Tag: Content

A recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute showed that 92% nonprofits are using content marketing. While nonprofits are using a wide variety of sites and services to distribute their content, the effectiveness of these efforts is often uncertain.

In fact, nearly 75% of those polled rated their efforts middling to ineffective, while only 25% of respondents reported having a documented content strategy.

Without a plan for content creation, it’s pretty hard to gauge success.

Your plan for creating content should start with your website. If it’s difficult to add or edit pages, upload documents or embed videos, you’ll always be struggling to produce great content. A blog is a great way to add new content to your website since there are so many free or low-cost options available. Search engines also value new blog posts because it shows that you’re keeping your content fresh and updated. This makes your website more relevant in searches related to your community, your cause or your industry.

Here are 6 ways you can develop a content strategy and create content your audience will value.

  1. Answer donor questions. Every day, you get questions from donors via phone, email or in person. And, if one donor has a question, many more are likely to have the same question, but haven’t asked yet.  One way to answer the questions of your donors is to create blog posts or pages on your website dedicated to answering their questions. By taking this extra step, other donors – and potential new donors – can get their questions answered without needing to call. You’ll provide them with relevant information while also building a great library of content on your website.
  2. Post information about your industry or cause. As an organization that is passionate about your cause, community and industry, you likely receive news about issues that affect your donors from time to time.  Here is your chance to demonstrate your organization’s expertise and share that information with your audience on your website. Posting industry or community trends, reports that affect your cause and related news demonstrates to your donors that you’re actively involved and passionate about your nonprofit’s area of focus.
  3. Create numbered lists. Providing content in list format is a simple way to engage your audience. Are you unsure how to create a numbered list? Think about how your organization helps your audience solve certain problems or provides assistance to others. Then, break that into 3-10 main points that readers can quickly skim through. Headlines such as “5 ways your contribution impacts children” or “7 easy ways you can improve education” lets your donors know that the article is a quick read on how your nonprofit drives results – and how they can help.
  4. Conduct surveys. Ask your donors if there are any other products, services or information you can provide them that would help them. You can do this during your phone calls with them, at events, during personal visits or via email. Many times, your donors are only seeking information, which you can provide via content on your website and via social media.  By listening to your donors and providing additional value, you’ll be building a stronger relationship with them as well.
  5. Profile your donors and members. Everyone loves a great story, especially when it’s about a topic that they care about.  Ask your best donors if you can create short profiles on them for your website. Go beyond the basics of how and when they contributed to your organization’s success and include background information about their company, how they use your products and services, and how their contribution benefited your organization. Tell their story, and in turn you’ll tell your story. These personal stories will help potential new donors relate to your organization and the individuals who support your cause.
  6. Share other people’s content. Creating original content is only part of your strategy— you’ll also want to share information from other resources. If you only post your own content on your social media sites, you can appear overly self-promotional. By sharing information from others, you reinforce your commitment to your cause. Share posts from donors, members or other industry experts, and retweet posts on Twitter that are relevant to your organization and your donors. Over time, your donors and followers will see you as a valuable resource for information and will be more likely to share your content.

Like with your other projects and initiatives, seeing results from your social media and content marketing efforts is dependent on outlining goals to measure success. Create a communications plan that includes who will create the content, when it is due and when you’ll share that information on various social media pages. Taking a deadline-based, disciplined approach will help you accomplish your goals and keep you on task.

Don’t worry, your life doesn’t have to be consumed with blogging or creating new content from scratch.  It’s okay to start slowly at first. Try creating one piece of new content per week and sharing one post from others daily.

Measure your results against your goals and adjust your plan as needed. Are you getting an increase in traffic to your website? Have online donations gone up over the previous month? Did you get more attendees at this month’s event than last month’s?

As you begin to create and share more content with your followers, you’ll find that they will help you share your content with their networks as well. This increased exposure to potential new donors or members is your ultimate goal. By providing valuable content to your donors or members, you will strengthen their connection to your organization, which can drive growth for your nonprofit.

For more tips on how your nonprofit can generate great content to build relationships and grow your audience, check out our guide “6 Ways to Produce Content Your Members Will Value.” (http://info.weblinkinternational.com/nten-content)

cody_damon1.jpgOne of the biggest concerns voiced by potential clients is how to create effective nonprofit content strategies for their social networks.

