By Joe Pulizzi published November 4, 2015

5 Things That Can Make Nonprofit Marketers More Effective [New Research]


Nonprofit marketers are using more content marketing tactics, social media platforms, and paid methods of content promotion than last year – and, generally speaking, they’re becoming more effective in many of these areas, and in particular, with how effectively they use tactics.

Yet, in terms of overall effectiveness, only 26% say they’re effective – a drop from last year when about one-third of marketers said they were effective. Our new report, Nonprofit Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America, produced in association with Blackbaud and sponsored by FusionSpark Media, reveals this insight and much more.

26% of marketers say their #contentmarketing is effective via @cmicontent #nonprofit 2016 research Click To Tweet

In this year’s annual content marketing survey, which generated the results of our new nonprofit report, we dug deeper into attributes that could affect an organization’s content marketing effectiveness. Here are some of the results and tips on how your nonprofit may be able to take steps to improve your content marketing.

Get it in writing

This is the second year we’ve asked marketers if they have a documented content marketing strategy. We’ve learned that having a documented strategy is a key differentiator among those who say their content marketing is effective and those who rate theirs as less effective. Of those who have a documented content marketing strategy, 42% say they are effective.

My commentary: About one-third of nonprofit marketers say they have a content marketing strategy but it isn’t documented. As I do when I review our B2B and B2C research, I question how effective these strategies are if they’re only verbal. If the strategy isn’t documented, how can you properly share and communicate to others on your team and in your organization? In our experience, having a strategy that is not written down and shared is like having no strategy at all.


Download our 16-page guide to learn how to document your content marketing strategy.

Understand how maturity impacts effectiveness

Not surprisingly, an organization’s content marketing maturity level makes a difference – 55% of those who identify their organization’s content marketing as sophisticated or mature say they’re effective.


My commentary: Our question about maturity is new year, so we don’t have trends, but we did see a large jump in the percentage of nonprofit marketers who reported using content marketing – from 61% to 76% – and chances are many of these “newbies” are involved with content marketing programs in the early stages of maturity. Of the 41% of marketers who identify their programs as belonging to the young and first-steps phases, only 12% consider their programs to be successful.

Schedule time to communicate

Engaging your content marketing team through meetings also can make a difference – it can be an opportunity to reiterate strategy, discuss tactical execution, understand what’s successful, know the challenges that arise, make adjustments, and ensure everybody is on the same page.

Half of the most effective nonprofit marketers meet daily or weekly to discuss their content marketing programs (24% of the least effective meet daily or weekly and an additional 24% of the least effective meet only when necessary).


My commentary: Half of effective marketers meet at least weekly. The point isn’t the volume of meetings, it’s that you need to think about how your content marketing team is communicating, and be deliberate about what you discuss and how frequently you engage each other to talk about your strategy. Teams that meet more often are more likely to identify content gaps or areas of unnecessary duplication.

Make a statement

An editorial mission statement clearly defines who your audience is and how your content will help it. For the first time, we asked nonprofit marketers if they have documented editorial mission statements, and 30% said they do. Of the most effective marketers, 42% have such a statement, while only 21% of the least effective have one.


My commentary: While your documented content marketing strategy is important, there is something exceptionally meaningful about documenting your editorial mission, which I often also refer to as your content marketing mission statement. If there is one thing that marketing leaders need to do today, it’s crafting your editorial mission statement to address who you are helping, how you will help them, and what the outcome will be. This mission needs to be front and center for everyone who creates content for your business. If a piece of content does not support this, chances are you should not publish it.

An editorial mission statement needs to be front and center for everyone who creates #content via @cmicontent Click To Tweet

Clarify what success looks like

Unfortunately, documentation and effectiveness do not automatically create clarity – 61% of the most effective nonprofit marketers say they have clarity on what successful content marketing looks like within their organization. Not surprisingly, almost 90% of the least effective say they have no clarity or are unsure if they have clarity in their organization.


My commentary: While I am not surprised that the least effective marketers don’t have clarity of vision, I do find it surprising that around 40% of effective marketers don’t know what success looks like within their organization. I’m curious how a nonprofit can be successful with content marketing if they don’t know what success looks like.

3 takeaways for success

Given these findings, how can you make your content marketing more effective? Here are three tips:

  • Give it time – Don’t expect to transform your content marketing overnight. Understand the resources available (budget, people, etc.) and structure a realistic timeline to create, document, and implement your content marketing strategy. (Remember 55% of the most effective nonprofit marketers say their organization’s content marketing program is in the sophisticated/mature phase.)
55% of the most effective nonprofit marketers say their organization’s #contentmarketing program is mature Click To Tweet
  • Create clarity – Ensure your content marketing strategy also documents what success or effectiveness looks like in your organization. Incorporate measurable benchmark goals for specific tactics as well as the overall strategy.
  • Communicate regularly – Get your team together to talk about what’s happening, what challenges arise, and what adjustments might be necessary. Consider implementing a project management system that requires ongoing communication on progress. Don’t forget to communicate the vision, strategy, and success clarity to all involved – from the C-suite to external partners. Update them on a regular basis.

Want to become more effective in your content marketing strategy and tactics? Get the latest research, tips, tools, and more, subscribe to our blog posts.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Greg Strandberg

    I gave $50 to Feeding America a month or so ago, mainly so I can deduct it from my taxes. On the same day I gave $50 to the local Boys and Girls club here in Missoula.

    Well, Feeding America’s donation went through my bank fast. I got a thank-you note in the mail quickly. Two weeks after that I got a multi-page letter with a silly plastic card attached.

    I do not want that. I do not want nonprofits using my money for mailings and administrative costs. That’s not why I gave you the money.

    Yes, I’m talking about content marketing too.

    Do you know what my local Boys and Girls Club did? They sent me an email saying thanks.

    I’ll be giving next year’s Feeding America money to them.

    • msbuller

      I agree. I don’t like when non-profits spend money frivolously. But non-profits have to find a way to reach people – whether that’s sponsoring events, maintaining a FB page, sharing stories of the people they’ve helped on their blog, getting media coverage of their efforts. So perhaps it’s not content marketing as a discipline that’s to blame and more the specific tactics of Feeding America that you object to?

      • Greg Strandberg

        Maybe. I feel it’s the 503(c) mindset of many of them as well, one that pretty much calls for little to no accountability as everything is tax-deducted and they can pretty much do as they please.

        Let’s not forget that the National Football League is a non-profit.

        • msbuller

          Yes, the NFL as a non-profit always makes me scratch my head. They’re the most profit-driven organization ever. As for the lack of accountability, I sometimes use Charity Navigator to gauge charity’s efficiency. They’re a pretty good watch dog of sorts. That said, I just checked them and the gave Feeding America 4-stars so not sure what that says.

    • Amanda Nicole Ramsay

      While I agree it can be frustrating to think that a percentage of the money we give as donors can be used for marketing, The Canadian Cancer Society is a great example of how that money spent advances the cause.

      In the early years (There’s a TED talk about it) they found that although they made little money, they still spent close to 20% of their donations on awareness campaigns, producing those little daffodils to wear, the informative campaigns on detection and prevention, etc. Their annual donations across the country were around $500,000 and 20% of that is: $100,000. When they hired a big-wig marketing executive to overhaul their brand and image, They increased their visibility, invested in solid strategy and were able to raise over $2.4 million in their first year but they only had to spend 1% of that…That’s $240,000.

      When you look at the percentage of increase (or decrease) in spending, while the monetary amount is higher the percentage of donations that are utilized are minimized.

      In addition, the goal of the Canadian Cancer Society is not only to fund prevention and awareness campaigns but also to financially support research. $400,000 (the initial donations after marketing and operational costs) is barely enough to rent a lab for a month. $2.3 Million definitely is enough to rent a lab and put a few staff in there.

      While Feeding America sent you card that you might think was silly, did you consider that perhaps they have a corporate sponsor who is providing those cards at no cost as a reward incentive for donors? Perhaps none of *your* donation even went to that cost. Furthermore, consider too that a lot of corporate sponsors may give $5,000 or more to charities, but they also provide these sorts of “in-kind” donations that are tax deductible but are located in different areas of funding tax forms and thus, media will often under-report how much a corporate sponsor is actually providing in both monetary, human and in-kind contribution.

      My own sister works at a bank and her job is mandated (Communications Officer) to spend at least 10% of her salaried time in community support roles that do not benefit the bank. That’s 10% of one person’s salary that is donated to various charities that they support. They pay her to volunteer. She’s one of a team of six who all have the same clauses.

  • Verena Hopp

    @ Greg Strandber. Thank you very much. I used to think like that before I founded an NPO. Our form of NPO in Japan has by law two budgets, the “for profit budget” is money that has to be taxed, we get it through events and sales – and this is used to cover expenses. Sure we have to invest to keep those rolling. The “non profit budget” is money coming from donations and membership fees – this money will directly be used for scholarships etc., We are small and what we do is for youngsters from all around the world.The NPOs over there in America do not have the benefit of that split accounting I believe, but in fact it IS the same. There are costs we must cover. If a donor directly wants to hand his or her money to the people the NPO is helping – fantastic, but if you organize it and need to raise awareness – it does cost something. Small NPOs like us start off and live for a long time by the money the team is putting into them. Please do not forget that it does take a lot of love and dedication and the plastic card you received, why not showing it to others and help raising awareness? That Is what it is meant to do I guess.

  • Joseph Matthew

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