Marketing for nonprofit organizations is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the message that NPOs are trying to convey is one of utility and meaningful work, which is inherently easier than merely trying to sell a product or service. However, the way funding is structured and obtained often creates a force within NPOs that is diametrically opposed to staff hours spent on content creation and self-promotion. This leaves the organization a false choice: generate quality content or focus on grant writing/fundraising. The real question is not whether or not to focus on content, but rather how to develop a content strategy that builds brand identity, engages community leaders and ultimately assists in the fundraising process.
Measuring Content Effectiveness
In 2016, the Content Marketing Institute launched a study that was solely focused on nonprofit organizations and their content strategies. When asked, “What are your organization’s top five content marketing challenges this year?” they found measuring effectiveness to be at the top of the list.1 In addition, a staggering seventy percent of organizations in the the study reported not having any documented content marketing strategy to begin with.2 Another 70% of marketing professionals said they either do not know or are unsure of what a successful marketing program looks like for their NPO.
Not having a solid strategy in place, another obstacle to measuring content effectiveness is communication. Roughly half of NPO marketing professionals reported meeting only once a month, or even less frequently. To make matters worse, slightly under half (46%) of marketers would say the meetings are valuable in helping their organization to become more effective at content marketing.1 This lack of communication between department heads fails to create a clear vision of what the content marketing goals are and how to approach them, subsequently impeding the organization’s ability to measure the effectiveness of its content strategy.
Engagement through Consistency
Another challenge that NPOs face is producing consistent content while simultaneously retaining reader engagement. Uniformity of style and voice is a hallmark of high-quality content, and, if an organization uses different in-house contributors to develop the material, maintaining a similar tone can be daunting if not impossible. A compound element to the problem of brand consistency is that busy upper-management professionals or lower-level employees who are not experienced in writing per se, cannot develop content in a time-efficient manner.
This leads to the issue of reader engagement. To achieve this, not only must a marketing team be aware of their style consistency, but also the frequency with which they are publishing new content. Many NPOs haven’t even established a firm content publishing schedule — an oversight that often diminishes trust and authority in the eyes of their readership.
Funding is integral to every NPO, which is evidenced by the amount of time and resources allocated to the grant writing process. However, with organizations being so focused on funding, other crucial elements of the organization such as content creation are often pushed to the side. Yet, compelling content can be helpful to grant proposal writing, and should be viewed as a symbiotic process. John D. Jorgensen, Consultant for the First Nonprofit Foundation, wrote an article in 2015 about why his foundation rejects grant proposals, stating that one of the top six reasons was a lack of specifics and detail. Often times, an NPO’s online content, specifically its long-form content, can be used both as its initial proof-of-concept, as well as a resource from which to obtain project details for grant proposals.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, research shows that organizations with a documented strategy are more likely to consider themselves effective, feel significantly less daunted with the creation process, and are more easily able to justify increasing their marketing budget.4 Being able to keep stakeholders well-informed of the major goals and signposts of content strategy successes makes developing and implementing a strong plan much more fluid. Analysis of of the NPO’s underpublicized achievements and services is a simple way to begin, followed by identifying the stages of audience engagement. Once the strategy is in place, an evaluation of the organization’s previous content is key.
This leads us to the measurement of content effectiveness. The two main parts of measuring effectiveness are content reach and conversion. How many people are reading the content? Whether it is a social media post or a case study, it is important to develop a system to measure its marketing impact in terms of readership. Of those who read the content, how many subsequently acted on the information? Working with a combination of website analytics and peer surveys, it is surprisingly easy to measure engagement, especially as it relates to the content itself — specifically the amount of people who engaged in the content, how many acted on it or responded to the call to action.
NPO marketers will sometimes excessively produce content or overwrite in an effort to “fill out” their blog or resources page. Unfortunately, this type of content, while increasing visibility, is often ineffective and a waste of internal development resources. The material being published should be informative and relevant, particularly long-form content that empirically demonstrates successful projects and initiatives. Quality over quantity equals real audience engagement.
Another way to keep a reader engaged is to be consistent with the frequency with which content is published. When web users notice that an organization is active in publishing content, it tends to keeps them coming back for more updates and insight. Producing content consistently also establishes legitimacy, especially when the content is authoritative and data-driven. Again, long-form is useful for this because the material, once developed, can be repurposed and reused to create smaller pieces, which can subsequently be back-published and put out weekly in the form of a podcast or blog series. Over half (51%) of NPO content creators consider finding more/better ways to repurpose their content as a top priority.1
Long-Form Beyond the Website
With grants and foundations being a significant source of revenue, creating comprehensive proposals is crucial. Long-form content can be easily attached to grant proposals and solves the problem of having a proposal rejected due to lack of details or evidence. Quality content developed by an experienced writer, or team of writers, ensures that the grant proposal conveys an organization’s purposes and initiatives in an empirical manner. Additionally, case studies, white papers and the like are useful in fostering attention from donors, by showcasing exemplary success stories and informative narratives based upon project data. This serves an obvious purpose: to facilitate engagement with undiscovered funding sources.
When asked, “What percentage of your organization’s total marketing budget is spent on content marketing?” the average response was 21%. Of those same organizations surveyed, on average, 73% of them said they would stabilize or increase their content marketing budget over the next twelve months, with 43% of the largest NPOs likely to increase spending. Professional marketers are allocating more towards their content budgets because they are in touch with the inherent value. Producing content however, does not have to break the budget. In many cases, it is more cost-effective to utilize a third-party writing firm than to have the content created in-house — which you can read about more here.
Emphasis on Success
Long-form content allows the ability to show success, not only for the NPO as a whole, but also for individual team members. Many organizations and nonprofit professionals earn awards but neglect to capitalize on the opportunity for positive publicity. Composing this content allows the NPO to connect with others in the community, and, as a result, find new avenues for partnership and fundraising. Case studies are also a valuable tool to demonstrate these successes. In fact, 42% of NPO marketers said case studies are an effective tactic — up 21% from just one year ago.1 They can effectively illustrate a single achievement in a detailed, data-driven narrative — a powerful means of displaying thought leadership and expertise within the nonprofit sector.
1 “2016 Nonprofit Content Marketing” http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2016_NonProfit_Research_FINAL.pdf
2 “3 Reasons Nonprofits Struggle with Content Marketing” https://www.pursuant.com/blog/3-reasons-nonprofits-struggle-with-content-marketing/
3 “How Far Down the Search Engine Results Page Will Most People Go?”
4 ”Developing a Content Marketing Strategy” http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/developing-a-strategy/