Yesterday I gave a presentation for the Raleigh Nonprofit Communicator’s group on how Nonprofits Can Use Content Marketing Effectively (thus the headline). Here’s what I covered...


Jell-O used content marketing as early as 1904.

What IS Content Marketing?

Content marketing is the practice of creating relevant and compelling content in a consistent fashion to a targeted audience, focusing on all stages of a conversion funnel, from brand awareness to brand evangelism.

However content marketing is NOT new.

To prove that to you, let me share a story…

The Jell-O brand did not have a particularly auspicious start. Gelatin had long been a popular desert delicacy, but it took forever to make. So in 1845 a man named Peter Cooper decided to invent a better option. He figured out how to make powdered gelatin and patented his invention.

But once he did that, he apparently became bored with the whole idea and moved onto the production of powered glue.

A couple in Rochester, NY bought the patent and combined Cooper’s idea of a powered Gelatin with fruit syrups. But they just couldn’t get it to sell. So they, too, sold the idea.

This time it was purchased by the Genesse Food Company. Now, Genesse was run by a man named Frank Woodward and he knew how to sell a product. He sent out salesmen door to door, handing out free samples.

…But nothing seemed to work.

Until they changed their tactics. In 1904 they placed their first ad in Ladies Home Journal and began printing recipe books teaching housewives how to prepare their Jell-O and make all sorts of interesting desserts with it.

Content marketing at its finest. And it finally took off and became the brand we all know and love today. And there you have it. Content marketing has been around since AT LEAST 1904. 

The 5 Step Process Nonprofits Need to Know to Use Content Marketing Effectively

So how can Nonprofits use content marketing effectively? It pretty much boils down to a 5-step process.

  1. Choose goals for your content marketing strategy.
  2. Evaluate what you already have.
  3. Choose tools and brainstorm ideas.
  4. Link those tools to your goals to create a strategy.
  5. Implement!

Let’s break each of those down a little bit more.

1. Choose goals for your content marketing strategy.

The single biggest mistake I see companies and organizations make with content marketing is that they tend to dive right in. They know content marketing is important, so they start creating content.

But they have no idea what it is they want that content to achieve.

Setting goals is, in my opinion, the single most important part of setting up a content strategy. Once you choose your goals everything else sort of falls into place.

So what kind of goals might work for a nonprofit?

Here are 3 that I think are pretty common:

  1. Educate the public.
  2. Find volunteers.
  3. Raise money for a cause.

Next, you need to figure out your value proposition.This is CRITICAL: If you don’t know why someone should get involved, neither will they.

This is often a sticking point for nonprofits. We all want to make the world a better place, but why should I choose your organization over someone else’s?

For one of the nonprofits I work with, the Raleigh Public Record, we went with what I call “the NPR model.” Sign up as a sustainer and you get tickets to exclusive events or are entered into giveaways, for example.

Why volunteer? You’ll learn skills that you can add to your resume that will help you find paid work. Or, for some volunteers it’s about social status. So the value proposition is around feeling good about themselves (You want to give back. We’ll show you how).

Which leads us right to our next point — how do you communicate that value proposition? With content marketing, of course!

 2. Evaluate What You Have

Once you’ve decided what your goals will be, it’s time to sit down and see what you already have. Most organizations have more than they realize. 

For example, do you have any of the following?

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Email List
  • Brochures
  • List of resources or access to experts
  • Volunteers
  • People passionate about your nonprofit
  • MediaList

If so, you can reuse and repackage this content in different ways to help breath new life into it.

Content from a brochure can be edited into a blog post; your website copy might work as a fundraising letter with a bit of editing; a passionate volunteer might be the perfect person to talk about your brand for 30 seconds on video.

Reusing what you already have saves you both time and money—and makes your life easier.

3. Choose Tools & Brainstorm Ideas

When you’ve figured out your goals and compiled your existing resources, it’s time to think about what tools make the most sense for your organization and your audience.

popular types of content marketing

There are three tools I recommend most often to clients who want to use content marketing effectively:

  1. Blogging
  2. Email Newsletters
  3. Social Media

Why? Let me explain…

Why blog?

A blog creates content that people who are new to your site can look through to get a better idea of what you do. It also creates additional content for Google to crawl, allowing you to target more keywords. Finally, it creates public content that people can easily share, which increases the likelihood of someone new finding your site.

Why have a newsletter?

Just because someone found your site once doesn’t mean they’ll remember to come back (even if they have the best of intentions). For this reason, having something to capture their information so you can reach back out to them is essential. A newsletter allows you to do exactly that. Then you can reach out to them whenever you have something new to share.

Why use social media?

Social media is about finding your target audience where they are… and joining in the conversation. Don’t make the mistake of just promoting yourself; social media is all about connections.

(Click here for a more in-depth guide to using content marketing to convince your target audience to take action.)

Brainstorm Ideas

Finally, it’s time to brainstorm some ideas. The goal here is to create a master list—to come up with anything and everything you can think of and create a gigantic list.

A few places to look for ideas*

  1. Google Search auto complete – Google will tell you what people are searching for via its autocomplete feature. Try putting in a few words relevant to your content and see how Google would finish your sentence… then write about that!
  2. Amazon – Books are a great way to get ideas for content, and if you find a book that was published recently consider reaching out to the author. He or she may be willing to do an interview or contribute content to help them promote their book!
  3. Your development team – Talk to the people who deal with your target audience most directly, whether that’s fundraisers or development folks. Ask them what questions they get most often and write posts that address those topics.

*For a much longer list, download the slides via the link below.

4. Link Your Goals & Your Tools

It’s time to take all the pieces and weave them together.

First, go through your list of ideas and eliminate all but your best ideas, comparing those ideas to your goals then comparing them to the tools you’ve chosen.

Think about how each of the tools you have chosen and how you want someone in your target audience to move through them.

  • Where are they likely to start that journey?
  • Where will they end up (hopefully, on your newsletter where you can reach out to them)?
  • Do you have content for people who only know a little bit about you? Who know something about you, but aren’t super engaged? Who are very engaged, to the point of being an evangelist?

For an example of how I did this with Movember,  a nonprofit I work with, check out my post, “How to get started with content marketing for a nonprofit.

5. Implement!

…and finally, it’s time to IMPLEMENT! That means, you know, actually creating that content.

In my presentation I got into some of the nitty gritty on what it means to create a reader-friendly blog post, but this post is already almost 1400 words and the slides give you a better visual guide to what I’m talking about, so I’m going to let you download the slide for those details.

Click here to download the presentation slides including the list of places to look for content ideas & tips for creating readable content.

Thanks to those who came out and thanks to Raleigh Nonprofit Communicators for letting me share!

*Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo.