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Content Marketing for Nonprofits


Content marketing as a term has been making an appearance recently, but what is it? How can nonprofits apply it to their work? And how is it different from the marketing we’ve been doing all along? Marlene Oliveira joined us for our Toronto Net Tuesday event on Content Management to help us answer these questions. This blog post is a recap of the event.

What is content marketing?

Marlene started us off by giving the following definition from the 2015 Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends Report (Blackbaud). Content marketing is:

“Strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience - and, ultimately, to drive action.”

In the previous year the bolded terms weren’t included in the definition of “content marketing”, and out of the over 1700 nonprofits that were interviewed for the study, 92% nonprofits said they were doing content marketing. In 2015, when the bolded items were introduced into the definition, the number of nonprofits who were doing “content marketing” dropped to 61% - demonstrating the clear difference between content marketing and the general practice of marketing.

The study also showed that nonprofits’ top four content marketing goals were:

  1. Brand awareness (87%)
  2. Engagement (84%)
  3. Client/constituent retention/loyalty (82%)
  4. Client/constituent acquisition (79%

And the top content marketing tactics that are being used are:

  • Social media - other than blogs (93%)
  • In-person events (89%)
  • E-newsletters (88%)
  • Articles on your website (86%)

Now if you run that data against what the 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report (NonprofitMarketing discovered when they interviewed 1500 nonprofits on their communication strategies, there were some striking similarities. What they discovered was that the top four nonprofit communications goals are similar to the goals identified in the content marketing study, which were:

  1. Engaging community (57%)
  2. Retaining current donors (51%)
  3. General brand awareness (51%)
  4. Acquiring new donors (50%)

The report asked nonprofits to list what their most important communication channels/tactics were and found them to be:

  • Websites
  • Email
  • Social media
  • In-person events
  • Printing marketing
  • Media relations/PR

These communications channels/tactics are called the Big 6, because they’ve been the same since 2011. Again, other than media relations/PR, the findings in the Nonprofit Communications Trends report are consistent with the findings of the Nonprofit Content Marketing report.

This means our nonprofit marketers are doing the same thing as our nonprofit communicators!

Content marketing, thus, is more of a shift in focus rather than a completely new way of marketing and communicating. In a report conducted by Contently, The State of Content Marketing 2015, it states that content marketing is the offering of content to our audiences to attract them instead of the more traditional strategy of pushing content onto them. The direction of the offering is reversed so that it’s more like a gifting process - content created for an audience.  

Content Marketing Constraints

There are challenges that nonprofits’ experience when it comes to content marketing, including a lack of budget, measuring content effectiveness, producing engaging content, lack of integration, gaps of knowledge and skills within internal team, technology constraints, lack of buy-in, and difficulty in finding the right professionals. While these challenges may exist, content marketing is still an extremely effective way for nonprofits to engage a wider network of supporters.

So, where do you start?

First, think about the assets you already have. You don’t have to start from scratch. Many nonprofits are actually quite rich with content - it’s about using it strategically.

The main shift in focus actually starts with your frame of mind. Remember that content marketing is about bringing people in, not about pushing content out. You’ll need to evaluate and assess what content would bring value to your supporters and provide it.

Measuring the effectiveness of content marketing is an important factor to consider, because it’ll help you understand if your content is actually resonating with your audience. Marlene recommends documenting your content marketing plans if you’d like to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. Content marketing can get overwhelming fairly quickly, especially if you have multiple channels. All successful content marketers in the nonprofit sector are those who have documented plans to keep everything organized and strategic.

The 2015 Digital Outlook Report conducted by Care2, hjc and Nonprofit Technology Network also suggests that blogging, downloads and social media are necessary to generate and close leads. Organizations that blog have 55% more website visitors than those that don’t (Hubspot).

It’s also important that people can find your content which is why SEO is important. You need to have the right tools in place such as mobile friendly website/emails, Google Analytics to track your visitors (e.g. know how they’re finding out about you), optimized landing pages/websites, and good data tracking.

Some of the most popular tactics for content marketing that you might want to try are:

  • in-person events
  • illustrations/photos
  • e-newsletters
  • podcasts
  • videos
  • research reports
  • microsites
  • blogs
  • infographics

Helpful resources