I’ve read and reviewed a host of articles to help you make sense of the available content marketing resources that pertain specifically to nonprofits.
Think of this section as a super-charged content marketing literature review for the newbie nonprofit content marketing pro.
I’ve arranged these sources by theme so you can easily refer back to them (just bookmark this page!).
If you’re in a rush, I also give some commentary on must-reads, things to you need know, and areas to focus on.
Nonprofit Content Marketing: A General Primer
Kivi Leroux Miller has basically written the book on this topic with Content Marketing for Nonprofits. Her direct style and no-nonsense advice gives a solid foundation for your content marketing journey.
But get out some hiking shoes and pack for a long trip: The content marketing journey she describes is quite long and involved.
How well you follow her advice will depend on the sophistication of your overall marketing efforts are. Iif you’re afraid of change or of measuring things, you may find this book intimidating.
However, Kivi does have advice for making the leap when you’re ready along with handy frameworks you can borrow wholesale.
A must-read to get you started.
Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmarks
In 2014, Content Marketing Institute started surveying nonprofits about their content marketing practices. So far we have two years of data, which overall show that a lot of nonprofits love content marketing, but very few have a strategy to implement it. How does your nonprofit rate?
While you should probably be aware of this data to know how you stack up, dozens of articles online give an at-a-glance view of the data. The best two in my opinion are:
Nonprofit Content Marketing Strategy
This in-depth article by Claire Axelrad discusses how nonprofit marketers (and I would say all marketers) tend to focus on the medium and not the message. This article is a harsh wake-up call if you have been putting out articles that only talk about you. Because, as Axelrad states, that’s pretty much like putting “a sow’s ear in a silk purse.” As in, no one wants that.
This article looks at how the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute implemented a content marketing strategy and the kinds of problems they were trying to solve with content. It also describes some of the obstacles to getting organizational buy-in, since a lot of nonprofit professionals still don’t fully understand what content marketing is.
Focus areas for you:
Have a documented content strategy, but don’t create a 50-page thesis: a page or two will suffice.
While the nonprofit’s surveyed say that “engagement” is a higher priority for their content marketing than “fundraising,” remember that “engagement” can be an abstract goal. Make sure you have a clear idea about what “engagement” means to you.
Don’t let metrics get you down: often just a basic plan with basic key performance indicators (two or three) are more than enough to let you know whether your content is having an impact.
My fellow Canuck (and all-around highly expert and very prolific consultant) Marlene Oliveira has assembled great resources about nonprofit copy and content creation on the Nonprofit MarCommunity.
A community of nonprofit communicators and consultants pool their knowledge on a wide range of subjects, just for your benefit, so be sure to sign up for their updates.
Nonprofit Social Media Strategy
Content marketing and social media are not the same thing. For example, content marketing can be done on social media, but it doesn’t have to be (it can also be done on your blog, via email, or even through print).
However, I would be remiss in not mentioning social media on its own, considering how much nonprofits rely on it for their day-to-day marketing and activities.
The cornerstone books in this area are by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine:
Kanter and Fine don’t give a rundown of social platforms; they explain a philosophy of how nonprofits can use social networks and create a social network to become larger than the sum of their parts.
They describe all kinds of networked and networking strategies. The moral is to really put the social in social media, and think more about relationships, community building and listening than about the particular platform you’re using.
Any nonprofit would be wise to learn these principles that go beyond how to use Twitter and Facebook.
For content marketing purposes, I find this book a bit more practical.
The authors clearly explain what you are really trying to achieve with social media: make social change, improve your network, gather intelligent data for decision-making and implement good governance,
Content marketing isn’t very effective without measurement, and since social media is the lifeblood of nonprofits, these measurement ideas will take you extremely far.
Reports on Nonprofit Digital Strategy
Modern content marketing is very intimately tied to digital marketing, with all of the nifty technical challenges that entails.
Responsive websites, mobile apps, fundraising through text: the rabbit hole never ends.
This report is based on a survey of 459 nonprofits and their digital strategies and assets.
What I like about this report is that you get a clear view of the kinds of content assets other nonprofits focus on in their marketing. A downside is that each communication channel is treated separately, as the nonprofits were asked about their strategies for each one separately.
In content marketing, you need to treat all your content assets holistically.
However, the report does talk about the need for nonprofits to use donations as a measurement metric for their digital strategy, which I fully agree with.
This NonprofitPRO article, Angie Moore gives compelling data on the nature of digital marketing: “In today’s instant gratification world, as digital marketers we had better be ready to engage our constituents.”
The overall takeaway here is that Internet users expect a lot when they visit your webpage, so if yours needs a refresh, you better get on it if you want to compete.
You can also read this Nonprofit MarCommunity article, which rounds up more expert advice: Making Your Nonprofit Website a Priority.
A listicle for your reading pleasure is 25 Nonprofit Website Musts, even though content creation and promotion are only given small shoutouts at number 4 and 5 on the list. A good review nonetheless.
Learn how different hospitals use content to draw people to them with authoritative and reliable health content. How could this apply to your own nonprofit, even if you’re not in the health field?
Another healthcare-focused article that features tips from hospitals and health care centres. The for-profit models they mention won’t pertain to Canadian centres, but this article is quite the overview of how content can drive pretty much any kind of marketing.
This Content Marketing Institute article uses Charity:Water as a case study for emotionally appealing content. Their tack was away from guilt and towards opportunities and outcomes. Could you do the same with your content?
Stories play a huge part in content marketing. If you can’t tell a story, people will tune you out.
Vanessa Chase over at the Storytelling Nonprofit has a ton of tips on how to gather stories and improve your all-around storytelling.
Nonprofit powerhouse consultant Pamela Grow also has a course on nonprofit storytelling, which I’ve taken. You’ll get a lot out of it if your nonprofit has been stuck spouting statistics instead of weaving hypnotic narratives. Grow makes a very compelling case for incorporating storytelling in all aspects of your fundraising and how to improve your overall writing.
Hubspot has some good content marketing resources for nonprofits in general, and you can find all of their nonprofit content marketing articles here.
One of my favourites is 4 Quick Tips for Creating Content for Nonprofit Personas, which gets you thinking about the people visiting your website and how to tell stories that engage them.
Nonprofits and Data
We are all susceptible to the eternal struggle between emotion and logic, but you can have your angel food cake and eat the batter too.
Any data you have to back up what you do is fantastic fodder for your content marketing.
NTEN (which I’m a member of) has tons of info on how to become a data-informed nonprofit. Members get access to webinars and reports on how to use data and include it in your content.
Blackbaud also has great resources on data, particularly through their Nonprofit Technology blog.
Heather Krause at Datassist.org writes about how to run surveys, collect data and analyze it.