Their struggle either comes from not having enough time to devote to social media or not having enough content to post. Truth be told, most nonprofits have an overwhelming amount of content on their websites or other communication channels that can be easily repurposed for social. Below are 10 tips for managing your time and dealing with the problem of feeding your organization’s social media beasts.


How does your nonprofit tackle content creation? Photo by Flickr User – juhansonin

Follow These 10 Tips for an Effective Nonprofit Content Strategy

  1. Content Calendar — Lay out all the content that you want to share for the week ahead of time. Don’t leave yourself or your intern scrambling to find content at the last minute.
  2. Weekly/Monthly Themes — Each week or month, pick one or two issues that your organization focuses on, and find content relating to those issues.
  3. Curation Platforms — Why spend valuable time searching for content? Let the content come to you. Services like Scoop.it and Spundge allow you to curate content based on keywords or themes.
  4. Flickr Users — Flickr is a treasure trove for finding visual content that is so valuable on social networks. Reach out to users who have content that represent your organization’s mission, and ask to repurpose their content. And always remember to attribute them for their work.We have found some really good people out there who are willing to help nonprofits.
  5. Over App — Don’t have a power Photoshop whiz on staff? If you have an iPhone, you don’t need one. With the Over app, you can overlay text on top of a photo. This type of content does great on Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.
  6. Repurposing Content — Once you develop your weekly or monthly themes, reuse content found on your website, direct mail offerings, reports, blogs or other any communication channels by highlighting different facets of the same piece of content.
  7. Staff Accounts — Does your staff tweet or use Instagram or Vine? Tap into their feeds when appropriate. It brings your organization to life and adds a personal touch that official messaging just can’t.
  8. Community Asks — Remember social media isn’t broadcast media. On social media, you offer opportunities for your supporters to interact with your organization. Encourage people to submit content around themes or campaign initiatives.
  9. Google Alerts — Set up Google alerts to monitor and share what people are saying about your organization. Google alerts also gives you the opportunity to stay up-to-date on issues relating to your organization’s work.
  10. Look at Data — Want to know what your community likes? Sign up for our Community Building Plans and get data that will guide you on the types of content that resonate well with your audience.
Why is having a content strategy so important? Social media is just media now. The convergence is no longer a possibility. It is a reality. According to the 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks study by NTEN and M+R, nonprofit Facebook pages grew by 46 percent last year and nonprofit Twitter audiences rose by 264 percent. The need to feed the beast with content is only growing more important.

Today’s post originally appeared on Media Cause’s blog.

To understand why Creative Commons licenses are so compelling, it is helpful to understand a little about copyright law. Simply put, and with some exceptions, under the United States Copyright Act of 1976 anyone who creates an “original work of authorship” and fixes that work in a tangible medium owns a copyright in that work under the federal statute. Owning the copyright in a work means that the creator has the exclusive right to do any of the following – to reproduce the work, to prepare new or “derivative” works based on the original work, to distribute copies, and to perform and display the works publicly. This means (again, with some exceptions) that anyone who creates an original report, painting, photograph, or film, or records an original piece of music, automatically owns the exclusive copyright in that work, even if the creator intended to release the work into the public domain.

Copyright law did not always work this way. Before the law was amended in 1976, federal statutory copyright protection was only available to works that were published and had a copyright notice attached. A creator had to take these proactive steps in order to establish their ownership of the copyright. If these steps were not taken, the work would enter the public domain. But, since 1976, all of the rights mentioned above remain exclusive to the creator for at least 70 years (and usually much longer). During that time, others can only remix or reuse the work if they have an explicit license from the work’s creator.

A copyright license can carve up those exclusive rights in a number of ways – a creator could license their work to another person for a limited time, to use in a limited geographic area, or for a limited purpose. For example, a playwright might license their play to a particular theater company to perform, with the license requiring that the company stop performing the play after 20 shows, and prohibiting the company from filming any of their performances. Or the license could be highly permissive, giving the company an indefinite right to perform the play, with permission to create derivative works based on the play, including film recordings.

A traditional copyright license requires that the creator and the licensee come together to agree on the terms of the license, which can be time-consuming and costly. This process is not well-suited to the fact that content creators can now easily make their content widely available online, and that such content can just as easily be downloaded, remixed, and shared. In fact, many creators post their work online with the expectation that it will be freely and widely shared. But, the default position under United States copyright law, that all content is entitled to full copyright protection whether or not the creator intended that his or her work be copyrighted, means that without explicit permission from the creator no one may download, remix, or share creative content posted online.

