Every non-profit tackles the challenge of spurring online donations in a different way. Some rely primarily on email solicitations. Others build a large social media presence where they can interact with others who believe in their cause. And there are charities which put most of their effort into telling long-form, riveting stories on their website. All are productive methods for driving donations, when executed well. However, the best approach is to develop a cohesive content marketing plan which utilises multiple platforms. Otherwise, the organisation won’t be making the most of its content resources. And charities are finally starting to cotton on. Findings from the Content Marketing Institute show that nine out of ten non-profits are now using the technique and creating greater amounts of content each year. Nearly 80% of the most effective charities have a person or team directing their content marketing work.
Here’s how to do it.
Creating Your Content
It’s been proven time and time again. The most effective fundraising content features compelling stories about real people, either those who desperately need the charity’s assistance or those who have benefited from it. In short, the majority of successful campaigns begin with great stories. It’s important to understand that storytelling doesn’t have to be wordy or elegant to be compelling, and videos don’t necessarily have to be professionally produced. Much of the best content distributed by charities has been written or shot by amateurs, but is raw and powerful. If content evokes emotions which inspire readers or viewers to contribute, it has done its job.
In fact, great fundraising pieces don’t have to use words at all. Some of the most touching and effective work of all time features nothing but photos or video which tell a fascinating story and “demand” action from the viewer. Stories may be either first-hand accounts or third-person reporting, as long as bring the reader or viewer right into the worlds and lives of people in need (or those who have been helped). Photos or descriptions of food being offloaded from supply ships, or wells which have been dug to supply drought-ridden communities with water, unquestionably tell an important story. That doesn’t make them compelling, though.
Photos or descriptions of those needing or receiving the aid are more likely to move people to click the “donate” button. Inspiring stories told in multiple parts or structured as real-time updates will keep people coming back and donating even more. Great content is behind nearly every successful charity and non-profit fundraising campaign. The touching stories of Make-A-Wish Foundation children; the ASPCA’s heart-rending photos of mistreated animals; emotional on-the-ground videos taken by the group Charity:Water: in developing nations without clean water. All have been catalysts for fundraising drives that raised many millions of dollars.
Content comes first. Making sure people see that content is the next challenge.
Distributing Your Content
It’s certainly possible for charities to raise large amounts of money simply with email appeals. The organisation Save the Children, for example, does an exceptional job driving donations with email campaigns. Without an enormous mailing list, however, there’s a limit to how effective standalone emails can be.
Similarly, relying on social media for charity or non-profit fundraising requires a large following built over time. UNICEF can immediately promote its message to seven million Twitter followers and millions of Facebook friends. Most organizations, needless to say, can’t come close to those levels of instant exposure.
So how can a charity distribute its compelling content to enough people to make a difference? The most effective approach is by using a layered strategy for content marketing. Implementing the strategy begins with posting the content to an online site. Some non-profits use third-party publishing platforms like Medium.com or video sites like YouTube for that purpose, because the websites already have built-in traffic and Google’s search algorithms treat pages published on Medium and YouTube quite well. (YouTube is a great place to host a charity’s videos, but the YouTube video should be embedded on the charity’s website and all promotion should direct visitors there.)
Unfortunately, using a third-party site means that potential donors who find and view the content will probably only see it once, and won’t see future campaigns. Third-party sites aren’t optimal venues for converting views into donations, either. The most effective place to publish is on a blog built and featured on the charity’s website. Google loves regularly-updated blogs almost as much as it loves Medium. And since the organization has full control of the pages and site, it is free to solicit donations, emails, social shares and user-generated content as it sees fit. Just as importantly, those who enjoy the content or are sympathetic to the cause are more likely to become regular visitors. Sooner or later, they’re likely to become regular donors, too.
Promoting Your Content
Here’s where the value of cross-promotion comes into play, and can increase views and donations geometrically. Social media, of course, is where it’s easiest to find eyeballs – if your content goes viral.
That’s not an easy assignment, however, even with compelling content. A more reliable approach is to brand a charity or non-profit campaign with a memorable hashtag that’s publicized well in advance on all of the charity’s web properties, public service ads, printed material, signage and the like. Once the content is launched and promoted via email and existing social accounts, a clever hashtag will encourage discussion and sharing centered on the campaign and the charity.
The hashtag performs one more key function. It allows the non-profit to track and monitor mentions and discussions, so workers and volunteers can engage personally with those who are most enthusiastic about the campaign. They’re the people who, when encouraged, will spread the word further through their own social networks to facilitate views, visits and donations.
The mental health advocacy organization Time To Change took this approach with its #TimeToTalk campaign, promoting content that had been posted on its blog. The effort generated more than 50,000 Twitter mentions and Facebook posts, and more than 30,000 website visits.
Monetizing Your Content
An influx of traffic and a boatload of views don’t help raise money, unless you’ve taken steps to monetize the exposure. The one that’s often overlooked but easiest to implement: making sure that all website pages hosting the content have effective calls to action and visible, easy-to-use “donate” buttons. People are most likely to contribute in the moments after they’ve seen content with a strong emotional impact.
Just as important is offering a menu of “suggested” contributions and an immediate option to sign up for a monthly donation program, which can dramatically increase revenue. The organization Charity:Water: has done this extremely effectively. Some non-profits prefer website popups rather than prominent solicitation boxes placed on their website pages, but many people now use popup blockers, and popups may irritate as many visitors as they convert. While optimizing website pages, social sharing buttons for all platforms should be placed adjacent to the content, where they can be easily clicked to increase the reach of the campaign.
It’s also important to capture emails, even from those who like the content but aren’t yet prepared to pull out their credit card. Email lists can be used for bulk notifications about new content or future campaigns, regular newsletters to build lasting relationships with donors and prospects, and direct solicitations if desired. Once the list grows, it can also be segmented by interests, level and frequency of donation, or any other category that makes sense. This strategic approach to charity content marketing maximizes the level of donations which can be reached, far beyond a simple blog post or Tweet. Once they’ve implemented it, non-profit and charitable organizations have seen contributions soar.