relevant content marketing

This is part three in a six-part series. Read part one and part two

In part one of this series, I outlined my top six fundraising strategies for 2021: 

  1. Investing in digital-first fundraising and marketing communications
  2. Mastering online user experience and messaging
  3. Mastering relevant content marketing
  4. Mastering personalized, customer-centered philanthropy facilitation, especially mid-level and major donors, to increase donor lifetime value
  5. Mastering an analytic approach to strategy and planning
  6. Internalizing and externalizing an organization-wide culture of philanthropy

In this post, I’ll explore the third strategy. 

Master relevant content marketing.

It’s important to showcase how what you do relates to what’s top of mind for folks. That means that you must work to make relevant content marketing more readily accessible to your constituents. 

Make your content something with which they’ll want to engage. Where do you find that content? It’s right in front of you: Engaging, interesting content springs from your mission. Specifically, you should create content around the “why” of your existence and share the stories that demonstrate your successes in fulfilling your mission.

Here are some examples of what you can share:

Clarify your brand and tie it to today’s zeitgeist. 

By brand, I mean your vision, mission, and values. Together, these comprise your case for support

You can’t take your brand for granted. Just because folks supported you in the past doesn’t mean they’ll support you now. If your brand doesn’t speak to me today, I’m not going to want to engage with you today. 

So, what speaks to people? What do people want today? They want to believe in something, belong to something, and connect with someone. If you can offer belief, belonging, and connection through your relevant content marketing, you’ll also be offering meaning—something for which humans are on a continual, existential quest.

For example, I’m on the board of a local theater group, and the executive director’s most recent emailed newsletter was titled “Theater Nurtures Democracy.” He connected the values of the theater with those of people living in today’s world. This made the mission relevant in a new and inspiring way. If that message connects with you, feel free to join the Empathy Gym.

Here are a few things you should do today: 

  • Take a look at your website FAQs and see if they need to be updated. 
  • Talk to your team to see what questions people are asking. 
  • Take a look at your social media to see what posts are getting clicked and shared. If you have Yelp reviews, look at those too. 

Take a look at how you’re telling your story. 

Stories are arguably the most compelling content you can offer. Humans are naturally wired to enter into stories. Told well, stories will grab people’s attention and compel them to take action. 

A story that compels includes a protagonist your audience cares about, important problems that must be overcome, a solution that overcomes the problem (something to root for), and (4) an ending—hopefully a happy one. 

To give you an example of how to do this, a recent client was having problems telling the story of the marine conservation program they were building. Finally, after hearing a lot of nuts and bolts from them about numerous programs and processes around which I couldn’t quite wrap my brain, I said “Tell me why I should give in one sentence.” Answer: “If the ocean dies, we all die.” 

Bingo!

Take a look at where you’re telling your story. 

To get your story in front of your supporters, you have to go where they are. Since it’s impossible to know which communication channels your supporters prefer simply by guessing, it’s prudent to ask them. Do this with a simple free survey or ask the question on your donation thank you landing page or in your thank you email. The very best time to ask donors how they prefer to be connected with is at the time you onboard them.

Tip: Figure out how your donors prefer to get information and then share your stories that way. This year, commit to customizing and offering options (email, direct mail, text, etc.). To really budget and plan effectively, it will be useful to know in advance how many people want to receive a hard copy annual report or newsletter. Check out what to listen for in donor onboarding from the Agitator-Donor Voice blog.

Stand out by being useful.

Like Jay Baer of “Convince and Convert,” I strongly believe your future success depends on your ability to help people—not “sell” to them. It’s critical that you integrate content marketing and fundraising if you’re to succeed at raising both awareness and money in the current economy. 

Figure out what content your constituents want and need and what you can create for them. Come from a perspective of being helpful, and your supporters will be inspired to return the favor!

Here are some ideas for useful content that connects your mission to what may be top of mind for your supporters right now:

Human services

  • What to Do if You’re Being Bullied
  • 10 Ways to Keep Black People and Their Allies Out of Jail

Animals

  • Tips for Safely Bringing Home a Rescue Dog
  • How to Protect Your Pets in a Natural Disaster

Arts and culture

  • Music Lessons and Activities for Your Digital Classroom
  • 5 Ways Theater Can Create Empathy and Fuel Democracy

Environmental

  • 8 Ways College Students Can Save the Environment Every Day
  • 5 Easy Ways to Save Your Planet

Health services

  • 5 Ways to Help Vulnerable Neighbors Get the COVID Vaccine
  • How to Fight Racism and Transphobia in the Healthcare System

Education

  • What You Need to Know about Critical Race Theory
  • Top 10 Ways to Help Your Child Readjust to Classroom Learning

Civil rights and social justice

  • Steps to Take if You Think You’ve Been Discriminated Against
  • How to Get Legal Help When You Can’t Afford a Lawyer
  • 5 Ways to Organize

Eliminate silos to solidify your message.

Consistency is important. If your organization has constituent communications segregated through different departments (e.g., development, marketing, customer service, programs, volunteers), this is the year to get on the same page. 

All of these departments are making similar relationship-building and marketing decisions. If they’re not working together, you’re duplicating resources and potentially weakening your brand through inconsistent messaging. 

Fundraisers must understand they no longer just write hard copy fundraising letters and grant proposals. They must write for the website, blog, email, social media, and more. 

Tip: Assure both fundraising appeals and marketing messages are relevant by setting up a regular strategy meeting between the staff members responsible for these functions. 

I used to do this weekly when I worked at the San Francisco Food Bank because breaking news, changes in government policy, and disruptions in the economy tended to have an outsized impact on our work, the need in the community, and what donors cared about. Last week’s message or appeal didn’t necessarily make sense for next week’s communications. Everyone had to be on the same page if we wanted the message to stick.

Consider how relevant content can create cash and community.

During the pandemic, many nonprofits discovered the potential of live streaming digital content and virtual events. Sometimes they charged for admission; sometimes the content was free. Either way, nonprofits found they could ask for donations from these online platforms in multiple ways. 

Since the content was fresh and the platform was such that the audience could be broader than would be the case at an in-person event, fortunate organizations found they were raising more money than before. 

Not only did these experiences generate immediate revenue, they also built a community around the event. 

The challenge ahead will be developing enough relevant experiences to keep your brand top of mind and your supporters deeply satisfied so they want to stick with you for the long term.

Tip: Send out a survey and find out what your virtual event attendees most appreciated and what they would like to see change in the future. 

One theater company I know developed free “Zoomlet” conversations with playwrights, directors, choreographers, and actors that took viewers behind the scenes (or what would have been behind the scenes were they able to stage live productions). This gave audience members a new appreciation for the theater, and they showed this appreciation by making donations during the conversations. 

Even though the company is going back into the physical theater space, they will make these Zoomlets an evergreen addition to their programming. 

People are bombarded with information, so it’s increasingly difficult to cut through the clutter and be heard. This is the year to get creative. 

What will make you stand out? What will really capture the hearts and imaginations of your constituents? Do you know enough about your supporters to know what will be relevant to them? 

Commit to putting some time into learning more about them and then create a content strategy that will help you develop and share relevant content. Looking for more guidance? Download this free Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet & Checklist.

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.