“Content marketing” is a far-reaching term that encompasses all of the written information you put into the world in an effort to educate your stakeholders and activate them in service of your mission. This content includes social media, blogs, emails, videos, case studies, white papers, op-eds and so much more. These tactics are crucial to the success of the modern nonprofit. In fact, research from the Content Marketing Institute found that almost all — 92 percent — of nonprofits use content marketing in some way. However, only about a quarter of those organizations said they had a documented content strategy or felt like they used content marketing effectively.
While content marketing is, most simply put, the culmination of the tactics you use to put information in front of your audiences, there absolutely must be a clear content strategy behind everything you release. That strategy should not be just a laundry list of the content marketing tactics your organization will use. It should clearly outline the themes and topics you want to own in the minds of your audiences, the best channels and messages to use to reach your target stakeholders, and exactly how each tactic aligns with your overall marketing goals and organizational goals.
A good content marketing strategy can help your organization increase general awareness, appear closer to the top of search results and ultimately help you attract more donors, volunteers and other supporters. An excellent content marketing strategy will take awareness to the next level, ensuring the people you come in contact with can engage with your organization on a deeper level and are driven to take action that will help you achieve your mission.
Why you need a content marketing strategy
Simply putting content into the world without a clear strategy or established brand voice isn’t enough. Without a cohesive, goal-oriented content marketing strategy, your content and communications efforts may not directly impact your marketing goals or your organization’s strategic goals.
To ensure all of your organization’s messaging and content marketing tactics follow a clear communications strategy that aligns with your organization’s mission and overall strategy, include each of the following elements in your nonprofit content marketing strategy.
What you should include in your nonprofit content marketing strategy
With these crucial elements, your content marketing strategy can be greater than the sum of its parts:
Content positioning and themes
Your content positioning, or the big idea you want to own for your audiences, can be a brief, 1-2 sentence statement that articulates the point of your communications. For example, content positioning for a nonprofit that hosts creative writing workshops for students in Chicago might be something like: “We have a deep understanding of the unique needs and challenges our city’s students face, and we have witnessed firsthand the benefits of nurturing creative writing skills.”
Once you have your content positioning, you should identify the themes that will help you convey it. Here at Prosper, we use a model called “IC3” to develop key messages and identify content themes for our nonprofit clients. It outlines the ill, cause, cure and consequence of your organization’s mission and purpose. Here’s how it works:
- The ill is the problem your organization exists to solve, and the cause is the reason that problem exists.
- The cure is what will solve the problem and typically includes the work your organization is doing.
- The consequence is what will happen if you and your supporters do or do not solve the problem. The consequence can be framed as either positive or negative, depending on your organization’s ideal tone.
From there, your content themes will likely involve education about your organization’s specific ill and cause, information about your cure, or specific programs, and stories that highlight the positive consequence of your work. So, the student creative writing organization we mentioned may have content themes that include:
- Analysis of data about student challenges in Chicago
- Creative prompts for students, teachers and parents
- Published creative works by the students themselves
- Stories about students whose creative writing have had a positive effect on their lives and their communities
And finally, beyond your organization’s content positioning and the overall themes you cover in your communications, you also have to define your tone. What are the feelings you want to evoke when your readers come in contact with your organization’s content? Energized? Empowered? Empathetic? Maybe you want them to feel angry and ready to fight the ills and causes alongside you. Maybe you want them to feel hopeful about the cure you present and encouraged to join your movement. These nuances should be clearly identified and codified with specific examples in your content marketing strategy. Your voice and tone will need to be carried through every single one of your content channels by everyone who writes for them.
Target stakeholder information
When developing your overall organizational strategy and/or your marketing strategy, you should have developed target stakeholder profiles or descriptions of your audiences for your organization to use. These profiles are most often personified descriptions of the “average” person in a specific stakeholder group — informed by research — and they help you and your team understand that group’s demographics, psychographics and communication preferences.
For your content marketing strategy specifically, you should document:
- Each stakeholder’s “primary driver,” or the biggest reason why they’d get involved with your organization
- The communications channels that are most effective for reaching this stakeholder
- The messages or themes that will resonate with them most on each platform and at each stage in their relationship with your organization
For example, if you’re seeking to influence lawmakers, you may leverage an op-ed or open letter about why the community you serve needs their attention. In this piece, you may discuss the economic or overall community benefits of supporting policy that impacts the people you serve and share statistics that highlight those benefits. For another piece intended to educate donors about what you do or your focus area, you’ll likely communicate the needs of your communities and how you serve them in a different way, perhaps with more personal stories. You should document all of these nuances and preferences in your nonprofit content marketing strategy.
Content marketing goals and channels
Next, decide where the best places to share those messages are based on stakeholder preferences and marketing goals. High-level content marketing goals include raising awareness, increasing engagement and encouraging action across audiences. In this chart, we’ve outlined some of the most common channels to achieve each of these goals:
As you select your communication channels for each of your audiences, messages and themes, don’t forget to consider specific campaign goals and how the information shared on each of those channels can complement the others. For example, upon release of a research report or a white paper, you should consider how that information can be shared on social media, in newsletters and in direct mailings.
Depending on the organizational or marketing goal your organization aims to achieve through content marketing, like recruiting more volunteers or donors or building a pipeline of talent, leveraging content for inbound marketing can be impactful. Inbound marketing is the method of using forms to capture information in exchange for content the reader finds valuable. It’s most commonly used when sharing thought leadership or proprietary content like research reports, white papers or e-books. Once a reader provides their contact information to receive your content, you can continue to communicate with them and engage them through email or other channels.
Ultimately, the effectiveness and overall impact of your content marketing strategy should be constantly measured. We recommend including a KPI dashboard in your content marketing strategy that is consistently updated and accessible by everyone on your team. This dashboard should include key metrics like social media followership and engagement, whitepaper or e-book downloads, website visits email metrics and any other key content marketing metrics. Your organization’s content KPI dashboard may look something like this:
Don’t be afraid to make changes to your content marketing strategy over time based on what gets results and what doesn’t. What you own in the minds of your audiences today may not be what you want or need to own tomorrow to achieve your mission.