By Frank Barry published December 3, 2013

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: Data, Insights, and Examples

content marketing for nonprofitsContent Marketing Institute and Blackbaud’s 2014 Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America report just hit the scene.

In my world this is exciting news, as it’s the first-ever research report to benchmark what’s going on with content marketing in the nonprofit sector — the sector I’ve spent the past 10 years of my life serving. 

Needless to say, I’ve been geeking out over the data, so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts and insights based on the findings:

1. Ninety-two percent of nonprofits use content marketing

Slightly over 9 out of 10 nonprofits use content marketing. Wow!? That number blows my mind. Content marketing didn’t really start taking off until 2005 when all the content marketing books hit the shelf. Or was it around 2011, when the term “content marketing” started getting some search love (see Google trends)? Either way, content marketing hasn’t been around for long. How could the nonprofit industry be current when normally our sector lags behind?

Insight: I’ll offer two thoughts on this finding; but overall, I’m betting on this being a combination of misunderstanding and the fact that nonprofits have amazing stories to tell.

  1. The survey asked, “Does your organization use content marketing in any form (blogs, articles, podcasts, video, webinars, newsletters, print publications, etc.) to market its products, services, or offer support to prospects or existing clients/constituents?” If you spent some time with folks talking through what content marketing is before they answered, I’d bet we’d see the number of nonprofits that say they are using content marketing go down. That said…
  2. Nonprofits have the most compelling stories on the planet — and stories are the heart of a successful content marketing strategy, according to Robert Rose of Content Marketing Institute. Ending world poverty, taking care of the elderly, providing clean drinking water, feeding the homeless, putting a smile on a kid’s face — stories like these lend themselves nicely to various content formats, and provide nonprofits with an incredible advantage. It almost makes content marketing simple. Which could be why so many nonprofits practice content marketing.

2. Sixty-nine percent have someone who oversees content marketing

Just as I was surprised with the number of nonprofits using content marketing, I’m equally (if not more) surprised by the fact that nearly 70 percent of nonprofits surveyed have a person in place that oversees their organization’s content marketing efforts.

That’s high, considering most nonprofits have a small staff, limited resources, and a laser-like focus on using their funds to support the world-changing work they do! It’s also hard to swallow in light of the fact that only 25 percent of survey respondents report that they have a documented content marketing strategy. What gives?

Insight: I suspect nonprofits are confusing content marketing with traditional marketing communications efforts — a rather common mistake, from what I can tell. Here’s what we need to overcome this one:

  1. We need more education about content marketing (something that CMI specializes in providing), the strategies and tactics that drive it, and how content and publishing are the future of marketing. Kivi’s on the right track here.
  2. We need to lift up the trailblazers in our sector. Make sure to check out the examples below. I got us started. Now it’s your turn to share about the nonprofits you think are doing great content marketing.
  3. We need resources. I’ll be sure to share more about nonprofit content marketing from Blackbaud’s perspective, but we’re going to need more than that for our sector to reap the rewards that effective content marketing brings. Time to step up.

3. Lack of time and budget are the biggest content marketing challenges nonprofits face

These two findings are not big shockers. Time and money are things that most organizations — nonprofit and for-profit alike — struggle with. (It’s also what we at Blackbaud hear on a regular basis when talking with folks in the nonprofit sector.)

Part of me wants to tell nonprofits to evolve or die, but that’s a bit harsh (and nearsighted, of course). I understand that organizations have to focus on the marketing activities that bring the greatest return. It’s hard to shift attention to something new when what you know has been working for years — even if it’s working less effectively now than it did in its heyday.

Direct mail fundraising is a great example of this. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), direct mail response rates have declined nearly 25 percent over the past nine years. Yet in the fundraising world direct mail is still king!

Insight: Time and budget issues are tough, but progress is possible. Let me offer a few ideas on how to overcome time and budget dilemmas:

  1. Become the king of content repurposing. If you help change kids lives by making their dreams come true, then be sure to take each story and turn it into a high-quality video that you put on YouTube, a short video that you post on Instagram, a blog post (or series of blog posts), a set of Facebook images, a handful of tweets, a testimonial on your website, and so on. Get the point?
  2. Listen to Joe Pulizzi, who said, “Nonprofits without many resources for 
content marketing should focus on delivering
consistent content by owning just one 
channel. Be the go-to resource!” Enough said.
  3. Learn the art of content curation. If you’re an organization that provides support to cancer survivors, then turn a section of your website into a hub for people looking for information — but don’t worry about producing all the content yourself. Instead, source content from Livestrong.org, Cancer.org, etc., and pull it together in an easy-to-consume manner so that people looking for information can find it through your owned content channels.

Nonprofit content marketing done right

It’s always good to learn from other great examples of content marketing — regardless of what the numbers say or where your nonprofit is. So, let’s take a look at a few examples of great nonprofit content marketing: 

cat face -shelter pet projectThe Shelter Pet Project: The Shelter Pet Project was created to make rescue shelters the first place people turn when looking to get a new pet. Its mission is clear, and it’s using the combined power of educationcompelling stories, pictures, and the internet to make this mission a reality.

One look at its Facebook page, and you’ll quickly see that images of animals fill the news feed. Those pictures visually tell the story of an animal that needs to be adopted, like Bo, a big Labrador living in a shelter located in Cincinnati. Those pictures also tell the success stories of animals (like Dory) that have been adopted!

If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that all of the stories The Shelter Pet Project shares on its website and posts on Facebook have thousands of “likes,” comments, and shares. Although this organization isn’t using a lot of content marketing tactics, it is using the right ones to accomplish its mission. 

girl figure in spiral-investing in girls

The Girl Effect: The Girl Effect, launched with a video in 2008, is a movement focused on empowering adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world. Needless to say, its mission is amazing, its stories are incredible, and its ability to truly change the world is evident.

With all The Girl Effect has going for it, it takes educating, empowering, and inspiring through content to the next level. Girls — and those who are passionate about championing their cause — can learn about everything from building friendships and family planning to empowering and breaking the cycle of violence against girls.  

boy driving race car-wish stories

Make-A-Wish Foundation: Make-A-Wish Foundation arrived on the scene in 1980 by helping one boy become a police officer. It now grants a new child’s wish in the U.S. every 40 minutes.

From giving Sophia the opportunity to deliver the weather and Logan the chance to lift the Stanley Cup to introducing children to their favorite celebrities like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, Make-A-Wish has accomplished amazing things. Because of its incredible work, Make-A-Wish always has material on hand for great content, and the organization has figured out how to bring that content online to engage and inspire the people who love what the organizations exists to do — bring happiness to children in need.

By sharing all video wishes on its YouTube channel, publishing every granted wish on its website, and sharing content on Facebook and Twitter, the organization has put its brand online for the world to interact with. 

n ten-trust me

NTEN: NTEN, more formally known as The Nonprofit Technology Network, is a network of like-minded individuals who deeply want to impact the nonprofit sector through the effective use of technology. These folks are passionate about educating the nonprofit sector.

From its webinarsresearch reports, and regular blog posts to its monthly eNewsletter, quarterly digital magazineyearly conference, and local meet-ups, NTEN is using content to inform, educate, and inspire action that results in increased adoption and better use of technology in the nonprofit sector. In return, it builds its paying membership base. That’s content marketing at its finest.

Wrapping it up 

No matter how you interpret the findings, next year when we do the Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmark Report, the percent of nonprofit professionals that believe they are effective at content marketing should grow from 26 percent to well over 50 percent — at least! That’s my hope.

Let’s take some cues from nonprofits like NTEN, Make-A-Wish, The Shelter Pet Project, and The Girl Effect. Think it through, put a plan in place, and go.

It’s time to evolve and start breaking through the noise by creating content that educates, inspires, and stirs a response.

Don’t forget the data

Have a look at the rest of the nonprofit content marketing research to learn more about the ways nonprofits are using content to engage with their target audiences and change the world. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the interactive version of the infographic below.

Nonprofit Content Marketing

Want to see more examples of stellar content marketing? Check out CMI’s eBook, 75 Examples to Spark Your Content Marketing Creativity.

Author: Frank Barry

Frank Barry is the Director of Digital Marketing at Blackbaud and blogger on npENGAGE. He digs helping nonprofits excel at digital marketing, social media and online fundraising. Follow him on Twitter and Google+, and make sure to download his a free eBook on improving donor retention.

Other posts by Frank Barry

Join Over 150,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program FREE!

  • Alicia Pimental

    Thanks for this insightful post. As a nonprofit communicator, I really value this nonprofit-specific data!

    • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing Alicia. Glad you appreciated the post!!

  • mokesa39

    My Uncle Evan just got a nine month old Mercedes S-Class Diesel just by parttime work from a home computer. check here ­j­o­b­s­­6­4­.­c­o­m

  • Rob

    Some of the stats here are useful. Kinda annoying that the three highlighted are more a justification of a job role than anything to do with correct application of it.

    • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

      good point Rob. hard to get it all in the static graphic, but if you click on it and look at the interactive version you’ll get more. ultimately, if you read the full report you’ll get everything. i appreciate the feedback!!

  • Janine M

    Hi Frank,
    The interactive infographic looks great – where can I find information to do the same for my company?

    Great article, too!

    • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

      Hi Janine!

      We built the graphic after the report data was ready. I don’t know of any tools out there that will build you something like this. Most of the INFOGRAPHIC creation tools out there that I know of generate fairly canned output because doing something custom can’t be automated

  • Joleen Ong

    Hi Frank,

    Great post! It’s filled with so many resources for people to get started. For nonprofits, content marketing is precisely the kind of approach that they should be taking. (And on behalf of NTEN, thanks for shout out!)

    • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

      Hey Joleen … thx for the response!! NTEN is a content machine :)

  • Spook SEO

    Knowing how the entire content marketing works will definitely help you
    land the best traffic and maybe the best clients that you will ever have. Also,
    it spreads faster than you think. It can reach global audience even without
    your intention. You can always protest against this but it is already proven to
    be true. If in doubt, try it.