization assist with that.
Hootsuite and Buffer have free versions that limit how many team members you can include and how many social media accounts you can use. But if just one person on your team is responsible for all the tweeting and Facebook posting, the free versions of these should be sufficient.
I find Buffer simpler, but I like Hootsuite’s “autoschedule” feature that optimizes when a post goes out to the social profile. Both of them have tools that you add to the toolbar of your web browser so that you can quickly create a social media post from any webpage with the title, URL and image already filled in.
If you’re starting simple and have only a Facebook page, make use of Facebook’s scheduled post feature. Writing seven posts in one sitting still takes a fraction of the time required to do it once a day every day.
A more targeted message: Distributing and promoting your nonprofit’s marketing content through email
Email marketing in the nonprofit world for some reason has become attached to Constant Contact, but there are more flexible, powerful and easy-to-use options out there, including Mailchimp (the most popular in the tech startup world) and AWeber.
Most of the email marketing you are receiving in that Promotions tab of your Gmail account was produced with either Mailchimp or AWeber.
These email marketing platforms also have tools that plug into your website so you can collect more email addresses, and you can upload the addresses you have. You can segment your mailing lists so that different content campaigns can be sent different parts of you list based on their donor profile or the actions they’ve taken already.
These email marketing tools also have features that help you know how many of the messages you sent were opened or how many people clicked through to your site, so you can keep improving.
MailChimp and AWeber also make it easy to automate nurturing campaigns or drip campaigns. You can segment your lists and send out a sequence of emails gradually moving from a give message to an ask. And the sequence can trigger automatically whenever someone new is added to the list.
MailChimp’s and AWeber’s paid plans are based on the volume of email you send, so something like this is an expense that smaller nonprofits can consider as part of their online marketing toolbox.
Feels like a lot of stuff? Use project management tools for your nonprofit’s content marketing program
Tools to organize your nonprofit’s content marketing program will help make sure critical pieces don’t fall through the cracks and get neglected when other urgent needs come up.
I have explored some attractive project management tools such as Asana, which allows Gantt charts and shared to-do lists. But I always end up deciding that my content projects aren’t complicated enough to move to Asana.
Instead, I prefer something more straightforward. Trello is ideally suited to editorial projects because its format of cards embedded in lists meshes with the how I organize topics and stages.
First, I create lists representing the stages of the the editorial process, from brainstorming to promotion. Then I create a card for each article idea, with information about authors, drafts, and due dates in the card. Like on this example from Trello’s template library, the cards start out in brainstorming and move left-to-right.
Some people prefer to create an editorial calendar in a spreadsheet. (Google Sheets, naturally, as we discussed above.) You can find a million templates if you search the web. This method has the advantage of being infinitely customizable.
But spreadsheets don’t work for me as a workflow tool because moving a topic (and its accompanying key information) from one stage to another in a spreadsheet is so much more awkward than drag-and-drop. A sheet becomes too difficult to maintain.
Save time by using templates and toolkits
Mapping out a content marketing strategy for your nonprofit is going to take some time, no matter what. The martech industry hasn’t come up with neat tools that simplify the strategy part of this work, so that happens in a much more home-brewed way.
If you search online you’ll find lots of templates, worksheets and other tools to help with strategy. Here are a few articles and resources my colleagues and I have developed to work with our clients:
- Nonprofit Marketing Plan and Strategy Template
- End the Analysis Paralysis: Content Marketing Metrics You Can Use Today
- How a Minimum Viable Buyer Persona Can Help Your Content Plan
- Creative Strategy Brief Template
- Assignment Brief Template.
- Hire Writers for Content Marketing Using This Ad and Job Description
- Start Now: A Content Marketing Plan that Won’t Overwhelm You
At a certain point, you may want more nuts-and-bolts planning on topics, particularly on what keywords to target. Like with the automation tools, this matters less the more local your work is, though it’s not entirely irrelevant.
SEO — search engine optimization — and all the tools to enable it, are enormous topics that we’ll have to leave for another time. Understanding and using tools like Moz, SEM Rush, Raven Tools and Google Adwords is not easily done in a couple hours. I recommend you hire a consultant or agency to generate a list of the keyword targets you need. Even better, this is a good place to call in favors from your network for pro bono support.
Is it working? Measuring, analyzing and improving your content plan
Analytics is the catchall term in content marketing for tools that capture and present data to that you can see how your material is performing and look for opportunities to improve.
In my opinion, analytics is a misnomer. What these tools mostly do is sort, filter and report data. Actual analysis usually requires more human consideration.
That said, sucking up data and generating reports is a minimum requirement for good content marketing at this stage.
Generating data is easy. Software does it automatically and constantly.
Collecting data is easy. Most software companies will move it from their servers to yours with the push of a button, often in an easily readable format.
What’s not easy is coordinating that data from multiple sources into one database so it all comes together in an intelligible way.
There’s not much you can do about that until something like IBM’s Watson becomes as freely available as Google docs and WordPress.
[Oh, look. They’re getting closer. IBM Watson’s Content Hub has been launched since this was drafted. It’s probably not a good choice for beginning content marketers, though.]
Until then, I recommend starting a simple spreadsheet with a very limited number of indicators. These should be a manageable number that you can and will collect and input regularly.
But not too frequently. Resist the temptation to check your stats every day. You want to see steady progress over the months.
Where are these indicators going to come from? Well here are few things you have working for you already to collect data.
- Your email marketing software like MailChimp. It will report open rates and click-through rates.
- The email marketing software plugins on your site. This lets you know how many people are signing up for your newsletter.
- Your social media management software like HootSuite. It will report clicks and shares.
- Your social media profiles like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. You can track likes, follows and shares.
Circling back to your content management system, you want to ask your web developer to make sure a couple things are set up and that you have access to them.
- Google Analytics. This is a code installed in your site so that Google can track visits and many other data points. Then you go to the Google Analytics site to generate the reports you need. For example, after a few months, you may want to know which posts are highest performing so you can do more like those.
- Share buttons. Most sites that you visit have a collection of buttons that encourage the reader to distribute that page to their own social media accounts. These are relatively easy to plug in and format on the admin side of your site, and they allow you to track how often these are used.
None of these is perfect, of course. A visitor may share a post without using your share button tools, so you don’t have a complete count. But the trend line is helpful to know.
Again, the trick here is not to be overwhelmed. Choose one or two data points from each tool that are easy to track. Make those columns in your spreadsheet. And then on a regular schedule — once a month, for example — log in to all the tools and collect that data.
Remember, your toolset will evolve over time
As I’ve said before, there are more online marketing tools for nonprofits out there than we could ever attempt to count. Your job is to:
- Acknowledge you can’t use them all.
- Recognize that even the ones you think are super cool may not be a great fit for you.
- Choose enough tools to get you going without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.
- Be open to adding to or replacing those tools as you discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
And most of all: remember why you’re using these tools. You’re not posting for the thrill of another person clicking the Thumbs Up icon on Facebook. Your nonprofit is using social media because you decided that’s where your intended audience is. You’re not collecting data out of curiosity; your metrics will help you hone the plan for maximum impact.
Your passion for your nonprofit’s cause brought you to this point. Try to approach your content marketing tools with same enthusiasm and purpose — you might even have a little fun with them.
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.