This blog post is part of a series exploring content marketing for specific industries. We’ll be looking at the common pitfalls and how a well-planned content marketing strategy can help you rise above the competition.
Content marketing is an increasingly important and well-funded element of digital strategy for many organisations, but the biggest challenge facing content marketers in the nonprofit sector remains lack of budget. If much of your profit is allocated to charitable activities then you may have a smaller marketing budget than a conventional business of a similar size.
To combat this you need to consider some questions:
- What is the core objective of your content marketing activity?
- Which activities are central to this, and which are less important?
- Can any of the less important activities be shelved?
All too often, marketing budget is spent on activities that focus on style over substance. The classic case-in-point is a well-populated Facebook timeline full of lovingly created content which is seen by a handful of people each month. By re-focusing on activities that you know will help you achieve your core objective, you can eliminate inefficiencies and deliver stronger results with the budget you have. For more ideas check out our webinar on planning your content marketing for maximum efficiency.
The nature of a nonprofit company also means that marketing activity (and therefore budget) is likely to be under constant scrutiny. Is that budget delivering a return? Could it be better spent on fundraising, or directly on charitable activities?
This scrutiny can be combatted by, again, focusing on your core objective and then making your content marketing activity as measurable as possible. Consider which metrics will be of interest to your board members, and structure your reporting accordingly. For instance: 1000 retweets may mean nothing to them, 500 referral visits may be inconsequential, but 10 new leads generated through those referral visits… now that’s something that everyone can understand.
Proving ROI from content marketing can be challenging, but this approach can ensure that content marketing is perceived as something that delivers real results. This in turn will help safeguard your budget and make content marketing a recognised and valued element of your digital strategy.
Don’t be a secret nonprofit company
Not all nonprofit organisations make their charitable status obvious; this is particularly true of nonprofits which are funded by a more conventional business arm. Your status as a not for profit organisation may be one of your most powerful marketing assets, but if people aren’t aware of it then it won’t help you.
Don’t be afraid to discuss your nonprofit status in customer- or client-facing marketing materials, including on your website. Broadly speaking, the more people understand your cause and your charitable activities, the more likely they are to develop a positive perception of your organisation. It would be naive to expect this perception to directly translate into increased brand advocacy or social sharing, but it can encourage people to engage with you online. This can only help when the time comes for promoting and sharing your content.
Make an emotional connection with your audience
If your organisation is not for profit, the chances are you’re doing some work that has a benefit to society. This can help you make an emotional connection through your content. That sounds obvious, but studies have consistently shown that the top-performing content marketing campaigns (regardless of industry) are those which appeal to people’s emotions.
That said, your content does not have to be heart-wrenching in order to achieve an emotional connection. Consumer brands often produce an emotional connection through humour, aspiration, competitiveness… you name it. Your content marketing campaign doesn’t have to be directly related to your not for profit activities; raising awareness of wider issues can also make an emotional impact.
For example, a nonprofit organisation that helps people deal with back pain may not want to produce content exclusively about back pain. Instead, they could consider producing a piece of content about a fun, competitive five-minute workplace workout. This sparks an emotional response because people recognise themselves (“Hey, I work in an office!”) and because it has a competitive appeal (“I bet I could beat Steve at that!”)
This emotional connection is likely to be particularly valuable if you are producing content for social media. Research shows that positive emotions generate more sharing on social media than negative ones, so do consider the best way to pitch your message for social campaigns.
Work with your volunteers
They are the lifeblood of many charities and voluntary sector organisations and provide the much needed boots on the ground... But it's easy to forget that a charity's volunteers represent a pre-existing group of online evangelists for your cause. It doesn't take a complex strategy to harness the potential of your volunteers. Simply communicating the importance of social media can be a vital first step.
If you can encourage your core volunteers to publicise the events they are helping out at or the projects they are involved with, then your potential reach will expand and you may even recruit more volunteers as a result. No advertisement or promoted story will ever be as influential as a friend's recommendation on social media, so work with your volunteers to harness their offline passion to expand your online reach.
Appeal to influencers and publishers
A non profit organisation has a distinct advantage over corporate content marketing efforts when it comes to generating interest and publicity from influential figures. Just as your charitable activities can help you connect with people, they can also help you gain coverage, links and shares from influential websites and publishers.
Don’t be afraid to discuss your charitable activities when reaching out to influencers. This can be particularly valuable if your content marketing campaign has an element of public education. Returning to the back pain example, your outreach team could appeal to publishers by explaining that you are raising public awareness about the need to stay active at work. That way, by helping you the publisher is helping their readers - which is their main objective.
You could also link your content to a national health awareness day or recent news story to make it appear timely and relevant. This can make publishers more likely to share your content, particularly if your content or the event you link it to is highly relevant to that publication’s readership. Find out more about outreach and getting content shared in our webinar on promoting content in-house: tips from an outreach specialist.
As a word of warning, when you make contact with publishers you’ll need to make it obvious that you’re not asking for charitable donations and that the only reason for contact is to share your content with them. You don’t want to scare them away. On the plus side, the mere mention that you are nonprofit can make you and your data automatically appear more trustworthy. This is because people are often inclined to distrust big corporations as they feel like they are being advertised to; in contrast your nonprofit status confers an air of authority and respectability.
While content marketing for nonprofits poses challenges, it also offers opportunities. Make the most of your nonprofit status by considering how it will help you tell a story, make an emotional connection and get your content published. If budgets are tight then your emphasis must lie on taking the actions that are effective (not just the ones that look good) and reporting ROI from content marketing in a robust way.
You can read more about our experience of working with a nonprofit company in our Westfield Health case study.
Edward Russell-Johnson is Digital Marketing Account Manager at Quba. He has worked on marketing campaigns with nonprofits including Westfield Health, Museums Sheffield and Tatton Park. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org.