Here's my definition of nonprofit content marketing:
Content marketing for nonprofits is creating and sharing relevant and valuable content that attracts, educates, motivates, and inspires your participants and supporters so that they can help you achieve your mission.
(I'm trying to come up with a better name for this than "content marketing" by the way. It's what the professional marketing crowd calls it, but I don't like it. Help me rename it.)
You can use content marketing in lots of different ways -- the goal is really up to you.
Many people advocate content marketing as a way to grow your mailing list or to drive traffic to your website. But those are really just tactical uses of content that should lead somewhere else, like attracting new program participants, or keeping current volunteers engaged, or diversifying your individual donor base, or getting the media or decisionmakers to call you for your perspectives. And all of those desired outcomes require that you position your nonprofit in those people's minds in certain ways.
How you use content in your marketing is what connects the dots between someone signing up for your mailing list or visiting your website and then eventually turning into a donor, volunteer, participant or advocate.
Content Marketing Can Position Your Nonprofit as a Helpful Friend
This is a great approach for those of you who provide services to either individual clients or members. Share your content with an overall style and tone that is down-to-earth and friendly, even casual, with spot-on, pragmatic advice. Be a good listener who is responsive to what you hear. Use your content as a way to build personal relationships and a sense of kinship or community. If you want people to participate in your training programs, for example, you should create content that positions you as a knowledgable source who can explain things well without sounding like you are talking down to people.
Content Marketing Can Position Your Nonprofit as a Trusted Authority
The differences between being a "helpful friend" and a "trusted authority" come in both the substance and the style of your content. This approach may work better if you are trying to get reporters to call you for quotes, or legislators to ask you to testify in hearings, for example. It can also work well if you want your staff to be invited to make more formal presentations at conferences. With this approach, you'd present your content in a straightforward, objective, well documented way, likely with lots of facts and figures, or best practices. You don't have to be stiff, but your tone does need to be a bit more formal than in the "helpful friend" model. You'd also emphasize search engine optimization in your content strategy so that people searching for the "right" answers or the "top expert" find you.
Content Marketing Can Position Your Nonprofit as an Influential Thinker
If you are all about big ideas or just trying to get people to think about issues in new or different ways, you can use your content to position your organization as an influential thinker. Unlike the "trusted authority" model, your content will include much more opinion and challenges to the status quo. We often see this goal used as a subset of an overall content marketing strategy, where an executive director blogs on big picture topics or personal reactions to things going on in his or her field or professional community, even if the main work of the organization is much more grounded. Influential thinkers are the people who are often asked to write books or participate in discussion panels.
Content Marketing Can Position Your Nonprofit as a Reliable Performer
While individual donors may be attracted to nonprofits that position themselves as helpful friends, trusted authorities, or influential thinkers, it's more likely that using your content to position your organization as either a "reliable performer" or "innovative changemaker" will work best in fundraising.
If you want to use your content to show donors that what you do works, and it works day in and day out, you can focus on content that demonstrates that you are a reliable performer -- or safe bet for their charitable dollars or volunteer hours. Your content could focus on storytelling that shows the impact you have over and over in people's lives, before and afters, and testimonials about your effectiveness. You'd likely stay away from controversial or political topics, and focus more on the bread-and-butter of accomplishing your mission. The content strategies of reliable performers are constantly closing the feedback loop with donors -- "you gave, and here's what we made happen with your support, and we'll do it again tomorrow."
Content Marketing Can Position Your Nonprofit as an Innovative Changemaker
If you think about those nonprofits that we might call the "rock stars," their content strategies often position them as innovative changemakers. Like the reliable performer, innovative changemakers also focus on results, but the problems they tackle often have much more drama -- or perhaps they are simply better at weaving the drama into their storytelling! Instead of just results per se, they talk about real, lasting change, especially when it's hard to get there. Innovative changemakers have no problem flaunting how they are bucking the system or ignoring conventional wisdom. The content strategies of innovative changemakers are usually much more personality driven than those of reliable performers, and therefore are similar to the influential thinker model too.
Which one works for your nonprofit? Discuss it on our Facebook Page.