How One Non-Profit Organization Used Content Marketing To Increase Applications By 5X

In 1993, I was probably the dorkiest college freshman ever to set foot on the campus of St. Joseph’s University here in Philadelphia. Or any college campus in history. Maybe even in the history of dorkiness.

But as a mildly successful high school half-mile runner who didn’t have what it takes to compete at the next level, I looked up to the guys and gals who woke up at 5am every single day to run for our Division 1 track and cross-country teams. And one of our stars was a guy named Jeff Long.

Just last year, I re-connected with Jeff and was honored to join the board of Healthy Kids Running Series, which is, as Jeff describes below, “a community-based running program to get kids involved in running in a positive and fun way . . . to develop a healthy and active lifestyle.”

Healthy Kids races run over a few weeks in the spring and fall for pre-K kids all the way up to 7th grade. And as a parent and participant, this program is a lot of fun for the whole family.

The challenge Jeff and his VP of Operations Scott Ely explained to us on the volunteer board was to scale the tremendous growth they were seeing from word-of-mouth referrals into scalable and predictable success. They had a marketing problem!

As a non-profit, you are doing great work. The stories of the impact your organization is having are incredible. But how do you get the word out to the right people?

The answer: share your stories in a truly authentic way to drive new donors, applicants and members?

This was the challenge we discussed on the board of Healthy Kids. We knew that if we could tell our story to potential new “town coordinators” across the country, that we could grow the number of towns offering the Healthy Kids Running Series in a significant way.

How Content Marketing Drives Growth for Non-Profits

It starts with sharing your stories. Of real people. Doing amazing things.

At Healthy Kids, they super-charged their blogging efforts with employee perspectives, “profiles” of successful community coordinators, they partnered with organizations who were sharing healthy smoothie recipes for kids from popular sites such as Mom Junction, and they curated content from the CDC on how to maintain kid’s health through running.

But what about the results?

According to Scott Ely, VP of Operations at Healthy Kids, their website referral traffic went from 5% to 48%. A nearly 10X improvement in website referrals in less than year!

And despite some minor changes to the their website to focus on the blog content, the majority of the content comes from partners, volunteers, and coordinators.

In Scott’s own words:

In a world filled with marketing clutter, we’re having the most success reaching our target audience by making ourselves easy to find where the consumer lives. That meant developing content suited for their interests and needs. The race bag inserts, race flyers, conventions, outdoor signage, etc. has become overpriced and ineffective, leading to less or in some cases minimal ROI. Content marketing has changed the game for us and we’re glad to have realized it when we did!

9 Steps To Develop Your Non-Profit Content Marketing Plan

So how do you use content marketing to drive similar results?

Budget is one of the most common marketing challenges non-profit organizations face today. How can you maximize the impact and ROI of the limited marketing resources you have to raise awareness and garner support for your non-profit organization?

As we saw above, Content Marketing is an effective, and cost-efficient, approach to promote your initiative, build meaningful connections with your audience and ultimately drive the desired action, through the creation and distribution of content that is relevant and valuable to your key stakeholders, including your members, supporters, donors and partners.

So how do you get started? Here are 9 tips to help you build a successful content marketing program for your non-profit organization, without draining your marketing budget:

  1. Document Your Content Marketing Strategy

Having a documented content marketing strategy is the key differentiator that separates successful from the less effective non-profit organizations at content marketing.

According to the Nonprofit Content Marketing – 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report from Content Marketing Institute, 42% of the most effective non-profit marketers have a documented content marketing strategy and editorial mission statement.

Your editorial mission statement should clearly define who your target audience is, how your content will help them, and ultimately what the desired outcome is.

Your content marketing strategy is the content roadmap that helps you plan, execute and measure your efforts. This needs to include your key objectives, target audience, content topics and types, publishing schedule, promotion plan and measurement metrics – some of which we’ll talk about in the following tips.

For topics that aren’t covered here, like the publishing schedule, check out this step-by-step guide I often share with marketers to help build out your content marketing strategy.

Once you have documented your editorial mission statement and content marketing strategy, make sure you share and communicate it to your team and any other stakeholders who will be involved in executing your program. It’s extremely important that everyone understands the strategy so they only focus on efforts that will deliver real value to your organization. 

  1. Identify Your Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach with your content? What content topics is your target audience interested in? Talk to your current members and donors, and ask them about the types of content that interests and resonates with them.