Creative Commons licenses are tools for clearing the barriers of this traditional licensing regime for content that creators want to share widely. The licenses themselves look very much like standard copyright licenses, but they make it easy for creators to attach a standard set of terms to content setting clear rules for how the content can be remixed and republished.

Creative Commons is itself a nonprofit that was founded in 2001. On its website, at www.creativecommons.org/about, it describes its vision as “nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.” It achieves this vision by making available six basic licenses that creators can apply to their work, in order to allow some uses of their work, while ultimately retaining ownership of the copyright. Creative Commons also has a public domain declaration, known as CC0, which allows creators to dedicate their works to the public domain.

Each license has three layers. The first is the Legal Code, which looks like a traditional copyright license and contains the actual legal terms under which anyone may use the work. The second is the Commons Deed, or the “human readable” summary of the Legal Code, which summarizes key terms of the Legal Code without the legalese. The last layer is the machine readable layer, which allows anyone to conduct an online search for content by license. This is one of the more powerful aspects of Creative Commons, as it allows anyone searching for content to narrow their search based on the content’s intended use. You see how this works by using the search tool on the Creative Commons website, at http://search.creativecommons.org/.

Every license requires that the user give credit, or attribution, to the content creator. The most permissive license only requires attribution, but otherwise permits the content to be used, remix or shared for any purposes. Other licenses contain one or more of the following restrictions – the Sharealike licenses allow the content to be remixed or shared in any way, as long as any new work that incorporates the original is also licensed under the same license as the original content. NoDerivs licenses prohibit “derivative works,” meaning that the content can be used and shared, but may not be altered. Non-Commercial licenses prohibit use of the work for commercial purposes. When you come across content licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses, you will generally see a symbol describing the license, accompanied by a statement such as “This website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license,” with a link to the text of the license on the Creative Commons website.

In my session, we’ll look at case studies to understand how using a Creative Commons license can help your organization engage with supporters and spread the word about your organization’s work and mission to a wider audience. We’ll also discuss how to select the best license for your content, and discuss whether and under what circumstances nonprofits may use content that is licensed under one of the Non-Commercial licenses. We’ll also talk about some of the issues and struggles that other organizations have faced in using Creative Commons licenses and what can be learned from their experience.

My session “Share, Use, Remix: An Overview of Creative Commons,” will introduce Creative Commons and the idea of “open culture.” I’ll explain the differences in the Creative Commons suite of copyright licenses, and explain how nonprofits can best use these licenses as a means to find creative works that can be freely used and remixed, and as a tool to distribute their content to as broad an audience as possible. Don’t miss it on Saturday, March 15, 10:30am-12:00pm

Carly Leinheiser

Perlman & Perlman, LLP


Bio: Carly Leinheiser is an associate attorney with Perlman and Perlman, LLP, where she advises nonprofits and social ventures on a wide range of matters including corporate formation, tax-exempt compliance, governance, contracts, intellectual property, open licensing, and privacy issues. She is a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Non-Profit Organizations, and serves on the board of the Participatory Politics Foundation. Before moving to New York in 2006 to attend NYU School of Law, Carly worked in nonprofit fundraising in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.

The year 2013 is the year Content Marketing has become a mainstream marketing strategy for both nonprofits as well as for profit organizations.  According to the Content Marketing Institute, 92% of nonprofits use content marketing.

But because of this outpouring of content, it is also the year nonprofits must think about differentiating their content from the mass of generic content being generated.

Writing one more blog post about how your cause is helping in so many wonderful ways is not going to cut it – well at least not like it did three years ago.

Joe Pulizzi, in his recent book “Epic Content Marketing,” sounded a clarion call for all of us to create epic content marketing – content marketing that stands out from the crowd.

Nonprofits are actually ideally equipped to create epic content marketing, according to Pulizzi. Why? Pulizzi bravely shared about his son Joshua’s autism diagnosis:

“Because of my experience with Joshua, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a number of people that work at nonprofits about content marketing. What I’ve found is this: nonprofits are the easiest of all to develop a content marketing strategy for… why?  They can tell the best stories.”

Check out some of the heart-string pulling examples from Pulizzi’s blog post.

User Generated Content: Epic Content for Nonprofits

Nonprofits have a great story to tell, but how can you stand out in a crowded field of generic content marketing? By tapping into that wellspring of stories each one of your supporters and beneficiaries have.

