10 Content Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits

This is the tenth post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofitswritten 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: How to Create a Social Media Strategy for Your Nonprofit
Related Certificate Program: Certificate in Social Media Marketing & Fundraising

Your online donors and supporters are bombarded daily with breaking news, advertising, and spam. As a result, your nonprofit only has a very brief moment to capture their attention and inspire them to act on behalf of your nonprofit.

To stand out from the clutter, nonprofits that embrace content marketing have the best chance of growing their website traffic, increasing email and social media engagement, and inspiring online donations. Well-written and visually compelling content also has the power to educate and spark change and in the process, build trust and credibility in your organization.

Create a Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on the creation and distribution of useful content ranging from blog posts to video to infographics to inspire interest in your nonprofit’s mission and programs. The five steps below outline how to create a content marketing strategy for your nonprofit and include templates for a Content Marketing Strategy [Word], a Content Marketing Budget [Excel], and a Content Marketing Success spreadsheet [Excel].

1) Define the purpose and goals of your content strategy.

The first step to creating content strategy is writing a short, simple working document [download template] that can be easily updated on an annual basis. In this document, clearly define the purpose and goals of your content strategy, such as:

  • To grow online brand awareness
  • To increase engagement on social media
  • To increase referral traffic to your website
  • To generate leads through call-to-actions (CTAs), such as email subscribers, event attendees, volunteers, social media ambassadors, etc.
  • To convert social media followers into donors

Writing a content strategy that prioritizes measurable metrics, such as website traffic, new leads, and donors, will ensure that executive staff and board understand the value of your content marketing strategy and provide the necessary funding for graphic designers, social media advertising, and content tools, such as Buffer and text messaging software.

2) Choose which content distribution channels your nonprofit will use.

The second section in your written content strategy should list which content distribution channels your nonprofit uses and how many subscribers and followers your nonprofit has for each. Email, social media, and text messaging are the top-performing distribution channels for nonprofits:

Email is a significant driver of revenue for nonprofits, traffic to your website, and event registrations. Yet, according to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, 32% of nonprofits do not engage in email marketing. If you are one of the 32% and fundraising is a priority for your organization, drop everything else and start building your email list. Here’s why:

Social media can also be powerful for distributing content, especially content that features success stories about your nonprofit’s work or advocacy calls-to-action related to urgent, timely issues. Fundraising asks on social media tend to be ignored unless they are tied to urgent breaking news or part of a larger social media advertising strategy. That said, which social media platforms should your nonprofit regularly use? Nonprofit Tech for Good recommends the following three for most nonprofits:

  1. Facebook has 2.9 billion monthly active users of which 65% access the site daily and spend an average of 33 minutes per day on the platform. Without a doubt, your donors and supporters use Facebook on a regular basis. Also, Facebook Fundraising Tools have the ability to raise significant revenue provided your nonprofit utilizes Facebook Ads, promotes Fundraisers to your followers, and has as system in place to thank your fundraisers and donors. To learn how to effectively use Facebook for fundraising, read 10 Facebook Best Practices for Nonprofits.
  2. LinkedIn has 900 million registered users of which 310 are monthly active users and those numbers are growing quickly in 2023. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn has been slow to capture the attention of nonprofits, but that has changed over the last 12 months. LinkedIn pages have seen a surge in activity and nonprofit staff are actively using their personal profiles to promote their nonprofit and grow their personal brand. Read 10 LinkedIn Best Practices for Nonprofits to ensure that you are current with the latest tools available to nonprofits and individuals.
  3. Instagram has 2 billion monthly active users of which 25% access the site daily and spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the platform. Instagram Fundraising Tools have yet to reach their potential which means there’s still time to be an early adopter. Read 10 Instagram Best Practices for Nonprofits for the most current tips about how to use Instagram effectively as a nonprofit.

In addition, your nonprofit can opt to use YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, and/or Reddit depending upon your nonprofit’s mission and programs and target audience. According to the 2023 State of Modern Philanthropy Report, Facebook and Instagram drive more traffic and conversions than other social media and while LinkedIn may not drive much traffic, the user base is likely to donate to nonprofits.

YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, and Reddit are not designed to drive website traffic, so traditional online fundraising strategy i.e., sending a followers to a donation page, doesn’t work without purchasing advertising. And Twitter? The data is not good. The company made the mistake years before the Elon Musk takeover to not prioritize nonprofits and the new Twitter doesn’t seem to understand the online power of the nonprofit sector either.

Beyond Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, your nonprofit needs to ensure that the time spent utilizing additional social media platforms is not at the expense of more important priorities, such as growing your email list, building a monthly donor program, or implementing a donor retention strategy.

Finally, to be successful on social media, nonprofits need to fund a budget for social media advertising. This is a hard truth that 47% of nonprofits have yet to accept, according to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report. Organic reach on social media ranges from 1-4%. If you do not have a line item for social ads in your Content Marketing Budget [download template] to increase the reach of your content, there’s a good chance your social media campaigns have a low-to-no return on investment.

