Skip to content

A 30-Minute Hack for Nonprofits to Improve Their Content Marketing [New Research]


Nearly all nonprofit marketers would benefit greatly by taking one month to power up their content marketing programs.

That’s a logical conclusion based on the responses from 207 nonprofit marketers to the eighth annual Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs content marketing survey.

Thirty percent of nonprofit marketers neither agree nor disagree that they can demonstrate that content marketing has increased the number of people helped or served by their organization. Almost one-fourth (23%) neither agree nor disagree they can demonstrate content marketing has increased event attendance/participation. And 17% don’t agree or disagree that they could demonstrate content marketing has increased audience engagement.

Almost half (49%) neither agree nor disagree they can demonstrate how content marketing has increased fundraising. And more than one-third (35%) neither agree nor disagree they can demonstrate how content marketing has increased donations/sales.

That’s a lot of apathy about demonstrating content marketing’s impact on nonprofit organizations. If you’re going to invest the resources in content marketing, shouldn’t it have a demonstrable effect on your organization? After all, do you know a nonprofit that doesn’t need money, people, or both?

Given the lack of impact, it’s not surprising that they execute content marketing:

  • Without a documented content marketing strategy (74%)
  • Without measuring the return on investment of their content marketing efforts (62%)
  • Without aligning their metrics to the organization’s goals (41%)

If you struggle with any of these issues, it’s time to elevate your critical thinking around content marketing. And, in turn, create – or improve – the effect of content marketing within your nonprofit.

30-minute fix: Distinguish and detail the how and why for your nonprofit

Your organization’s mission and purpose aren’t the same. If you don’t distinguish between the two, your content marketing doesn’t stand a chance at being effective.

A mission is your organization’s reason for existing – your why. A purpose is your organization’s way to implement its mission – your how.

A mission is your org's reason for existing. A purpose is the way to implement that mission, says @AnnGynn. Click To Tweet

For example, the mission of the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project is to honor and empower severely injured service members. The purpose of Wounded Warrior Project is to raise awareness and money from the public and to provide programs and services to meet the needs of these service members.

By separating mission and purpose in your thinking, you can more clearly see the distinction between your organization’s why and its how. You can use that information to create a more effective content marketing strategy.

Develop the why and how for your content marketing

Now, it’s time to translate your organization’s purpose and mission into a content marketing mission statement or an editorial mission statement, as Michele Linn describes in her post, The One Statement That Will Refine Your Content Marketing.

The editorial mission statement includes the organization’s mission and purpose, as well as its audience. But it adds a couple critical elements – how the organization will use content to reach that audience and what it wants to accomplish once that audience is engaged.

“This simple statement can transform your content and give you more power to prioritize,” Michele writes.

Russell Sparkman, who has taught the nonprofit industry lab at Content Marketing World, doesn’t use the phrase “editorial mission statement,” but he offers a similar helpful output that he calls “your content’s strategic purpose.” (Note: The use of mission and purpose in this context is not the same as your organization’s mission and purpose described earlier.)

To detail your content’s strategic purpose, you must identify three things:

  • Priority desired outcome
  • Priority target audience
  • Priority target audience’s need
#Content's strategic purpose: Priority outcome + priority audience + priority audience's needs @FusionSpark. Click To Tweet

The key difference in Russell’s exercise is to prioritize your reason(s) for creating and distributing the content, which includes identifying your top audience and its most relevant need. Narrowing your focus requires you to say “no” or “not now” to some audiences, but it’s essential for long-term success.

At a nonprofit, you face a challenge because you almost always must serve at least two audiences – the people who receive your services and the people who support those services through time or money. You can’t have one without the other.

That dual-audience need doesn’t absolve you from Russell’s prioritization mandate. Pick your top priority for each audience category (i.e., donors and clients). Your organization can’t be all things to all people and neither can your content. Be selective.

Your organization can't be all things to all people and neither can your #content. Be selective. @AnnGynn Click To Tweet

By taking 30 minutes or less to craft a content marketing mission statement or document your content’s strategic purpose, you create a better foundation to tie your content marketing to your organization’s goals. Even if you never get around to documenting an in-depth content marketing strategy, this one statement will bring clarity to the purpose of your content marketing and its ultimate connection to your nonprofit’s mission.

30-day fix: Bridge divide between marketing and development

One of the biggest opportunities for content marketing to have an impact on the organization is to get the content marketing team to think (and operate) outside the marketing silo.

Results-oriented #nonprofit content marketers connect with the development team, says @AnnGynn. Click To Tweet

What’s the difference? Fundraising and donations often fall under the responsibility of the development or advancement team, while marketing is more often responsible for the organization serving more people and increasing event attendance/participation.

A similar disparity in for-profit companies exists between sales and marketing. As Jonathan Franchell writes in 10 Ways Sales and Marketing Teams Can Work Together, too many companies create silos – one for sales and one for marketing. But for-profit businesses see bigger revenue when the two work together. The same likely could be said for marketing and development teams in the nonprofit world. If the two teams work together, fundraising can increase.

Universal access to sales & marketing data will lead to better communication & deeper insight. @xaltd Click To Tweet

Reflect on how marketing and development teams can work better together in your organization, then set up a series of meetings within the month to work on your content marketing strategy.

TIP: In smaller nonprofits where marketing and development are done by the same team (or same person), it’s still extremely helpful to walk through these steps to ensure that content marketing has a bigger impact on the organization’s fundraising.

1st meeting: Gather data on audience and priorities

Give a brief overview of content marketing and share how your nonprofit uses it, including a review of your editorial mission statement or content’s strategic purpose (if you have a documented content marketing strategy, share that too). Then ask a lot of questions of the development team to understand what it’s doing, such as:

  • How many people give to the organization?
  • What is the range of donations in dollar figures?
  • Who are the five biggest donors?
  • Who are the longest-giving donors?
  • What are the reasons these donors support the organization?
  • What donor characteristics are most likely to predict support?

The goal is to come out of this meeting with two things:

  • Eagerness to work together (or at least acceptance)
  • Enough information to conduct some research to create a list of potential audiences and pick a few of the top donor audiences (also known as personas).

TIP: Pick a manageable number of top audiences to be reviewed. If you create a laundry list of all potential audiences, your next meeting won’t be productive.

2nd meeting: Present a few options for priority donor audience

At this gathering, give the development team detailed descriptions of three recommended audiences. Explain the reasoning and research behind each recommendation, and listen to the development team’s feedback.

Ask the development team to pick the most important audience. Depending on the environment, you could ask each team member to cast a secret ballot and tally them during the meeting. Agree on the most important audience.

3rd meeting: Identify development’s operational priorities and outreach

With your audience determined, now it’s time to understand better what the development team wants from this audience. While some of this information may have been covered in the previous two meetings, it’s important to go through the development goals – calls to action – for this audience in detail.

During this conversation, ask questions to learn why these are the goals and how they are related to the development team’s overall purpose. Learn how the team is or has been connecting with this audience. For example, does the development team have its own email communication with these people? Does development host events for this audience? Figure out how this audience already connects with the development team and your organization.

4th meeting: Present updated content marketing strategy with editorial calendar

After collectively identifying the top donor audience and understanding how the development team operates and communicates, it’s time to agree on how your nonprofit will use content marketing to engage that audience in a way that’s interesting to the audience members and beneficial to your organization.

Update your editorial mission statement (or create a new one) for this audience to reflect development’s needs. Then present a draft editorial calendar identifying how your organization will use content to connect with the priority donor audience. Your calendar should highlight content topics, formats, distribution channels, and promotion plans.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Editorial Calendar Tools and Templates


If you’re wondering whether the effort involved is worth it, consider these additional insights from CMI’s eighth annual content marketing survey. Over half of the nonprofit marketers who responded say their content marketing was more successful compared with one year ago. They attribute that success to a few key things:

  • A new or improved content marketing strategy (74%)
  • Improved content creation (73%)
  • Improved content distribution (63%)
  • Management/HR-related issues, such as organizational changes and staffing (47%)
  • Making content marketing a greater priority (47%)
  • Spending more time on content marketing (47%)

Interestingly, only one in four nonprofit marketers whose organizations have become more successful with content marketing attribute that success to a budget increase for content marketing.

What does that tell you? Don’t give up on content marketing – just do it better. And start with the 30-minute hack to identify your nonprofit’s why and how. Then take 30 days for a bigger fix and bridge the silos between marketing and development to improve your content creation and distribution, and to make content marketing a greater priority across the organization.

Let us know how it goes. Have an idea on how to improve nonprofit content marketing success? Share in the comments.

Improve your nonprofit content marketing skills at Content Marketing World. Plan to attend the nonprofit industry lab on Sept. 7. Register today for best available rates. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute