Nonprofit Marketing in 2017: Challenges, Strategies, and Examples

Nonprofit Marketing in 2017: Challenges, Strategies, and Examples

Yet, many nonprofits lack a couple things most B2B and B2C marketers do have to make content marketing a success: staffing and budget. Overcome the challenges You can take on those obstacles by focusing on these three things – documenting your strategy, re-evaluating your budget, and staffing your team. A documented marketing strategy can sound like a Herculean task when you have 10 other things to get done in a day, and marketing is only part of your job. “Nonprofits have to make budgeting for content a priority when creating their budgets,” Russell says. To find more financial resources for content marketing (or to show how your content marketing strategy can save the organization money), identify possible efficiencies and collaborative improvements. Nonprofit board members also tend to lack sufficient depth and breadth of content marketing experience to be a significant value to the organization’s staff in the successful implementation of the content marketing program. Unlike someone who specializes in website development and another who is focused on email marketing, he says, an agency deeply understands how to integrate all aspects of marketing, advertising, and public relations. If you can’t break free from an ad-hoc approach, make sure they’re all operating from a single strategy and know what each is doing. It used images from the social media campaign to put together its annual calendar of bridges. By creating a comprehensive content marketing strategy, realigning your marketing dollars, and ensuring that you have the necessary talent to implement your strategy, your great stories will go further, attracting and motivating your audiences to do more even if your budget is small.

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Nonprofits start with a critical ingredient that many B2B and B2C marketers don’t have: a mission, a reason for existing that doesn’t boil down to “sell something.”

Having a purpose provides the necessary foundation for great storytelling – a strong seed to grow an effective content marketing program.

Yet, many nonprofits lack a couple things most B2B and B2C marketers do have to make content marketing a success: staffing and budget.

But even with these challenges, nonprofit content marketing success – even on a smaller scale – is possible. By taking just a few deliberate steps, nonprofits can create and nurture a content marketing plan that will live vibrantly for years, furthering the nonprofit’s purpose and working to grow a stronger community.

Nonprofit landscape

“When it comes to content marketing, many nonprofits have truly meaningful stories to tell,” says Russell Sparkman of FusionSpark Media. “Since nonprofits cover the range of social, health, and environmental issues facing society, their core missions are conducive to meaningful, inspirational storytelling.”

According to Russell, the combination of structured purpose plus meaningful stories enables nonprofit marketers to create content that matters to people’s lives, which might be educational and inspirational, and is definitely shareable.

While nonprofits are primed for content marketing, not quite four-fifths (79%) say their organization uses it. But less than one-fourth (24%) of those marketers describe their organization’s overall approach to content marketing as “extremely” or “very” successful, according to CMI’s annual content marketing survey conducted in summer 2016.

It’s easy to understand why nonprofits don’t find content marketing effective. As Russell explains, the challenges for nonprofits are great as well – financial, human resources, and governance problems must be overcome to leverage the true value of content marketing.

In my own work with nonprofits, I have heard and seen those challenges play out.

  • To solve a staffing challenge, a nonprofit board member pushes for the organization to launch an Instagram account and says the nonprofit should bring in a high-school-age intern to help because teens are on social media all the time.
  • To address financial challenges, another board member says the organization should focus on e-newsletters, blog posts, and social media because they’re “free.”
  • To find a desire to address governance issues, the nonprofit often must confront a problem first. For example, that teen intern publishes a blog post using language that doesn’t match the nonprofit’s voice, or worse, doesn’t pass muster with the nonprofit’s board.

Do any of those scenarios sound familiar? Those making the recommendations in these nonprofits usually are well-meaning, but they don’t grasp the effective meaning of content marketing or appreciate why a comprehensive program, rather than one-off activities, will make better use of human and financial resources.

Overcome the challenges

You can take on those obstacles by focusing on these three things – documenting your strategy, re-evaluating your budget, and staffing your team. Here are some ideas on how to do that.

Document your strategy

Nonprofits usually operate in a shoestring budget environment. “While there are both small and large nonprofits that are very well funded, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule,” Russell says. “It’s very hard to find nonprofits with the financial wherewithal to properly implement a content strategy and content marketing initiative.”

So instead of waiting for the financial wherewithal, figure out how to operate a manageable content marketing program based on the resources you do have.

That starts, Russell says, with a written content marketing strategy. Having a documented plan will help you get on the same page with your board and staff – laying the groundwork for your content marketing program based on the resources available and setting up an evaluation process with measurable goals that everybody agrees to. In his firm’s experience, nonprofits investing in a content marketing strategy document also are able to raise significant money to fund their organization’s initiatives.

A documented marketing strategy can sound like a Herculean task when you have 10 other things to get done in a day, and marketing is only part of your job. But taking even a few hours to create a strategy will pay dividends – preventing wasted efforts (financial and staffing).

HOW TO DO IT: I often share with nonprofits this post from George Stenitzer that spells out how to craft a one-page content marketing strategy. He takes you through a simple step-by-step process, and in the end you’ll have written down your strategy. You can do this with your board or its marketing committee. Share the draft with all, ask for input (set a deadline), and then implement it.

Want to boil down your strategy to make it even simpler? Follow Russell’s model on a strategic content statement.

TIP: A one-page content marketing strategy is easy to understand and more likely to be used by volunteers and staff implementing it.

TIP: If your organization’s board has a marketing committee, get those members involved in the process early on, and ultimately have its chair present the recommended strategy to the full board for review and/or approval. Or if there isn’t a separate marketing committee, invite a couple board members into the process from the outset. That buy-in of your governing team is essential.

Then, as suggestions arise (as they always do) on how to handle your organization’s content marketing, you can reference the board-approved strategy and say you’ll note their ideas for the next strategy review.

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