When I think about nonprofit content marketing, one of my favorite marketing strategists is Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.
He says the difference between “helping” and “selling’ is only two letters. But what a difference those two letters makes!
If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ ( in ‘helping’) for ‘s’ and ‘l’ (in ‘selling’) in building your nonprofit content marketing strategy you’ll convince more of your nonprofit social media fans and followers to convert to subscribers or members, and more of your subscribers and members 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. Yet at the same time you’ve been too lazy to gently teach them what they need to know.
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 you’re all in this together. You create a community of like-minded folks, welcome folks to your community, and take care of your members. Not as infants, but as peers. No one likes to be infantalized.
Sell something and you create a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.
It’s human nature to fall into a ‘sales’ model when you feel so proud of what you do you assume everyone else will want to jump on your bandwagon. Yet just “doing good” is not enough. Anymore than having a good product is good enough for the soap manufacturer. You need to tell people how you can be helpful to them, their loved ones and their community. And don’t expect them to just take your word for it. Show them by offering up useful content and sharing powerful emotional stories and facts that demonstrate your outcomes. Otherwise, you keep people dependent on you to tell them what to do because “you know best.” When you keep people in the dark about the details, they feel both stupid and disempowered. Since these are not good feelings, how to you think this “sales vs. help” model makes your constituents feel?
History lesson: Madison vs. Jefferson in the Federalist Papers.
Madison was a pragmatist who argued for more of a master/servant model of government. He did not believe the masses were sufficiently wise and informed to make critical decisions, and he feared the unleashing of populist passions that might overcome deliberative reason prized by Enlightenment thinkers. This is largely why the Framers designed the American constitutional system not as a direct democracy but as a representative republic, where enlightened delegates of the people would serve the public good. Hmmn… that may have sounded like a good idea at the time, but times change.
Selling is an outdated 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.
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.
What kind of content works best in the current inbound, peer-to-peer marketing zeitgeist?
Content that is useful to your audience.
Again, Jay Baer calls this type of content a “Youtility.” Content 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 don’t need to re-invent the wheel.
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.
TRUE STORY: I once worked for a comprehensive human services organization. One of our more than 40 different programs was a parenting program. One afternoon, waiting for folks to arrive for an advisory committee meeting, 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, nonprofit 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?
Examples of Helpful Content:
Let’s look at some gifts of helpful content for different types of nonprofits:
- 10 Ways to Keep Seniors Safe
- Smart Strategies to Childproof Your Home
- How to Recognize Signs of Cyber 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 Home
- 22 Ways to Save Your Planet
- 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 and Social Justice
- Steps to Take if You Think You’ve Been Discriminated Against
- How to Get Legal Help When You Can’t Afford a Lawyer
- How to Be an Ally
5 Action Tips to Develop Helpful Nonprofit 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 Google Docs (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?
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?
3. Create an editorial content marketing calendar.
This will facilitate the consistent creation of helpful content and give your plan some needed organization. There are many different marketing tools for nonprofits available, including 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.
4. Use online marketing and social media to promote your ‘youtility’ to constituents, rather than promoting 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” comes across as “Hey you servants! You folks who really don’t understand how this is done, and need us to tell you. Want to jump on board because we’re doing good work?”
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.” This comes across as “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 constituents who need your help.
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 with your nonprofit content marketing strategy. Stop leading with what you need. Lead with what they need.
“We have to reimagine what we’re about right now. If you want to build an emotional connection with people, help them! Roll up your sleeves and do something.”
— Mark Schaefer, Executive Director, Schaefer Marketing Solutions; COO B Squared Media
9 Steps to Build your Helpful Content Marketing Plan:
- Document your helpful content strategy in a written plan, using a content marketing calendar.
- Manage your helpful content strategy by designating one or more people to keep people on track and hold folks’ feet to the fire.
- Invest in your helpful content strategy, including staff, staff training, software, and online marketing tools.
- Get your helpful content together; put it into your content calendar.
- Share your helpful content across multiple channels. Use multiple tactics to meet folks where they are; don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Tweak messaging, as appropriate, depending on the channel you’re using and the audience you’re targeting.
- Don’t be stingy with your helpful content. Out of sight means out of mind, and you want to stay top of mind with your peeps. So make sure you offer up useful content at a ratio of 3 – 7 times for every solicitation. This may mean monthly, or even weekly, depending on your volume of appeal messaging.
- Build in feedback tools to learn which content is most appreciated. Use analytics to see which links are opened and how much time folks spend reading your content.
- Be proactive in seeking feedback. Run a survey at least annually, make random phone calls for more qualitative information, and consider hosting group feedback sessions via online platforms like zoom.
- Don’t do it alone. Build an organization-wide culture of sharing helpful content. If executive management, program staff and board members know you’re looking for useful content, you’ll be able to provide your supporters with a steady stream.
Want to Learn More?
Grab How to Stand Out and Build Loyalty Using Social Media. This is a simple guide to help you evaluate what’s worth doing/not worth doing for your nonprofit. You don’t have to do everything. But you do have to do something in order to meet evolving donor expectations in our increasingly networked world.
Whatever you do, you should first know your goals so that you can select the objectives and strategies that will help you reach them most effectively. This Tip List + Worksheet will walk you through a step-by-step process of evaluating what makes sense for you.
Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash.