Nonprofit Social Media Without a Content Marketing Strategy Sucks


Nonprofit Social Media Without a Content Marketing Strategy Sucks

I still see too many nonprofits muddling through social media without any real sense of direction. A Facebook post here. A random tweet there. And not a whole lot else. And if they do use other than the most “normal” sites, their purpose appears decidedly unclear. Very few have given much thought to, let alone embraced, the visual power of Pinterest (the second largest traffic driver in the world) and Instagram (which grew from 40 million to 100 million users since 2012). Nor have many harnessed the networking power of Linkedin or Google+. And they use YouTube only on occasion, not even considering it a social media channel.

And since many nonprofits aren’t giving much thought to where social media can take them, they’re getting about as much out of it as they’re putting in. Not enough. It reminds me of what Lewis Carroll wrote in “Through the Looking Glass.” To paraphrase: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll very likely get there.

Much nonprofit content is still spewed outwards, with little attention given to deliberate constituent engagement that will ultimately drive investment. You’ve seen it. It’s the photo pasted on the Facebook wall showing a sponsor delivering a check (dull). It’s using all caps in a tweet (why are you screaming at me?). Or using Twitter to let folks know they can follow you on Facebook (why would I care to do that? What’s in it for me?). It’s all ego-centric, rather than donor-centric, stuff. “We just won an award.” “We need to raise $ 100,000.” “We just got a new board president.”

Ego-centric content is boring. You won’t get shared. And, over time, you’ll stop being read. Your tree will fall in the forest, but no one will hear it. Yet most nonprofits won’t even know this is happening, because they don’t measure engagement. They only count things. Numbers of friends. Numbers of followers. Numbers of posts. Numbers of tweets.

Folks, social media is not a numbers game. It’s an engagement game.

And if your content doesn’t speak to your constituents they won’t engage. They won’t answer your call to action. They won’t advocate on your behalf or share your content with their friends.

As a result, you won’t expand your constituent universe. You won’t build awareness of your cause. And you won’t develop donor-investors. This is time wasting. This sucks.

What are you going to do about it?

Develop and Document a Content Marketing Strategy

Let’s begin with the definition of content marketing. Wikipedia says it’s any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers (or donors, volunteers, advocates, etc. – inserted by me). 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: consistently creating and curating content in order to change or enhance a consumer behavior.

Aha! The content must be designed to change or enhance your target audience’s behavior. This is your direction. How to get there? By creating or curating content that is relevant and valuable to your target.


A recent report from Blackbaud and Nonprofit Content Marketing Institute reveals that only 25% of nonprofit professionals have a documented content strategy.

Imagine how far ahead of the game you can get if you just develop one?!

8 Ways to Get Ahead of the Nonprofit Content Marketing Game

  1. Designate someone on staff to oversee your content marketing strategy. The report described above found that 86% of the most effective nonprofit content marketers have someone who oversees their strategy.  Call a spade a spade and hire someone who likes to play cards. Don’t just randomly throw a deck at someone and tell them to “do something” with it.  Also don’t fall into the trap of focusing more on the medium than the message. Don’t hire someone to “do an Annual Report” or “do a newsletter.” Stop focusing on the package and focus more on the “gift” of your remarkable content.
  2. Master one channel; then build from there. Joe Pulizzi, Founder of The Content Marketing Institute, suggests: “For nonprofits without many resources for #contentmarketing, focus on delivering consistent content by owning just one channel. Be the go-to resource!”  I agree.  There are many terrific social media avenues to promote yourself as an expert in your field . It’s better to go deep with one platform than to spread yourself thin across multiple channels. In other words, learn to walk before you try to run.
  3. 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. The top 8 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%)
  4.  Make sure your objectives are measurable. Once you know where you’re trying to get to, you need to be able to assess whether the content you’re sharing is getting you there. Ask yourself how many of the top 8 nonprofit content marketing metrics you are tracking:
    1. Increased fundraising (66%)
    2. Website traffic (43%)
    3. Social media sharing (39%)
    4. Increased numbers served/helped (48%)
    5. Increased supporter loyalty (47%)
    6. Increased volunteering (39%)
    7. Qualitative feedback from supporters (38%)
    8. Subscriber growth (31%)
  5. Make telling your nonprofit stories the overarching theme of your content marketing strategy. As Jim Collins wrote in Going From Good to Great: “We are known by the stories we can tell.” Stories are the most powerful form of human communication. When they’re interesting, exciting, surprising or otherwise compelling, they stick with us and pull an emotional punch. We want to hear more. We want to share. We may even want to jump into the story and be a hero – the one who gives it a happy ending.
  6. Intentionally include video as a central element of your content marketing/social media strategy. When it comes to telling a story, pictures are supremely powerful. Even more so when they’re moving. They simply capture the reader’s attention more quickly than plain text. And since you’ve got about two seconds to capture attention, this is a huge head start and a great shortcut. Get some tips for integrating visual content into your marketing mix here.
  7. Start thinking more about your “Return on Interesting” than your “Return on Investment.” The latter will follow the former. Before every tweet you’re considering posting, ask: Will my followers find this interesting? Does this tell a story that relates to our mission and programs? Does it evoke a powerful emotion that inspires engagement and action? Will someone want to share this with their friends (The Psychology of Sharing study by The New York Times found that 68% of the respondents shared because they want to define themselves to others). If your content isn’t going to resonate with your target audience, then think twice before posting it.
  8. Allocate an adequate budget to your content marketing program. The average percentage of nonprofit marketing budgets currently allocated to content marketing is only 20%. Since I firmly believe that in the digital age content marketing should be the hub of your marketing (and fundraising) strategy, being this stingy with your budget is going to make you go from riches to rags in no time.

Put these strategies in place and see if your social media takes off!

Maximize Social Business