Why Nonprofit Content Marketing Should Help; Not Sell

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Why Nonprofit Content Marketing Should Help; Not Sell

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!

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

If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ for ‘s’ and ‘l’ in building your content marketing strategy you’ll convince more of your social media fans and followers to convert to donors.

Think of it this way. If you’ve traditionally focused on selling vs. helping, you’ve emphasized ‘s’ and ‘l’ [ stupidity (your customers) and laziness (you)]. You’ve acted like your customers don’t know very much, so they need you to show them the way. And you’ve been too lazy to teach them what they need to know.

You keep them dependent on you (and, consequently, feeling disempowered) by telling them what to do and keeping them in the dark about the details.

Selling is a master/servant model.

Master/servant is an outbound marketing model where the organization matters more than the customer. 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 won’t get you where you want to go. 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.

Today’s consumers don’t like to be infantilized.

Now imagine you focus on helping vs. selling. You emphasize ‘h’ and ‘p’ [humanity (your customers) and peer (you and your customer)]. You treat your constituents like individuals with specific values, needs and desires. You endeavor to learn more about them so you can meet their needs. You engage them as partners, showing that you’re all in this together. You create a community of like-minded folks. You welcome folks to your community, and you take care of your members. Not as infants, but as peers.

Embrace a peer-to-peer model.

Peer-to-peer is 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.

So what kind of content works best in the current inbound, peer-to-peer marketing zeitgeist?

Content that will be effective is content that is useful.

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.

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, you must give them.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean.

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? As I’ve said before, 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?

Let’s look at some gifts of helpful content for different types of nonprofits:

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


  • 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

5 Action Tips to Develop Helpful Content:

  1. Figure out what people want and need from you. 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 click on?
  2. Ask your constituents for their input. What if you asked your constituents what they think? What they need? How they might address the problem? It’s easy to put together a quick, free survey using SurveyMonkey or Googledocs (you can get some great examples of questions you can ask here). While you’re at it, what if you congratulated them on their contributions, rather than promoting yours?
  3. 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?
  4. 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).
  5. 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. “We just helped 2,000 people get meals.”

How this comes across: “Hey you! You servants! You folks who really don’t understand how this is done, and need us to tell you. Want to jump on board?”

What if you shifted your model to peer/peer? What if you hyped 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.”

How this comes across: “Hey you! Did you know you’re a hero? Do you know how much we appreciate that you ‘get it’ and are willing to walk your talk? We want to thank you by sharing this recipe.”

Don’t hold out on your constituents who need your help. Get your worthwhile content together, put it into your content calendar; then share it! The way you build a relationship in the digital age is different. You’re no longer master/servant marketing at people. You’re peer/peer marketing with people.

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

Maximize Social Business


5 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Rock Social Content Marketing

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5 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Rock Social Content Marketing

Last month in “How Social Content Marketing is Your New Fundraising Rocket Booster” I wrote about why prioritizing your marketing communications objectives; then building a strategic social content marketing plan to help you optimize your content for social channels to achieve these outcomes is so important in today’s digital marketplace.

This month I’d like to discuss how to do this by offering you five ways to get to your goals, generate more leads, drive greater engagement and, ultimately, raise more money for your cause.

1. Document Your Strategy  

Per the 2015 Nonprofit Content Marketing study, only 23% of nonprofits with a content marketing strategy had it documented; yet these were the same folks who were most effective in all aspects of content marketing. Documentation is also the best way to get everyone in your organization on the same page. Content marketing should not be siloed in one department, because a successful strategy crosses departments and folks from different areas should take on different assignments. You may wish to include development staff, marketing staff, executive management, volunteer coordinators and program staff (e.g., ask your folks in the field to make quick videos with smart phones; then tweet them to major donors). Here are some of the things to come to consensus on; then write down:

  • What is the tone, style and voice of your content? Will this be different on different platforms (perhaps based on the demographics of your supporters who use different media)?
  • How will content deliverables be produced; who will be responsible?
  • How often will deliverables be produced/distributed?
  • Who will be responsible for follow-up/engaging with constituents?
  • What process will you use to evaluate engagement, and who will be responsible?

Only 15% of nonprofits surveyed in the 2015 Nonprofit Content Marketing study reported feeling successful at tracking ROI. Notably, relatively few reported using some of the more standard metrics used by businesses (e.g., subscriber growth; increased advocacy; SEO ranking; benchmark lift of product/service awareness; inbound links; sales; lead quantity and sales lead quality). Here are the evaluation processes that were used:


2. Budget for Your Content Marketing

The most effective nonprofits spend more of their marketing budget, excluding staff, on content marketing (30%) than the least effective (13%). 57% say lack of budget is a challenge, while 37% of non-profit marketers intend to increase their content marketing budgets.

