using content marketing

Let’s begin by defining ‘content marketing’ so you better understand how central this concept is to the success of your overall fundraising and marketing communications strategy. [Emphases below are my own.]

Wikipedia says “Content marketing attracts prospects and transforms prospects into customers by creating and sharing valuable free content. Content marketing helps companies create sustainable brand loyalty, provides valuable information to consumers, and creates a willingness to purchase products from the company in the future. This relatively new form of marketing does not involve direct sales. Instead, it builds trust and rapport with the audience.” 

The Content Marketing Institute defines it as “the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. A content marketing strategy can leverage all story channels (print, online, in-person, mobile, social, etc.), be employed at any and all stages of the buying process, from attention-oriented strategies to retention and loyalty strategies, and include multiple buying groups.” They go on to add this very important element: “It’s a marketing process to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating content in order to change or enhance a consumer behavior.

These definitions almost speak for themselves. But, truly, there’s a lot to unpack and understand. Recently I happened on the best article I’ve ever seen on the topic of how content marketing and search engine optimization help your nonprofit’s bottom line. This is important stuff, and I encourage you to read the full article on Nonprofit Source: How to Get More Online Donations with Content Marketing.

There’s so much here, I’m writing a two-part series to help you (1) strategize and (2) use content marketing to significantly boost your fundraising results.

Today I’m going to give you my 9 strategic takeaways for using content marketing:

  1. Content attracts visitors to your website
  2. Content converts visitors to action and into donors
  3. Content that incorporates donor intent will attract the best donor prospects
  4. Content that’s interactive enables you to get to know potential supporters better
  5. Content that’s interactive enables constituents to get to know you better
  6. Conversational content wins minds and hearts
  7. If your site is optimized for search you’ll drive more traffic
  8. If your content answers folk’s burning questions you’ll drive more engagement
  9. Content is anything you curate or create for your audience

Each of these nine takeaways is a lot to digest, especially if you ask the reporter’s questions about each one: Why? Who? What? When? Where? How?

I suggest you jot down some thoughts about each one.

Let me show you what I mean by beginning with the first takeaway. I’ll suggest the way you might pose the reporter’s questions, and offer a few suggested answers. These are not as specific as your answers will be, of course, but should give you an idea of how this process works.

Content attracts visitors to your website.

WHY do you want to attract visitors to your website?

  • We want people to know we exist
  • We want people to know we added this new program
  • We want people to read our latest research
  • We want people to volunteer, buy a ticket, sign a petition
  • We want people to donate

WHO do you want to attract?

  • We want potential clients
  • We want potential volunteers
  • We want potential donors
  • We want potential community influencers

WHAT type of content might be attractive to the visitors you’ve targeted?

  • They want the latest research
  • They want advice in our area of expertise
  • They want to hear heartwarming stories
  • They want to find meaning and purpose 
  • They want to know how they can help

WHEN do you want to attract these visitors?

  • We want them to come to our site all the time 
  • We have a specific campaign that is timely
  • We want to sell tickets
  • We want to recruit clients, patients, students, subscribers, members

WHERE do these visitors hang out?

  • They search the web for something in our area of expertise
  • They use mainstream social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • They use other social media platforms, such as…
  • They are on our email list
  • They are fans and followers of influencers

HOW might you find the content your visitors will find attractive?

  • We could write an article on the topic
  • We could ask someone else to write an article
  • We could ask our program staff if they have relevant information
  • We could look at existing content we might be able to repurpose
  • We could curate content from other resources.

Once you’re finished digesting and jotting down ideas for each takeaway, it’s time to turn thoughts into action!

Yes, it’s plan building time.

And with something as broad-based as content marketing (essentially everything your nonprofit does can be boiled down into content), this is a project that takes a village.

First, consider which key members of your team are responsible for creating and disseminating content and ensuring people find you when they search the web (potentially looking to engage philanthropically with an organization that does what you do!).

Next, share your thoughts with these key team members. It will likely make sense to work in sub-groups based on areas of expertise and responsibility. Work together to develop and execute a plan to use content marketing to reach your objectives.