But it’s easier said than done.

Though we all want to tap into the raw, emotional stories that can drive a fundraising campaign, help recruit volunteers and tell your unique story, you have to be well organized about how you generate and use content directly from your beneficiaries and supporters.

You’ve got to ease them into it with a supporting structure and purpose.

I’ve identified three steps to help you ease your constituents into an escalating cascade of user-generated content. These steps are:

Convince them to contribute content to your own content project

  1. Hold a fundraising competition with user-generated at its core
  2. Create a platform for deep sharing

Join me as I delve into the exciting details of user-generated content for nonprofits.

Have them create content for your content project

When you’re first trying to get your constituents, supporters and beneficiaries to share their personal experiences via their own videos, blog posts, essays, photo journals or podcasts, you need to make it easy for them. One successful method is to organize your own content project, such as a video or an eBook, but have the core content come from your constituents. This gives you unique content and them the reward of helping without creating a lot of work for anybody..

My employer, Kimbia, used this approach for a promotional video they produced for the upcoming event Give Local America™ on May 6, 2014.

The video was composed entirely of short video clips contributed by supporters around the country. Each clip featured an individual or group holding up a sign that contained phrases that when pieced together communicated the core message of the event.

You can view the video here:


Hold a competition with user content at it’s core

This is a fun one, and it’s a way to get lots of diversified, quirky and creative user-generated content.

The Mo Brothers and Mo Sisters of the #Movember movement have perfected the art of user-generated content and have filled countless Twitter streams and Facebook timelines with handlebar, pointy waxed, Tom Selleck and carnival moustaches galore.

The #Movember concept is simple. During the month of November, to raise awareness and funds for men’s cancer, teams of men (and women, the “Mo Sistas”) form around the world and compete against other teams in a friendly race to see who can raise the most money – and who can grow the most outrageous moustache.

My son is in on it. I did it. You can see our pictures below.

20131119picture1.png 20131119picture2.png

The user-generated photos of moustaches are almost overwhelming. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest and individual blogs.

Using a concept such as a fundraising and user-generated content competition really starts to feed on itself. It breeds a self-perpetuating and motivating output of content (often in the form of awkward and funny pictures of people – in this case sporting moustaches) that puts the particular cause on the map and sticks in people’s minds.

Does it work?

Since it’s inception in 2004, Movember has raised $446 million in the United States so far. Not bad for a bunch of silly pictures of men with moustaches!

Create a platform for deep sharing

If you really want to tap into those deep human stories, you need access to your constituents’ stories – in their own words. Blog posts, articles, essays, videos. That’s the holy grail of user-generated content.

And it’s the hardest to get.

The best strategy is to create a platform specifically designed for this. You might have to start out with a safe place where people who feel vulnerable can share their stories within the confines of a defined community of like-minded members.

Vendors such as Small World Labs and Ning provide platforms for nonprofits and other organizations to create closed communities so members can share their stories.

A great example is Catalyst’s initiative, Men Advocating Real Change, which has set up it’s own community, ontheMARC, using the Small World Labs platform to provide an online learning community for professionals committed to achieving equality in the workplace.

Their strategy is very smart: they’ve recruited several high-profile bloggers to contribute regularly to the ontheMARC blog. These are men who have written books or speak at conferences about how to achieve equality in the workplace.

They then encourage the membership-at-large to share their own experiences via blog comments, new forum threads, and even guest blog posts.


Content Marketing is becoming one of the most powerful ways for nonprofits to get the word out about their mission. Harnessing the stories and creativity of their constituents is the way to create epic content marketing. Depending on where you are in the process and what your current goals are, we have outlined different ways for you to collect this content.

If you’re just starting out, ask your supporters to contribute small bits of content that will be part of a larger project, as Kimbia did with it’s #GiveLocalAmerica video.

To encourage a competitive fundraising environment, make user-generated content a central piece of the effort, as Movember does.

Finally, to really get your constituents involved and sharing their heart-felt experiences, give them a safe place or a platform to share.  You might have to seed content by recruiting a dedicated cadre of contributors, as ontheMARC does.

Most importantly, even though you have to be careful sometimes, don’t be afraid of user-generated content.  Being overly cautious can stifle creativity and get you lost in a sea of undifferentiated content.

Now go out and tap into your community!

