Content Marketing and Social Media: What Nonprofits Must Know


Content Marketing and Social Media for Nonprofits

First, you need to be doing content marketing. Second, content marketing is not a synonym for social media. Nor is it a synonym for social deployment.

“Marketing communications” seems to be the term with which nonprofits are most familiar. Does this sound like you: “We’re the best kept secret around.” “No one knows what we do.” “If folks understood the depth and breadth of our work they’d want to support us.”

You may have put in place a “marketing communications program” to address this problem. I’m going to suggest that you dump it.

Say what? You heard me.

You might have a “Marketing Communications” director or department, with someone assigned to focus on different mediums – some print and some digital. Someone to churn out a newsletter. Someone to create an annual report. Someone to post to Facebook and Twitter. Someone to write your fundraising appeal. Someone to write an e-appeal. Someone to count “likes” and “follows” to prove the merit of your social media choices. You may have only one person desperately trying to accomplish all these things, or several people working in silos.

I know you’re simply trying to (1) create greater awareness and (2) inspire people to become engaged and invested with you.

Great goals, but poor choice of strategy. Go to jail. In fact, go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $ 200.

Here’s your crime:

You’re focusing on the medium; not the message.

Whether you’ve got a department or a person, you may be more focused on the communications medium than on the content. Your work plan probably says “Publish a monthly e-newsletter,” “Mail an Annual Report” and “Increase number of Twitter follows by 10%” rather than “Publicize our three new strategic initiatives,” “Create interactive games for target constituencies” or “Identify key influencers to share our core messages.”

Messages are what inspire people; not the packages they come in. Packaging can certainly help, but putting a sow’s ear into a silk purse won’t make people want it.

What will? Guess what? Probably nothing. Because I don’t want a sow’s ear. I have no desire for it. No need for it. Never did. Never will. You’re wasting your time trying to put it into a pretty package because, package or no, I’m not interested.

And this is why you should go back to the drawing board. Want a “Get out of Jail Free” card?

When you get back to your old drawing board, change it up! Especially if you’re just using your marketing communications to broadcast stuff out to the world. That’s called outbound marketing; and the digital revolution has killed that as a strategy. Nobody cares what you have to tell them. If they wanted to know, they could “google it.” They care about themselves. What’s in it for them? How do they benefit? It’s your job to find out!

Enter inbound, interactive marketing. An easel and a flip chart are great for for brainstorming. Stop sketching out pages for your annual report and newsletter (medium). Stop building new social media accounts, without any idea of what content you may have to share through them (medium).

Instead, start thinking about who your target audiences are and what they care about (messaging).

Build a content marketing program to hone your messaging.

Although you may have heard this term, it may be not be clear what it means for your organization’s modus operandi. Content marketing may be the rage du jour, but it’s more than just a fad.

Many organizations assume they’re doing it because they have a marketing communications director or social media manager. But, many aren’t. Because most organizations focus a lot more on form than function. And form should follow function! In other words, you want to choose your boxes after you’ve selected your gifts.

Here are the 8 things you really need to know — and do — to create content that’s a gift to your constituents:

1. Content marketing should mean you begin with what you have to say. Bring together a multi-disciplinary team of staff and/or volunteers. Get out your easel. Brainstorm a list of what’s hot at your organization. Then brainstorm some more. Consider how what you do ties in with what’s going on in the news (and what may be top of mind for your potential supporters)? Draw a circle around those topics that have the greatest currency and relevance.

2. The next step is to figure out what your constituents want to hear. What are your most frequently asked questions? Ask your receptionist. Ask your program directors. Ask your volunteers. What content do you see your constituents sharing on social media? Jot down all this information.

3. Then determine where these two things intersect. Figure out how the content you previously brainstormed and circled might answer your readers’ burning questions or address their favorite subject areas. Use a marker and connect the hot, relevant topics to the hot, relevant questions and shares. That’s the content you want to put out into the universe – through whatever marketing communications mediums you have at your disposal or can realistically manage.

4. What kind of emotionally compelling stories might you have to tell that relate to this relevant content? Jot down any stories that come to mind. Go searching for others. As business and thought leader Jim Collins taught us: “We are known by the stories we can tell.” Make sharing stories a common practice within your organization. Infuse them into your culture. Share stories at board and staff meetings. Ask program staff to share stories with you. Share stories with them.

Effective storytelling is often the heart of an effective. attention-grabbing content marketing program. And, yes, “storytelling” is another meme du jour. But there’s a reason these phrases become buzzworthy. So don’t throw them out just because they’ve crept into jargon territory. People are wired for stories, and they’re more likely to understand, remember and share your content if it comes in a format that shows them the central challenge you seek to overcome — and how they can prevent tragedy.

5. Look for stories that show folks how they can prevent an unhappy ending. At the end of the day, the heart of your communications strategy – your purpose in writing – must be to persuade us that if your organization, and the donor, doesn’t help, something untenable will happen to your main character.  The character may be a person, an animal, a place or a principle.  Whatever person, place or thing is faced with a challenge, don’t let it suffer. Don’t let it wither. Don’t let it die.

6. Find ways you can get your audiences to interact with your content. Your goal is to get folks engaged with you, right? Then consider how you might kick-start this activity. There’s a reason those Publisher’s Clearing House mailings come with all sorts of stickers for you to affix before you mail off your entry. It gets you involved! For some ways to craft interactive content, click here.

7. Now you’re ready to create a content editorial calendar . This is where you begin to think about your mediums. Which content will work best in your newsletter? Which do you want to share via social media? What should go into your fundraising appeal? When are the best times to share your content, and with which constituencies? When will you piggyback, perhaps sharing your blog posts via links to your e-newsletter or Twitter feed? Who will be in charge of producing the content? Who will review it? What will the deadline be?

And so forth. Your content calendar gets you organized. It helps you to become strategic and consistent, rather than random and ad hoc. 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 or desk-top or wall calendar. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be something with which you’re comfortable).

Content marketing does not mean you give up on all your different communications mediums. Your choice of communications platform does matter. It’s just that emphasizing the box rather than the gift inside the box is backwards. You don’t want to put the medium cart before the messaging horse.

8. Write a content marketing plan to efficiently disseminate your messaging to target constituents. Your written content marketing plan should embrace both fundraising and awareness-raising goals. It should include ways to create powerful content that will accomplish all your objectives. Plus it must identify platforms where the folks who you want to impress hang out (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, email, their curbside mailbox, their smart phone, etc.).

When you’re done, you’ll have a well-organized and integrated content marketing plan that includes: goals (why you want to do this); objectives (how you’ll do this, with measurable outcomes); strategies (what you’ll do, who will be responsible, and when you’ll target getting it done) and tactics (tools and platforms you’ll use and promotion strategy.

Get thee a content marketing plan that prioritizes the messages your constituents most want to hear.  Then figure out the platforms — both online and offline — in which to deploy them. You’ll be well on your way to raising awareness and investment in your cause!

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About the Author:

Claire Axelrad

This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad

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