10 Blogging Best Practices for Nonprofits

This is the third post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits, written and presented by Heather Mansfield. Please sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts. Thank you!

Related Webinar: Website & Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits
Related Certificate Program: Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising

With more than 500 million blogs worldwide, many nonprofits may think that the internet does not need another blog, but that’s simply not the case. Brands that blog report 97% more links to their website and 434% more indexed pages in search engines. Fresh, timely content is more vital to the success of your nonprofit’s digital campaigns than it has ever been.

First, blogging allows your nonprofit to have a consistent stream of new content to use in your e-newsletter and share on social media which, in turn, increases traffic to your website and awareness of your nonprofit’s brand. News articles on your website can serve the same function as blog posts on your website provided they are dated and written like a news story, not a press release.

Second, search engines are constantly searching the web to index fresh content. Nonprofits that regularly post new blog content with keywords in the title are much more likely to get noticed by search engines, especially Google.

Third, as discussed in Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits, a pop-up on your blog posts can quickly grow your email list. If your nonprofit is not making a concerted effort to grow your email list, then online fundraising success will remain elusive.

Blog Design

1) Understand and embrace modern blogging.

The first blogging platform, Blogger, launched in 1999 and it signaled the birth of the Social Web. For the first time, readers could comment and share their opinions publicly on a piece of online content. At the time, it was a completely new concept whereas today our daily internet experience is one based on social commentary and feedback.

Blogging of the past was usually editorial content, such as an opinion piece or report back by an executive director. Blogs were most often written in first-person, more than 1,000 words, and many nonprofit blogs of the past embraced the concept that a blog post had to be published daily for the blogger to be taken seriously. Comments were taken very seriously, and in some cases, coming up with response was an agonizing, overthought experience.

Today’s blogging couldn’t be more different. Most blog posts are now written by multiple staff or guest bloggers with the occasional editorial piece written by an executive staff member. A nonprofit can blog once a week or every other week. The concept that a new blog post must be published daily is definitely a relic of the past. Posts can be as little as 250 words with a featured image or as long as a 5,000-word photo essay. Most blogs are no longer written in the first person and serve more to tell the stories and news commentary of a nonprofit, rather than the opinions of its leadership. In fact, the NRDC navigates to its blog in its primary header with “Our Stories” and doesn’t use the term “blog” though their stories have the primary characteristics of a blog: dated content, an attributed author, and news content that is not in press release format.

A blog post on the NRDC website about indigenous communities

Also interesting about today’s nonprofit blogging is that many nonprofits have turned off commenting. With the rise of social media, enabling comments is increasingly rare on blogs and if you do allow them, there’s a good chance that the comments will be spam or argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. The conversation has shifted from blog comments to social media.

2) Embed calls-to-action within your blog content.

A growing trend is to add large, visually prominent calls-to-action (CTA) to the body of blog posts approximately halfway into the post. Below are three examples from three different nonprofits.

1) e-Newsletter opt-in on the Marshall Project blog

Email newsletter sign up form embedded in the middle of a nonprofit's blog post.

2) Advocacy CTA on the Union of Concerned Scientists blog

Call to send a letter to Congress by a nonprofit in a blog post.

3) “Donate Now” CTA on the Human Rights Watch blog

A donation form embedded in the middle of blog post.

3) Maximize your blog’s sidebar.

Think of your website’s sidebar as free advertising space and utilize the space for important calls-to-action and to feature important content. For example, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network makes wise use of their sidebar by prominently featuring a call-to-follow on social networks and an e-newsletter opt-in.

Side bar on the a nonprofit's that features social media icons and an email opt-in form.

4) Feature “Popular Posts” and/or “Related Posts.” 

Once a blog post makes its way to the “Popular” module featured in the right bar of Nonprofit Tech for Good, it consistently receives more traffic than other blog posts even if the post is months old. Ensure that your nonprofit is strategically driving traffic within your blog by prominently featuring your most popular posts using a plugin, such as WP Tab Widget Pro.

“Related Posts” are most often featured at the end of a post, and thus are less effective because some readers will not scroll to the bottom of posts. However, it is ideal if your blog features both “Popular Posts” and “Related Posts.”

“Related Posts” on the Wildlife SOS blog:

Nonprofit blog that features Related Posts in the footer.

5) Format blog content for easy reading.

Visitors to your blog will be unlikely to read your blog posts if they find it difficult to mentally and visually digest i.e., large blocks of text in a small font that lack visual context. Blog posts that are 2,000 words or more have the best SEO and social sharing rates, but small nonprofits that can not invest that much time in blogging should feel comfortable wiring posts that are 250-1,000 words. That said, here are some basic best practices for formatting blog content:

  • Write short paragraphs.
  • Break up text with bold, large headings.
  • Bold hyperlinks.
  • Use bullet points or numbers to break up long sections of text.
  • Embed images and videos that are consistent in size.

Well-Formatted content on the Oceana Conservancy blog:

Example of a nonprofit blog post with good formatting.

Packed with practical advice and customized for small nonprofits on a limited budget, the Website & Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits webinar stresses the importance of modern website design and email marketing for fundraising.

Promo graphic for a webinar offered by Nonprofit Tech for Good about website and email marketing best practices for nonprofits.

Blog Content

6) Share commentary and CTAs about current issues in the news.

If an issue relevant to your mission is in the news (local, national, or international), write up a summary of the issue, add your commentary with a call-to-action (CTA), and then share your post to your online communities and in your newsletter. Your supporters are much more likely to respond to content that is related to current news. For example, this blog post from Defenders of Wildlife explains why millions of birds are dying in North America each year and closes with a CTA for readers to contact their elected officials to urge them to pass the Migratory Bird Protection Act.

Blog post from Defenders of Wildlife about the disappearance of birds in North America

7) Tell the story of a community served by your nonprofit.

Supporters and donors want to hear positive stories about how your organization is making an impact. Today’s news is often negative and overwhelming, so positive stories stand out and inspire to give and get involved. Reading and seeing (include photos and videos) your organization in action can gain the loyalty of many readers. In this blog post, Together We Rise tells the story of their holiday shopping spree program for teenagers in foster care.

Nonprofit blog post about holiday shopping sprees for foster children.

8) Share resources and useful tips related to your mission.

Blog posts that share resources and useful tips are some of the most popular on the internet, yet very few are written by nonprofits. For example, if you are a health nonprofit, write a post about foods that help lower blood pressure, or provide tips on how to exercise at home. If you are a nonprofit that works with low-income communities, write blog posts that share recipes for low-cost, healthy meals and energy-saving tips. For example, the Alameda County Food Bank blog features a recipe for smashed brussels sprouts.

9) Publish numbered lists.

Many readers scan online content rather than read it thoroughly, thus listing content in a numbered list format ensures easy reading. Numbered lists also pique the curiosity of potential readers since they often click to see what’s on the list. It’s a strategy that has worked well for Nonprofit Tech for Good as our numbered lists are consistently our most trafficked posts. The National Wildlife Federation regularly publishes numbered lists, such as Reintroducing Wildlife: 5 Species for Hope.

National Wildlife Federation blog post about endangered species

10) Feature staff, volunteers, and donors.

Whether it’s in the form of a guest post, an interview, or a feature story written by staff, highlighting the good work of staff members, volunteers, and donors humanizes your brand and can inspire others to get more involved with your nonprofit. Points of Light features a new volunteer every day in their #DailyPointofLight blog series, for example, this blog post, True Reward of Success is Giving Back to Community, Says Atlanta Volunteer.

Points of Light nonprofit featuring Atlanta volunteers in blog post

101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits is a blog and webinar series (written and presented by Heather Mansfield) on website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media best practices for nonprofits, NGOs, and charities worldwide. Those who register and attend all three webinars in the series will earn a Certificate of Completion in Digital Marketing & Fundraising from Nonprofit Tech for Good.

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