What is Substack?
Substack is primarily a newsletter and blogging platform. Think of it as a more user-friendly version of Medium that has garnered a large following. Many people regularly post on Substack. Initially, Substacks primarily focused on branding, organization, and food, but the platform’s political content has grown, and now there are many notable political Substacks.
Why should you read them?
Many writers and podcasters have transitioned to Substack to engage readers and convert listeners into paid subscribers. It’s an effective way to access consistent content on topics you care about.
Should you create one?
Using Substack for nonprofit communications is a good option. However, like any platform, it comes with its pros and cons.
The Benefits of Using Substack
- Not Twitter/X: For now, Substack is a space for thoughtful discourse, and long-form posts encourage deep thought and engagement.
- Monetization: Making money from content is challenging, and Substack provides a seamless way to do it.
- Built-In Readership: Substack has a growing readership on similar topics to yours. Recommending similar newsletters can help you gain readers.
- List Building: You can build sign-ups, access the list, and receive referrals from like-minded writers to grow your audience.
- Stable Technology:The content is technically solid, has a lot of funding and easy to navigate.
- Versatility: Substack is a good option for blogging, but it can be used for more. You can promote and house books, notes, podcasts, and more on the site.
- Smaller Posts:Substack started as a long-form platform, but with Substack Notes, you can use it for smaller form posts to engage your subscribers.
By creating quality content relevant to readers, Substack can turn anyone into frequent visitor, and the level of readership they have built is impressive.
- Not your Platform: Despite being better than most platforms, Substack is still rented land, meaning you don’t have control over the platform, changes, or policies. No outside platform is an oasis. Yes it is so much better than twitter but all tech platforms have problems and as it grows in popularity there will be more.
- Other content you won’t approve of: Digging into this more like X, Meta, etc. Substack has folks on the platform you will not like and who will write horrible things. This is why housing content on your own site is good option – but if you want quick traffic increases it is going to be hard to do that organically.
- Not your keywords: You miss out on the benefits of keywords that drive repeat visitors to your own website.
- Competition: There the risk of losing traffic and visitors to competing content and creators on the platform.
- For committed creators only: It’s a commitment, and while the best writers thrive, inconsistent creators may struggle.
- Clunky navigation: Moving from one Substack to another on mobile can be clunky and not the best user experience.
Alternatives to Substack:
Substack may not suit everyone and before you add a platform consider these alternatives:
- Website Content: Focus on growing and building your organization’s website for SEO and engagement first. Content like blogs, eBooks, white papers, and infographics should be housed on your own site should be what you do first but it is hard work but it is what The Campaign Workshop The benefits of building your own site are that you own the keyword traffic and have control over what is on your website. This approach takes a lot of time but can pay off in the long term.
- LinkedIn Newsletter: Engage with your LinkedIn connections consistently to expand your audience and reinforce your message with a LinkedIn based newsletter. You likely have a built-in audience on LinkedIn a newsletter allows you expand you audience to other LinkedIn users. The cons are that you get limited data and it is hard to move your audience off of LinkedIn (frankly this is worse than Substack in that regard).
- Medium: If you lack a good place to drive traffic and won’t be consistently blogging, Medium is a good choice. The drawback of medium is that the content is more short form and the approach to content is more click bait than Substack.
- Ghost: Many folks who have moved off Substack have gone to Ghost which is an open-source platform with similar functionality. The pros are that you are on a smaller, less, ubiquitous platform with lower fees, there is more transparency on data and the ability to create your own integrations. The cons are that Ghost has less users and funding which means there may be less opportunity to create community and expand reach.
- ConvertKit: Is more of a pure email, newsletter platform than Substack. The pros are that it is an easy beautiful email platform and makes creating engaging emails simple and easy. It has robust email automation and is a cheaper cost than Substack. The cons are the lack of a large community to expand reach.
For those unfamiliar with Substack, here’s a list to get you started. This list is focused on long-form Substacks frequently publishing content. The writers in this Substack list cover nonprofit leadership, academia, and other intriguing subjects.
Tusk by Seth Masket – Seth writes about politics, political parties, and campaigns. His Tusk newsletter has mainly focused on the Republican primaries. You may also know him from Misfits of Factions. He makes all kinds of political and wonky topics easy to understand and entertaining, like comparing a Trump rally to a Grateful Dead show. Check out his podcast there as well.
So What – Chris Cillizza is someone who has been writing for a very long time. CNN’s loss is everyone else’s gain; his newsletter gives great, consistent political insight from one of the country’s best political reporters.
Kibitzing with Lincoln Mitchell – Lincoln Mitchell mixes local politics, national politics, foreign affairs, and baseball content.
What I’m Reading by Phil Lewis – Phil is a reporter based in Detroit whose Substack newsletter shares engaging and informative news stories about the Black experience in America.
Primary School – It is a collaboration between Nick Tagliaferro and Opinion Haver. It is a very robust roundup of primary races around the country. The authors aim to “clear out the gunk in the system and move the party left.”
The Message Box by Dan Pfeiffer – It is a newsletter about political communications and message strategy. They do frequent deep dive into messaging that’s in the news – worth a read.
FWIW. By Kyle Tharp – FWIW is a newsletter tracking digital spending, strategy, and trends in our elections. It is a good resource for tracking political spending and checking out spending trends from major campaigns and IEs.
Ctrl Alt-Right Delete – It is a weekly newsletter by Melissa Ryan devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism, disinformation, and online toxicity.
Campaign and persuasion tactics:
Dave Fleischer – If you are interested in deep canvasing or voter persuasion, David’s insight is great and worth a read. Dave has fantastic insights into voter engagement today.
Writing and observations:
The Experiment by Jason Stanford – An author and former political consultant, Jason has perceptive observations on music, politics, and writing. His Substack, The Experiment, is a fun, no-cost read and one of my favorites.
Hopefully Yours by Connie Schultz – This is a fun, well-written piece of compelling content by a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who happens to be married to a U.S. Senator.
Black By Popular Demand – Kwame Mbailia is an author and writer whose Substack newsletter, Black By Popular Demand, is a weekly list of books by black authors.
Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson – This Substack features a history professor interested in the contrast of image and reality in American politics.
Category Pirates – Created by Eddie Yoon, Christopher Lochhead, and Katrina Kirsch, this content was the first newsletter I subscribed to on Substack. The podcast and books are also great. This newsletter provides thought-provoking and insightful content about category design/niche marketing.
Tech and AI:
Technically Optimistic by Raffi Krikorian, the Chief Technology Officer at Emerson Collective – His newsletter, Technically Optimistic, keeps you updated on the issues, innovations, ethics, and legislation around A.I. You can also listen to his podcast there.
Granted by Adam Grant – His Substack, Granted, is a magnificent addition to his parade of content. The Substack continues his observations on organizational psychology and company culture.
Jason Stahl is the Executive Director of the College Football Players Association and writes about organizing and college sports.
Robert Reich – Robert’s thoughtful, consistent writing is always thought-provoking. You can also find his podcast and course on wealth and poverty here.
Labor Politics by Eric Blanc – Eric provides a compelling take on Labor and politics, and his Substack, Labor Politics, gives insight into the labor movement. He is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers and a former Bernie Sanders surrogate.
Your Local Epidemiologist by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina – Dr. Katelyn has a Master’s degree in public health and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She is a scientific consultant to organizations, including the White House and CDC. Her main goal is to translate the ever-evolving public health sector so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions.
Peeled – Lisa Elaine Held is a Baltimore-based freelance journalist who reports on agriculture and the food system through the lens of sustainability, equality, and health.
This Needs Hot Sauce by Abigail Koffler – She writes thoughtful posts through her newsletter This Needs Hot Sauce about food and has done remote cooking classes for The Campaign Workshop. Her newsletter is a fun, unique read.
Dinner: A Love Story – Jenny Rosenstrach writes this newsletter, website, and book series devoted to the family meal; however you define family & meal.
So, should my nonprofit organization give up its blog for Substack? Substack is a good platform. If you are starting a blog or podcast and wanted an instant audience or want to start a blog or podcast on a different topic, it could make sense to start here. However, because you have invested time in your website to host your blog and podcast, you should not change to publish your core work.
Substack is a marketplace for consistent content – if your content is not that good or consistent, it is simple for folks to find other content on the platform or elsewhere.
Substack Tips for Nonprofits
No Campaign Workshop post would be complete without some strategic tips on how to use Substack for nonprofit communications. If you are starting on Substack, best practices include:
- Create content consistently.
- Have goals and track metrics for users.
- Promote Substack frequently to your list
- Network with other Substackers. Using the referral community, is a way to grow fast.
- Use CTA buttons – A call to action maters so you can get real engagement!
- Encourage folks to comment.
- Ask people to forward the Substack to others who may be interested.
So, the bottom-line conclusion here is that depending on your goals using Substack for nonprofit communications could be a good option but remember starting on a new platform is a commitment. Preplanning and consistent writing is key to having a successful Substack.
Have questions about using Substack for nonprofit communications? Drop us a note!