About the author:

Fernando Labastida is the Content Strategist for nonprofit Omni-Channel Fundraising™ platform Kimbia, Inc. He is a passionate proponent of content marketing, and got his start in content marketing with his Spanish-language Latin IT Marketing, which became the de facto educational source for technology companies from Latin America wanting to learn how to market their products and services in the U.S. market.

He was the Retention Manager for online community platform provider Small World Labs, Blog Editor for the Austin Chapter of the American Marketing Association, the Director of the Social Media Ambassador Program at the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a speaker at various events on content marketing.


Content marketing” is a buzzword of sorts.

A term that you’re likely hearing more and more about – especially if you pay attention to the B2B or B2C marketing worlds. Though, in reality, content marketing has been around since at least 1895 when John Deere launched a magazine titled The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. I’m sure we could find even older examples if we tried hard enough, but that’s not the point. The point is that despite content marketing having been in use for over a century, it’s just now becoming a hot topic – one that’s making marketers take notice. A quick glance at the term “content marketing” on Google trends will shed some light on how hot.

With content marketing interest on the rise and nonprofit specific resources lacking, we thought it important to help our sector better understand what content marketing is and how it’s being used by nonprofits to advance their missions. But before we get into the details, a simple definition.

What is Content Marketing?

According to Wikipedia, content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers (or donors, volunteers, etc. – inserted by me). This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc.

Why is Content Marketing Important?

We live in the information age – people have all the info they need at their fingertips and Google has trained us to know that we can find anything we need by doing a simple search. Your potential donors are searching. Your potential volunteers are searching. Funders are searching. Patients are searching. Parents are searching. Those who would benefit from your programs and services are searching.  Everyone is searching.

We also live in the information overload age – meaning that people have more information being fed to them than ever before and have no chance of actually making sense of it all. This makes us selective. We find the sources of information we like and trust. Then we stick with those sources while we ignore other sources.

Everyone is overloaded with information and at the same time searching for the things they need to know more about. Great content (aka Epic Content according to Joe Pulizzi) is the key to being found and capturing the attention of those you need to reach.

So… how are nonprofits taking to content marketing? Let’s take a look at a few of the key findings from the first ever nonprofit content marketing report – produced by Content Marketing Institute and Blackbaud.

Key Findings from 2014 Nonprofit Content Marketing Report

We are pleased to report that ninety-two percent of the nonprofit professionals we surveyed are using content marketing (check out the nonprofit content marketing infographic). Sixty-nine percent have someone who oversees content marketing strategy, and sixty-five percent are producing more content than they were one year ago. Pretty promising numbers!

On the flip side, only twenty-six percent of our nonprofit respondents rate themselves as effective at content marketing, and only twenty-five percent have a documented content strategy to guide their efforts.

“Forty-five percent of nonprofit professionals are challenged with a lack of knowledge and training about content marketing, compared with twenty-six percent of for-profit marketers,” says Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and author of the book Epic Content Marketing. “As more nonprofit professionals become better educated on content marketing, we hope to see more of them develop documented content strategies and grow in confidence with their effectiveness.”

As knowledge grows among nonprofit professionals, we expect their confidence in content marketing to grow as well. We look forward to reporting back to you on the trends we uncover over the years to come. Here are a few of our first year benchmarks.

  • 92% of nonprofit professionals use content marketing.
  • Nonprofit professionals use an average of 11 content marketing tactics.
  • 26% of nonprofit professionals believe they are effective at content marketing.
  • 25% of nonprofit professionals have a documented content strategy.
  • 69% of nonprofit organizations have someone in place to oversee content marketing strategy.
  • 65% of nonprofit professionals are producing more content than they did one year ago.
  • 38% of nonprofit professionals plan to increase their content marketing budget over the next 12 months.
  • Fundraising is the top organizational goal for nonprofit content marketing.
  • On average, 20% of nonprofit marketing budgets are allocated to content marketing.

Make sure to download the full report and check out the infographic.

Your Turn

What’s your take? Is content important? Are you using content marketing at your nonprofit organization? Show us some examples in the comments or ask any questions you might have. We’ll be sure to find the answer!

By Frank Barry, Director of Digital Marketing at Blackbaud. Find Frank on Twitter @franswaa

How can nonprofits and philanthropies keep their content production flying smoothly? How can organizations more effectively run their own communications channels and create amazing content?

At the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), I spoke to attendees about ways they can help their organization’s content take flight.