  • Sit down with your IT folk to discuss the SEO part. 
  • Sit down with your marketing folk to discuss the content part. 
  • Brainstorm ideas for ways to use online content marketing to drive more people to your site and increase engagement and investment – this might be more volunteer recruitment, more event attendance, more sales and/or more online donations.
  • Send folks back to their desks to do a bit of research and planning.
  • Bring everyone who’s been involved thus far back together for a joint pow-wow to discuss what is doable given your resources. You may decide some paid advertising is in order to help folks find you, in which case you might want to assign someone to look into Google grants (you get $10,000 worth of free advertising every month).
  • Create a written content marketing plan with clearly articulated goals, measurable objectives, specific strategies, assigned responsibilities and deadlines. Write down what success will look like for you. Before you can curate or create content that will get you where you want to go, you’ve got to know where that is. Per one report, the top eight content marketing goals for nonprofits are:
    1. Fundraising (79%)
    2. Brand awareness (73%)
    3. Engagement (65%)
    4. Supporter loyalty (59%)
    5. Client/constituent acquisition (53%)
    6. Website traffic (51%)
    7. Volunteer recruitment (43%)
    8. Advocacy (41%)
  • Incorporate a process for holding people’s feet to the fire (e.g. weekly supervisor meetings, monthly team meetings; quarterly reports). It’s always a good idea to designate one person to oversee your content marketing plan. Someone with whom the buck finally stops.
  • Monitor and evaluate progress as it ties back to your measurable objectives.
  • Revise plan as needed.

What you must know about content

Content comes in many forms. 

Some forms are more resource-intensive than others.

If you’re just getting started with content marketing, begin with the easier stuff.

Keep in mind what’s easy for you may be harder for someone else, and vice-versa.

A lot depends on the resources you have in house.

  • Have a great writer or writers? Start a blog.
  • Have tech-savvy staff? Use social media.
  • Have a great photographer in house? Use compelling photos.
  • Have great visuals to share? Create videos and upload to your own YouTube or Vimeo channel.
  • Have a small budget to boost your online marketing efforts? Consider advertising, hiring freelance writers and/or purchasing a social media scheduling app.
  • Have something you’re entirely missing? Consider applying for a capacity-building grant, asking your board to fund what you need, or adding a volunteer to help in that area.

Content works best when you leverage it across multiple channels.

You never know when and where someone might encounter your content, so it’s best to hedge your bets and be in as many places your constituents hang out as you can manage. You’ve already got the content, so all you need to do is repurpose it for a different channel.  This takes some extra work, but nowhere near as much as creating brand new content.

  • Take a blog post and turn it into an infographic or podcast.
  • Take a website video and share a link on social media using a searchable hashtag.
  • Take any content you notice getting a lot of traction and share widely on other platforms.

When creating content, what you must know about supporter intent

People open up Google when they’re looking for something.

Think about what folks who care about your cause might be looking for; then create content that responds to their intent. Some inquiries will be topic oriented; some will be process oriented. For example, they might be looking for:

  • How to help hungry kids
  • How to prevent global warming
  • How to prevent separation of families
  • How to leave a legacy
  • How to donate a car
  • How to make a memorial gift

Use potential supporter intent to create a relevant, targeted content marketing strategy that positions you to get in front of people ready to take an action.

What you must know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Publishing original, useful content is one of the best things you can do to increase your search engine rankings. 

But it’s got to be updated regularly, or search engines will begin to ignore it. When you add fresh content (e.g. to a blog or website), other sites will start to link to your content, and search engines will reward you by ranking you higher for your targeted search terms. The higher your rankings, the more often you’ll appear in search results, which means more people will visit your website.

This is a complex topic, but your bottom line is simple: quality of search trumps quantity.

Don’t simply identify the most searched words and phrases if those won’t drive quality leads your way. And quality leads means this: folks who are looking specifically for you or for a nonprofit that does what you do.

Keywords Everywhere is a free browser extension that can help you in your search.

In Part 2 I’ll review your best content marketing options, taking a look at how to best use both message and medium. Until then, please help yourself to this handy guide:

Are you ready to give your donors the content they deserve? Here’s a Donor-Centered Content Marketing worksheet you can use as a template to enhance your donor communication efforts.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.