Content Creation: 7 Do’s and Don’ts from Nonprofit Marketers

Molly Soat
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • Nonprofit organizations need a solid content marketing strategy to leverage the power of storytelling.
  • Don't just tap colleagues for help with content; instead, get consumers involved by crowdsourcing their own content ideas. 
  • Avoid featuring only stastistical or negative content. Sharing human stories and uplifting messages resonates well with consumers. 

​Nonprofit marketers from the American Red Cross, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Make-A-Wish, the Nature Conservancy and the YMCA offer advice on leveraging the power of a good story 


Successful nonprofit marketers are savvy storytellers, tapping into shared concerns and universal emotions to connect their causes with consumers. Who better to advise nonprofits and for-profits alike on how to develop content marketing strategies that appeal to their audiences?

Marketing News reached out to communications experts at some of the largest U.S.-based nonprofit organizations to compile the “do’s and don’ts” of content marketing.

DO have a goal for each piece of content: Make sure that you know where you want people to go after reading your content and what action you want them to take when they get there. “Keep top of mind what you want a consumer to do when they view each image, watch a video or read a story,” says Josh deBerge, national communications manager at Phoenix-based Make-A-Wish International. “Are you working to build brand equity, drive donations or increase engagement? These types of high-level questions drive everything from a content perspective.” 

DON’T get too wordy: Especially in some nonprofit marketing circles, pictures really do speak a thousand words. “We’re embracing a visual-first content strategy,” Lauren Lawson-Zilai, director of public relations at Rockville, Md.-based Goodwill Industries International Inc., said in an e-mail. “Articles and social media posts with images attached attract more eyes and increase engagement. … We’re thinking less about the word count of the messages and more about how we can enhance the text of the messages with images to share our story in a really interesting way. Before, we might have created a blog post listing ideas for our ‘Seven Days of Spring Cleaning’ campaign. Instead, we [recently] created an infographic-style visual with the same information.” 

Also, make sure that the words that you do use won’t fly over people’s heads. “Write simply, be careful of ‘inside speak’ and avoid jargon-y terms,” says Geof Rochester, CMO of the Arlington, Va.-based Nature Conservancy. “We communicate that we are science-based without using the scientific language. It’s not dumbing down. It’s keeping people along for the ride.” 

DO take a unified approach: “Think about the multiple touch points that users have with your brand: exposure to news outlets where you might be featured, shopping in your stores, subscribing to your newsletters and following you on social media,” Lawson-Zilai says. “Integrate your campaign message across as many of these touch points as possible. That way, users—no matter where they follow you—have a chance to be exposed to your message. It increases the likelihood that people will see your campaign multiple times and remember it.” 

And make sure that all of the employees in your organization are tapped for content creation tasks, Rochester says. “Be open to co-creation. There are smart and talented people outside of any marketing team; use them as peer editors. Bounce ideas off of your colleagues and ask for their feedback, and tear down any silos.” 

DON’T underestimate the power of crowdsourcing: Beyond tapping colleagues for content ideas, get consumers involved. “In today’s social media environment, user-generated content seems to be king. It just feels more organic, and consumers crave organic content,” deBerge says. 

In your calls for contributed content, leave plenty of room for consumers’ creativity, adds Jan Walther, senior director of brand development and marketing at Chicago-based YMCA of the USA. “Ask open-ended questions and let your [contributors] say what’s on their minds,” she says. “You can always edit things down. You don’t want to miss those genuine moments that end up becoming buzz-worthy sound bites.”

Create online games to crowdsource content and increase engagement through participation, Lawson-Zilai says. “Last holiday season, Goodwill capitalized on public interest in ugly holiday sweaters by creating a Facebook game, ‘Sweater Yourself,’ that allowed participants to add their faces to a pre-designed assortment of ‘sweater-ed’ characters,” she says. “The game allowed them to participate in a fun experience while simultaneously sharing the message that donating to Goodwill creates revenue to fund job training [and] youth mentoring.” 

DO get technical: “Effective digital content marketing techniques include good SEO on your website,” says Chris Clarke, senior vice president of marketing and communications for Atlanta-based Habitat for Humanity International. “Write titles that start with keywords that people are searching for on Google. Use Google’s keyword planner to learn the most popular words. Include keywords in your headers and tag your images. Include meta tags that contain the most popular keywords [and] be aware that redundant content on your website can reduce your SEO. … And avoid content that requires plugins beyond the normal browser’s capabilities.” 

DON’T focus on statistics: “You need to be able to connect with your donor base in a way that shows them the impact of their donation,” says Selma Bouhl, vice president of marketing strategy and creative resources at the Washington, D.C.-based American Red Cross. “While facts are compelling, stories of those who’ve been touched by your organization are a lot more powerful.” 

Walther agrees. “Don’t force statistics or numbers on your viewers. It’s not what they remember, care about or what speaks to the heart.” 

DO focus on the positive: While many nonprofits support causes that can be heartbreaking, go easy on the content that focuses on the negative, deBerge says. “Our messaging at Make-A-Wish revolves around the life-affirming nature of a wish and the overall positive impact that a wish come true has on a child,” deBerge says. “Everyone knows our wish kids are sick, so it’s not necessary for us to focus on that. Instead, we try to capture the hope, strength and joy that accompanies a wish, and that tends to resonate better with consumers.” ​

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Marketing News.​​


Author Bio:
Molly Soat
Molly Soat is a staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Exclusives. E-mail her at
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Displaying 1 Comments
Joyce Reyes
October 30, 2015

This a great real Molly! Very well-written and to the point. I know the importance of Content in Marketing, but had no idea that this is the most powerful tool for non-profits. It makes so much sense can't believe I didn't see it sooner. Thanks for the eye-opener! -Joyce O. Reyes, Marketing Director

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