It obviously makes little sense to spend time documenting a content marketing strategy if you don’t have the resources to act on it. So it’s imperative to allocate a budget for this endeavor. First and foremost, of course, you need staff. If you can’t hire who you need, consider outsourcing. In any regard, there are other areas to consider setting aside budget for:

  • Search engine marketing
  • Analytics and tracking tools
  • Promoted tweets
  • Print or other offline promotion
  • Social ads (e.g., Facebook; Linkedin)
  • Content discovery tools
  • Native advertising
  • Online banner ads

While many nonprofits get queasy at the thought of allocating funds for advertising, you do have to spend money to make money. If you distribute your content in such a manner that it engages the right audiences and drives important leads, then it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish not to do so. Just start small. Test and analyze the platforms you’re considering using before launching a full-fledged campaign.

Earmarking resources to accurately track and determine which channels drive the most traffic, and which types of content generate the greatest engagement and influence the largest donations should be more of a no-brainer. You want to be able to assess where new leads come from, and what type of engagement you get from these leads.

Social media metrics you may wish to track include:

  • Referral traffic (the most desired type of traffic, because referred visitors are already interested in what you have to offer; easy to track if you use Google Analytics)
  • Click rate on social shares (easily generate more clicks by adding share buttons not just to your website’s home page, but landing pages, subpages, images, videos and to any form of content you can think of)
  • People talking about this on Facebook. Interestingly, Buffer found that text-only posts of quotations had the farthest spread for them. So try solving some of your content creation challenges by simply sharing some inspirational quotes that connect to your mission! Images are great for virality too, and Buffer makes it easy to share both.
  • Most popular content (easy to track if you use Google Analytics)

3. Tell Better, More Frequent Stories

The Nonprofit Content Marketing 2015 study found that 66% of non-profit marketers are focusing on becoming better storytellers. It turns out that human beings are wired for stories. It’s the oldest form of human communication. It’s how we make sense of our world, and our place in it. What a perfect vehicle for talking about how to make the world a better place!

Stories are the easiest way to solve your content marketing challenges.

It turns out that social media is an optimal mechanism for spreading stories, because a basic feature of stories is the telling and re-telling. A great way to do this is the widespread technique popularized in the 19th century when books were premium items and installment literature was the way to bring it to the masses. This is how authors like Charles Dickens, and Alexander Dumas got their start, and later on Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry James and Herman Melville. It’s one reason that when they were made into books these novels were so long (writers were paid by the line and the episode).

Serial storytelling works because each episode is easy to digest. And folks welcome your content as you continue to tell the story or let it unfold. Then, if you’re lucky, they’ll share the story with their networks. Your story will then self-replicate as it’s passed from one listener to the next.

4. Develop an Influencer Strategy

One of the best ways to turn your content viral — and spread it beyond your current supporters –is through the use of influencers. And these folks don’t need to be Hollywood or sports celebrities. You simply want to find folks who care about your cause, have large online networks and who may be likely to share your content.

TRUE STORY: When I worked at the San Francisco Food Bank, we found that Mommy Bloggers and Food Bloggers were our best social media sharers. Why? The moms really cared about making sure all kids, regardless of income, got healthy nutritious meals. The foodies cared about anything to do with food, and liked the idea of giving back. So we often asked these folks to share our posts; they were really nice as pie about it.

Who are your likely influencers? Think about who might have brand affinity for your cause; then begin to develop relationships with these folks.

5. Share Your Content in More Places

In our digitally revolutionized society inbound marketing is the best way to turn strangers into supporters. Inbound marketing means that, once you’ve created great content that aligns with your constituencies’ values and will naturally pull folks toward your organization and mission, you then publish that content with your constituents’ habits in mind. You go where they are. You engage with them in a manner in which they’d like to be engaged.

The places you share your content matters. A lot.

So maximize your chances of reaching folks by using multiple social media platforms. According to the Nonprofit Content Marketing 2015 report, nonprofit marketers are using an average of five social platforms as of the end of 2014.


If you want to raise more money you can’t silo your marketing and your fundraising efforts. They’ve got to work together seamlessly if you have a dream… a vision… values… a mission you want to spread. Understand that from the outside looking in, you are ONE organization.  No one cares which department created or implemented which strategy. They simply want value and consistency.

Want to know what it takes to be a “best-in-class” nonprofit marketer/fundraiser?  The folks at Content Marketing Institute have done a pretty good job of summarizing this for you:

ContentMarketing_Graphic-Best in Class Nonprofit Content Marketer

How does your organization rate? Where are you strong? Where could you improve? What obstacles stand in your way?

Maximize Social Business