Text messaging has an incredibly high open rate of about 99%, compared to the average email open rate, which is closer to 30% – yet few nonprofit utilize text messaging in their digital marketing and fundraising strategy.

Text messaging is ideal for urgent fundraising appeals and calls-to-action, but also for relationship building. Your nonprofit can send links to your website in text messages, behind-the-scenes photos (MMS), thank you messages, and even voice memos.

3) Develop 3-5 content topics.

Donors and supporters often engage with written and visual content that is timely and related to local and national news. When writing your content strategy [download template], develop 3-5 content topics that are likely to remain relevant in the coming 6-12 months. For example, a food bank could focus on:

  1. The high cost of food in an inflationary economy
  2. Access to fruit & vegetables in food deserts
  3. The need for home food delivery to seniors
  4. Providing infant formula to single mothers
  5. Offering summer meals to low-income students

Most often food banks create content centered around their programs, such as food collection and distribution, volunteer testimonies, and partnership announcements with food-related small businesses and corporations. Of course, this content is important and it should be a priority in their content strategy, but if a food bank is only creating program-related content, then they are missing an opportunity to tap into the current issues in the news that your donors and supporters are conscious of and likely to be interested in.

A good example is a recent blog post by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank about the rising cost of food during an inflationary economy. Due to the timeliness of the topic and its relevancy to most readers, the blog post is likely to result high click-throughs in an email newsletter and increased engagement on social media. Also, the stats in the content can be converted into social media graphics using Canva and for an Instagram Reel, a staff person could read the first paragraph and discuss how their food bank is addressing the issue.

4) Create an editorial calendar.

Deciding how much content your nonprofit plans to create on a monthly is the foundation of your content strategy and it’s highly dependent upon the capacity of your staff and the resources available to them. When writing your content strategy, start with the bare minimum. For example, a small nonprofit should aspire to create and publish the following on a monthly basis:

  • Two blog posts or news articles
  • Two individual photos or sets of photos for social media, blog posts, email campaigns, etc.
  • Two call-to-action promo graphics
  • One stat and one quote graphic
  • One video (live, short-form, mixed media, etc.)

Next, schedule the above content in a 12-month editorial calendar. You can use Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, or if you need a more advanced editorial calendar to manage a complex publishing schedule and multiple content producers, there are tools such as Buffer and Loomly.

Nonprofit Tech for Good is a one-person operation, so a simple editorial calendar in Outlook on desktop that uses color coding for blog posts, sponsored posts, guest posts, webinars, content resources, email campaigns, giving and cause awareness days, reports, and ebooks works very well. For example, our May 2024 editorial calendar:

You can also schedule email campaigns, your annual report, and Giving Tuesday and other Cause Awareness & Giving Days that you plan to participate in to your editorial calendar. If you plan to produce fundraising events, webinars, reports, and ebooks, add those too along with the deadlines for the social media promo graphics, website and email banners, etc. that need to be created to effectively promote the events, webinars, reports, and ebooks.

It’s important to approach scheduling your editorial calendar with a focus on adding content that can be achieved, but if over time you realize that a certain content project (such as an infographic series or ebook) can’t be produced due to time constraints, simply remove it from your calendar or reschedule to a later date.

5) Create a system to track and report success.

If your nonprofit has a well-planned content strategy in place and follows the best practices for website design, email marketing, blogging, and social media, then as your nonprofit gains more website visitors, email and text subscribers, and followers on social media, your online fundraising success should grow as well.

To track and report that success, create a Content Marketing Success spreadsheet [download template] and compare your progress year over year. Odds are that your online fundraising success can be directly connected to growth in website visitors, subscribers, and followers, and though this system is a bit old school, it’s effective for communicating the power of digital marketing and fundraising to executive staff and board.

Social media can be an effective communication tool for nonprofits, but only if nonprofits understand that creating engaging content is essential to acquiring new donors and supporters from social media.

Customized for small nonprofits with limited time and financial resources, this 90-minute webinar demonstrates how to create and maintain a successful social media strategy.

Top 5 Content Types for Nonprofits

There is an art and science to effective digital marketing and fundraising and thus far, this blog and webinar series has mostly focused on the science – now we shift to the art of inspiring donors and supporters through the use of written and visual content.

1) Blog posts and news articles

The ability to inform and inspire through the written word is a skill best acquired through practice. The more you write, the more skilled you become as a writer. ChatGPT can help stimulate ideas to write about, but effective writing is a creative process and a challenging skill to master. This is true whether you are writing a 20-word Facebook post, a 250-word email fundraising appeal, or 1,000-word blog post or news article.

To begin, your nonprofit needs a blog or news article section on your website where you can publish your success stories and news updates. Storytelling is absolutely necessary to inspire donors and supporters to continue to give and become more involved in your organization.

