Think about how the world online encounters your nonprofit. Do you have a website? Does your website have a blog? Are you active on social media? Do you make videos? Do you fundraise online? Your digital presence is defined by factors like these. And in order to properly share your organization with the world in 2020, you need to be thinking carefully about digital content.
In this case, digital content includes — but isn't limited to — things like blogs, videos, podcasts, infographics, and white papers. Essentially, it's material that you produce at your organization that can
- Educate people about the work you do
- Provide useful information to your community
- Raise awareness around your cause
- Provide news about topics related to your mission
- Attract new supporters
- Support fundraising efforts
Digital content is an essential tool for any nonprofit. But in order for it to be effective, it must be captivating and relevant to the people receiving it. In what follows, I'll be walking you through a few things you can do to help you better tell your organization's story by improving your digital content this year.
Ask Yourself the Right Questions
Again, your digital presence online is defined by the content you produce. In order to put your best foot forward, you need to ensure that what you are producing is authentically connecting with your intended audience. Don't fall into the trap of creating tons of surface-level content "just because." Instead, always start by asking these four questions before you create a piece of content at your nonprofit:
- Why am I creating this content in the first place?
- What format would be best for this content?
- Who do I expect to read, view, or listen to this content?
- Why would they want to engage with the content I'm providing?
Sounds simple, right? On one level, it is. The questions above seem like a natural process that should go into creating anything you share with your community or with a newcomer stumbling across it online. However, it can be easy to assume that you're taking these elements into account when, in fact, you are not.
Here's an example: You're an environmental organization, and you just had a successful community event, such as a cleanup day at a local beach, river, or lake. You'd like to share your effort with the world, so you decide to write a blog recapping the day's activities. The blog takes the reader through a step-by-step account of all the goings-on from dawn to sunset, and maybe an image or two is included.
And nobody reads it.
But why? There could be a number of reasons behind its low performance. Let's discuss what might have went wrong here and how this content could have been approached differently.
Carefully Consider Your Format
You may have thought that, since you had this great day that exemplifies your mission in action, you're now compelled to write about it. But that's only part of why you wanted to create the content. Is this intended to attract new supporters? Increase donations? Educate your community? Thinking about these questions more deeply will better inform how you should move forward.
In this case, let's say your goal was to attract new supporters to your cause. If so, was a text-heavy blog post the right way to go? At the very least, the blog could have been more image-focused, highlighting impact numbers, such as amount of pounds of trash collected. But maybe the content itself should have instead been a collection of photos in a social media post, a short and shareable video on YouTube, or an infographic. The type of format in which your content is created needs to match your purpose for creating the content itself.
Empathize with Your Audience
In order to create great content, you need to think beyond the bubble of your own organization and empathize with what your intended audience genuinely wants to see, read, or hear. With this example, the intention behind creating the content directly dictates the intended audience. You are hoping to attract new supporters, so your audience comprises people who are unfamiliar or mildly familiar with your organization.
And this brings us to the last piece: Why would an outside person want to engage with it in the first place? How do you want them to feel, or what do you want them to learn? Lastly, what action would you like them to take next? These questions are central to creating captivating and relevant content at your nonprofit. You know your nonprofit better than anyone else, and you should also assume that, at least at a baseline, you care more about your mission than any outsider — at least for now.
So, if the point of creating this content is to attract new supporters, you need to make them care about the work you do. Be sure to clearly illustrate the problem you are solving — facts and figures, along with before and after pictures, can help with this. You want your audience to view you as a trusted source for education and information on the issues that are important to them. In the nonprofit world, content is in many cases meant to educate your audience, so it's key that you dutifully take on that responsibility by providing accurate and accessible information.
Also, be sure to provide the necessary context to the work you are doing. Think about what is the most important information that someone off the street would need in order to move them to support your cause. A play-by-play of how the cleanup went, focusing on the experiences of volunteers a person does not know, does not effectively do this. Powerful side-by-side images of a once trash-riddled landscape and a bucolic public space, along with hard numbers of how much waste was removed, might.
It's important to mention that the desired action you wish a person to take upon interacting with your content is called (in marketing-speak) your "call to action," or CTA. In this situation, your call to action could be for people to click through a link or button embedded in the contact that sends them to a donation page, a newsletter signup, or perhaps a page encouraging them to register for your next volunteer event.
A More Intentional Approach to Digital Content
The scenario above is just one example of how you can take a more intentional approach to digital content at your nonprofit this year. In this case, we focused on a case in which the content was intended to attract new supporters to your cause. However, not all content is designed to do that.
If you were writing a newsletter to existing donors and volunteers highlighting the same event, the tone and area of focus of the content would change, since you know you are speaking to an audience "on the inside" of your organization. Perhaps you'd do a year-by-year comparison of how this marked an improvement from the same event in previous years. Or maybe it would be coming from your founder or CEO.
The possibilities are far-reaching. But one thing is constant: Different content with different purposes needs to be handled, well, differently. After all, you have many different calls to action related to the various needs of your organization. And in order for this sea change to occur, you need to start with the basics. Understand why you're creating the content, what the best format for it might be, who it's for, and most importantly, why that person should care.
Take these considerations into account before creating every blog post, video, infographic — or any other piece of content — at your nonprofit. The result will be an improved online presence and an enhanced ability to share your nonprofit's story with the world, and ultimately, create a bigger impact on the communities you serve.