It’s okay to start small and grow your audience over time. You want the right audience to engage with your content and take the desired action, rather than having millions of reads but no conversion.

  1. Build Your Team

Most non-profit organizations don’t have the resources to hire a full marketing team dedicated to content marketing, and that’s okay! Take advantage of your members, volunteers, partners, internal teams and staff to help create some of your content.

Also, tap into your organization’s community and invite outside experts, members and influencers to contribute content. Guest contributors can help attract new audience and effectively extend the reach of your brand and messages.

If you don’t have the budget for a full-time content marketer, hiring interns, part-time, or freelance writers is a cost-effective alternative to help create the content you need.

Alternatively, you can also recruit and train volunteers who are passionate about your organization and your cause to help produce content.

  1. Decide On Your Content Topics And Types

Based on your research and stakeholder interviews in Tip #2, you should now have a good understanding of the topics that your target audience wants and is interested in reading.

These insights should also inform you of the content types that can best engage your audience, and these can include blog posts, podcasts, whitepapers, videos and infographics, just to name a few.

  1. Incorporate Visual Content

It takes more than plain text to engage today’s consumers. Research shows that 40% of people will respond better to visual information than text alone. We also remember images 6 times easier than plain text. And according to Adweek, people will remember 80% of what they see, versus only 20% of what they read.

What’s more, visual content drives engagement and social sharing. People spend 100% more time on pages with videos, compared to ones without videos on them. Content with relevant images also enjoy 94% more views than ones without any relevant visuals. Visual content is also 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than any other content types.

Even if you don’t have a professional graphic designer on your team, there are tons of easy-to-use, free and low-cost tools out there that you can use to create visual content yourself. Here are 15+ best practices and tools to help you produce compelling visuals that your target audience will love.

  1. Repurpose Content

To maximize every piece of content you create, think about you can repurpose it into other formats for different channels and platforms. For example, you can easily repurpose the content of a whitepaper into a blog post or an infographic that you can share on social.

Content repurposing helps extend your reach by delivering content to your target audience at all the places they search and read content, while lowering your content production costs to create original content.

  1. Build Your Content Marketing Hub And Distribution Plan

I get asked this question a lot – should my organization publish on our own website or on free social media channels and platforms? And my answer every time is build your own content marketing destination first (i.e. a blog section on your website), and use social channels to help amplify and distribute your content.

Free blogging platforms and social channels, such as Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn, don’t belong to your organization at the end of the day. If they decide to close their business tomorrow, all your content is gone. And if one day they switch to a pay-to-play model and your non-profit doesn’t have the budget for it, you lose all your content and the presence you’ve built there.

That’s why investing in your own brand-owned platform is the best long-term strategy for your content marketing efforts.

You can then use free social channels and platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to distribute your content, extend your reach and drive new audience to your content marketing hub.

  1. Leverage Low-Cost Tools And Solutions

Many companies offer non-profit organizations significant discounts for their products and solutions that you can take advantage to boost your content marketing success.

For example, Google’s Ad Grants program offers $10,000 AdWords budget to eligible non-profit organizations to raise awareness for their cause. YouTube’s Nonprofit Program also allows non-profit organizations to collect donations from their YouTube channel directly.

Another example is Salesforce’s Power of Us Program, which offers free subscriptions and deep discounts to Salesforce products to help eligible non-profit organizations better manage their marketing and communications programs, services and engagement with donors, supporters, members and volunteers.

  1. Set KPIs And Measure Your ROI

As with any other programs your non-profit organization manages, you need to measure your progress in order to evaluate whether your content marketing efforts are working or not, and adjust your strategy accordingly. Measuring your content marketing ROI is also key to building a successful business case for your efforts and the resources you’re requesting from your leadership team.

Some good KPIs you may want to track include new registrations, donations, memberships, etc. that can be attributed to your content marketing program, as well as engagement metrics like number of shares, clicks, reads and opens. Here are some additional resources (see #7) on content marketing metrics and ROI calculations that you can adapt and use for your content marketing program.

Be The Change You Want To See In The World

Gandhi knew a little something about how to move people with stories. And it’s organizations like yours that are driving real change in the world. The kind of change we need to see and hear about. So tell your stories!

I hope these 9 tips will help you create and execute on a successful content marketing program to drive more awareness and support for your non-profit organization. If you have any other tips, please share them in the comments section below!

Are you interested in starting a Healthy Kids Running Series in your town. Reach out to Jeff and Scott and his team here.

Photo Source

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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