Blog posts and news articles also play a critical role in providing content for your email and social media campaigns. Linking to blog posts and news articles in email campaigns and sharing the links on social media can significantly increases traffic to your website and while reading, visitors may become inspired to give, subscribe to your newsletter or text messaging campaign, or sign up to become a volunteer.

A good example of effectively maintaining a news section on their website is the Pancreatic Action Network. PANCAN publishes news articles on a regular basis which they then feature in their weekly newsletter and share on social media. On the right bar, readers are presented with a helpline call-to-action (CTA), a call-to-follow on social media, and an email subscribe opt in. Blog and news article content is meant to inform and inspire, but the effective placement of CTAs can also convert your readers into active participants in your mission and programs.

2) Photos

Photos that positively communicate the story of your mission and programs often receive the highest engagement. Followers enjoy seeing your nonprofit in action and volunteers and staff often react (like, comment, share, repost, retweet) to photos that they are featured in or that feature people they know. For example, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona regularly shares photo collections:

The Girls Scouts regularly post photos on Facebook that inspire high levels of engagement using a tactic that every nonprofit should experiment with. Rather than sharing photos as a collection, the Girl Scouts dupes the Facebook algorithm by posting single photos as comments. This prompts followers to click and engage with their comments, which in turn, increases the exposure of the post in the Facebook Feed:

When sharing photos on social media, add 1-5 hashtags and tag others when appropriate. Emojis can help draw attention to your post and add a CTA as often as possible. In this example, a photo collection posted by Survival International on Facebook that features a newsletter CTA inspires high levels of engagement thus increased reach, and likely new email subscribers:

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that high quality professional photos also inspire high levels of engagement. If your nonprofit finds itself short on such photos, you can always curate and tag photos from others, purchase the rights to photos on iStock, or download them for free from Unsplash.

3) Call-to-action graphics

Call-to-action graphics help draw attention to fundraising and advocacy campaigns, events, volunteer recruitment, etc. and can be easily designed in Canva using their pre-sized templates for website and email banners and social media posts. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention excels in sharing call-to-action graphics on social media that consistently reinforce their visual brand and communicate their mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

4) Statistics and quote graphics

Using statistics and quotes in digital marketing is very common and though a bit cliched, its a marketing strategy that consistently captures the attention of donors and supporters on social media. Using Canva, create a minimum one statistic and one quote graphic monthly to grow awareness of your mission and programs. For example, Everytown:

A good idea is to compile the statistics and quote graphics on a landing page on your website and each month with the release of a new statistics and quote graphic, link to the landing page when you share the graphics on social media. You will quickly discover that your statistics and quotes landing page will become one of the most visited pages on your website.

5) Videos

The predominant narrative in digital marketing and fundraising blogs and news media is that your nonprofit needs to create video content to remain relevant to your followers, but the hard truth is that most of the nonprofit video content being published to social media simply can not compete with the TikTok and Reel creators of large corporate brands and the influencers that advocate for them. That’s why nonprofit video content is rarely featured in the “Suggested” feeds on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.

As long as your nonprofit understands that “going viral” is highly unlikely and that creating engaging video content requires a lot of time and creativity, then experiment but proceed with low expectations. Video does inspire more engagement on social media than sharing links and photos, but video engagement is on the decline as more video is being published to the feeds of social media due to the popularity of short-form video:

Social Media Industry Benchmarks 2023

Nonprofit Tech for Good is a one-person operation and video content is not part of our content marketing strategy. First, creating video content at the expense of writing a new blog post or presenting a new webinar is much less likely to result in the increased website traffic and new email subscribers that a new blog post and/or webinar would generate. Second, Heather Mansfield, the person running Nonprofit Tech for Good, is not comfortable on camera or inspired to consume or create short-form video content. So, video is not a priority for Nonprofit Tech for Good at this time and it’s OK if your nonprofit comes to the same conclusion. Video is not for every nonprofit.

Innovation in AI may help with creating videos for your nonprofit. Synthesia allows you to easily generate video content using avatars and voice generation. The results are a bit creepy, but it’s a good case study for how video creation may evolve in the future. There’s also Pictory which can quickly generate video content from Zoom presentations, podcasts, and blog posts. Also, Tectonic Video has great resources for nonprofit video content creators and Candid.org is experimenting with short-form videos on TikTok and Instagram and reporting their results.

Final Words

Beyond the top five types of content listed above, nonprofits should also think about presenting webinars, designing infographics, publishing guides and reports, launching crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, and writing annual and quarterly impact reports as part of their content strategy. It depends on your nonprofit’s capacity, but even very small nonprofits should add at least one piece of gated content to their written content strategy and editorial calendar each year.

Our Certificate in Social Media Marketing & Fundraising program covers the fundamentals of social media marketing and fundraising for your nonprofit. Participants will learn how to create and maintain a content strategy, current best practices for the top-performing social media sites, and how to be an early adopter of emerging social media trends.

The program requires the completion of four webinars and costs a total of $100 USD. You can attend the webinars live or view the recordings. Learn more & register!

Certificate in Social Media Marketing for Nonprofits