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5 Action Tips for Nonprofits to Develop and Share Helpful Content

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In Part 1 of this three-part series we discussed how ‘thank you’ establishes trust – the essential foundation of all lasting relationships. In Part 2 we discussed how to sustain trust by reporting back to donors, multiple times in multiple ways, on the outcomes of their philanthropy. Today, in Part 3, we’ll discover how to build upon this trusting foundation by reassuring donors their association with you will be a beneficial one.

Help, Don’t Sell

If you want more gifts, you must give them.

For a lot of nonprofit insiders, this is a paradigm shift. Think about it. I’m asking you to go from focusing on asking to focusing on giving

One of my favorite marketing strategists is Jay Baer, author of Youtility. He says the difference between “helping” and “selling’ is only two letters. But what a difference those two letters makes! If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ for ‘s’ and ‘l’ in building your donor communications strategy you’ll convince more of your supporters to stick with you.

Sell something and you create a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.

Selling is a master/servant model. It’s the old school, outbound marketing model where the organization matters more than the donor. This won’t serve you well in the digital age. You no longer own your information. Everyone has access to everything. So trying to hold it back is simply going to make you look stingy and unhelpful. Besides, ego-centric content is boring and pretty soon no one will want to read it. Or share it. Your tree will fall in the forest, but no one will hear it.

Helping is a peer-to-peer model. Successful nonprofits today embrace an inbound marketing model where customer input is sought after and valued. It lends itself well to the digital age where folks are increasingly connected across multiple channels and have the ability to share with their networks.

Effective content is useful content.

Jay Baer calls this type of content a “Youtility.” Marketing that is about the consumer. Marketing that is so useful, people would pay for it (though, of course, you won’t ask them to).

You see, people don’t want more “content.” But they do want stuff that helps them. That answers their questions. That solves their problems. Figure out what your constituents want and need; then give it to them.

You’ve no doubt got lots of beneficial content hanging around that you’re not even using. Maybe it’s buried on your website. Or stuffed into a file cabinet. Dig it out and wrap it up with a bow.

If you want gifts, give them.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive or tangible. They can simply be an article you’ve written with answers to frequently asked questions. Or a “how to” guide. Or “top 10 tips” to keep your aging parents safe… go a little greener… get your kid to finish their homework… communicate your concerns to your legislator… etc.  Share what you know and provide little “gifts” now, to promote longer and more lasting interactions later.

TRUE STORY: I once worked for a comprehensive human services organization. One of our more than 40 different programs was a parenting program. One afternoon I was there for an advisory committee meeting. While waiting for folks to arrive, I happened on a file cabinet with a drawer labelled “Tips for New Moms and Dads.” I opened it up. Bonanza!

Inside were files filled with tip sheet after tip sheet intended to help new parents. They were used in workshops which had, on average, 8 – 10 participants. What a waste of valuable information! I realized we could use these tips as content for our newsletter, thereby disseminating the information more broadly (part of our nonprofit mission) and also solving our content creation dilemma. A gift for our marketing staff; a gift for our readers!

Feedback was immediate. People thanked us and even called to ask if we had more tips. After a year of doing this, enrollment in our workshops had increased as well. A real win/win.

More than any other business, nonprofits should understand and embrace the concept of offering content that is helpful. Why? Content marketing is the heart and soul of your branding strategy. Your essence.  And isn’t it the essence of a nonprofit to be of service?

Helpful Content Examples

Whatever type of nonprofit yours may be, you’ve got helpful tips, recommendations and other useful information to share. Here are some examples to get you started:

Human services

  • 10 Ways to Keep Seniors Safe
  • Smart Strategies to Childproof Your Home
  • How to Recognize Signs of Bullying


  • Tips for Safely Bringing Home a Rescue Dog
  • 10 Things You Can Do to Save Endangered Species
  • Tips for Taking Toddlers to the Zoo

Arts & Culture

  • 7 Tips for Planning the Perfect Museum Date
  • How to Get the Most Out of Taking Your Child to the Symphony
  • Where to Get Senior Discounts for Cultural Opportunities in [your community]


  • 8 Ways College Students Can Save the Environment Every Day
  • 10 Easy Ways to Go Green at Work
  • 22 Ways to Save Your Planet

Health Services

  • 17 Tricks to Stop Eating Mindlessly
  • 13 Surprising Ways to Avoid Colds and Flu
  • How to Make the Most out of Your Doctor Visit


  • Tips for Talking to Someone with Cancer
  • 5 Ways You Can Prevent Antibiotic Resistance
  • Tips on Caring for Elders with Dementia


  • 17 Proven Ideas to Help Struggling Readers
  • Top 10 Ways to Get Your Child Ready for College
  • 7 Study Tips for Busy Adult Learners

Civil Rights

  • Steps to Take if You Think You’ve Been Discriminated Against
  • How to Get Legal Help When You Can’t Afford a Lawyer
  • What [New Law] Means for You

5 Action Tips to Develop and Share Helpful Content:

  1. Figure out what people want from you based on experience. 

A good place to begin is with your reception staff. Ask them what types of questions they get most frequently. Ask program staff what questions they often get. Also find out which pages on your website are most frequently searched. Which articles in your e-news are most frequently clicked on?

  1. Directly ask constituents for input. 

It’s easy to put together a quick, free survey using SurveyMonkey or Googledocs. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What problems (related to your issue) keep you up at night? (multiple choice; include “other”).
  • Which of these programs holds the greatest interest for you? (multiple choice or rank order).
  • What first drew you to our mission? (multiple choice or write in)
  • What would you like to hear more about? (multiple choice or write in)
  • Would you like to see more or less activity from us on (insert social channel name)?
  • What types of content do you prefer? (e.g., photos, videos, podcasts, blogs, white papers, reading recommendations, reports, or others)
  • How can we become a valued resource to you and make our content better?
  1. Get your team together and share your research. 

Put all the needs you’ve discovered on one side of a whiteboard. Now hold a brainstorming session. What useful content do you have that addresses these needs? What could you easily create?

  1. Create an editorial calendar

This will facilitate the consistent creation of helpful content and give your plan some needed organization. There are many different templates and content scheduling tools out there to choose from, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel (It can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet template; a Google calendar; a free Editorial Calendar Plug-in with a simple drag and drop interface or even a Word document, desk-top or wall calendar. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be something with which you’re comfortable).

  1. Use online marketing and social media to promote your ‘youtility’; not your organization. 

Break the bad habit of operating from the master/servant model. Don’t make it all about you. What you do. Your skills. Your knowledge. Your work. Your accomplishments: “We just helped 2,000 people get meals.” All oriented towards asking your donors to serve you.

Shift your model to peer/peer. Hype your supporters instead of your organization. “You fed at-risk families 2,000 meals. Here’s a recipe we distribute at our food pantries for a quick, nutritious snack for kids.” Here the orientation is towards gratitude. You’re thanking folks for joining you in walking the talk, and sharing a recipe as a token of your appreciation.

The digital age is about marketing with donors, not at them.

Help people first. Stop leading with what you need. Lead with what they need.

When you shift your communications to a “gift” model, you offer up content through a communications lens, not a fundraising lens.  “Here’s a photo showing what you accomplished.” “Here’s a story of how your gift helped.” “Here are some tips we give the Moms you helped.” This is vastly different from much of the standard fare coming out of nonprofits. Are you leading with “Check out our new website,” “We’ve rebranded,” “We have a new board member,” or “The need is still great; we could use more help?” This type of content doesn’t answer donors’ “What’s in this for me?” (WIFM) question.

Donors just want reassurance you (1) hear them, (2) appreciate them, and (3) their investment in your cause is being applied toward results that are lasting and effective.

What can you do to be a helpful, caring friend your donor will never want to let go of? Take the time to:

  1. Listen and learn to find out what will make your donors happy.
  2. Think about all the happiness you have to give.
  3. Deliver happiness not once, but frequently.

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