Whether or not you’ve been able to formalize your organization’s content strategy (perhaps starting with these core elements of content strategy), having someone in your organization in the role of Air Traffic Control gives you a way to effectively manage your editorial process.

Your content creation dream — and reality

Imagine your content is a plane. This is what you might dream your content creation looks like:


You have one piece of content, one plane. The runway is clear, free of any obstacles. Takeoff will be easy. Piece of cake, right?

Unfortunately that’s just a dream. This is your content creation reality:


If each piece of content is a plane, the planes take off and land at different times, have different destinations, and take different routes to get there. Content strategy, creation, production, cross-platform distribution, and governance are not simple. They’re complex and take a lot of work.

So how do you plan and manage your content creation? How do you keep track of many pieces of content being written, edited, and undergoing approvals — all with different dependencies and complexity?

Start with a clear editorial process.

The editorial flight plan


Your editorial process is like a flight plan. Though it may look like a jumble, there are ways to make sense of and manage it.

Keep in mind that the editorial process is more than the end product, the content. It’s more than the words that will wind up on the screen. The editorial process is your workflow — even if it’s a complex one. It’s also a practice that is key to both better content and successful communications. The more clear your editorial process, the easier it will be to create content that will help your organization achieve its goals.

If your editorial process is a flight plan, you need someone to be Air Traffic Control.

The role of Air Traffic Control


If you are Air Traffic Control, your job is to:

  • Set the flight plan, and make sure that content — the planes — take off and land on time and hopefully in one piece! This can be efficiently managed using tools like LightBox Collaborative’s free nonprofit Editorial Calendar.
  • Track each piece of content as it’s in flight and the deadlines, owners, and approvals needed, and how the content is (or isn’t) progressing according to plan.
  • Bridge content strategy and tactics, that is, you’re the one that makes connections between the strategy that drives content choices and the tactics of the actual creation and publication of content.
  • Decide what gets published, when, the structure or format it takes, and on which channels it will be shared, with an eye always on your content strategy.
  • Repurpose and remix each piece of content to push out onto different channels.
  • And, just like with flight delays, if a piece of content isn’t ready on time, you may need toadjust the flight plan and adjust which content gets published and when.

As Air Traffic Control, you ideally will not create all the content yourself. Your colleagues, volunteers, or even program participants may pilot the different pieces of content along the creation path.

By applying the Air Traffic Control approach to your editorial process, you’ll be on your way to creating amazing content that can help your organization accomplish amazing things.

Images courtesy of Ho-Yeol RyuFSBUILDFanPop


You can probably imagine the faces of my colleagues when, a few months back we started talking about how to get more of our community involved in blogging. You’d have thought I’d proposed that we all eat steamed cabbage for the rest of the month, or perhaps do group swims in the frigid Willamette River every morning at 5am. It was that familiar look of “yeah, I know this is good for us, but C’MON, seriously?”

I get it. Not everyone enjoys the writing process or has time to muse about best practices. Yet content creation is a real challenge for rapidly growing businesses like ours at Idealist Consulting. We had to find a way to amplify our collective voice and expertise.

Well, one month in, I am proud to report that we’ve developed a scalable program that has worked pretty well for us so far. Here is what we learned about creating an internal content creation program – this could be adapted to organizations of any size who need additional contributors (either employees or volunteers) for any type of published content or social media.

Our approach

We went through several false starts before settling on a solid process, but as a technology consulting firm we are accustomed to an agile approach and made peace with the fact that we wouldn’t get everything perfect right off the bat. Initially, we were ambitiously looking at dozens of partner and industry newsletters where we wanted to make a splash. I started a massive Google spreadsheet listing the audience and potential reach of each channel, the possible blog topics, submission deadlines, and more. I invited all of our internal staff to add to it and was disappointed when almost no one did.

So, we pivoted and decided to focus our attention on motivation rather than outcome. We set up an incentive program with clear requirements and expectations and communicated this to our staff during our weekly meeting, then posted the process in Salesforce. Here are some of the cornerstones of our program:

  • Topics can be proposed by contributors or chosen from a list provided by our marketing department
  • Posts must be 500-800 words and have an engaging tone that is not too technical
  • Spell check and peer review must be run before submission
  • Marketing department has the right to ask for improved drafts or edits as they see fit
  • Each accepted post will result in monetary compensation

We launched the program and…nothing. For a couple weeks. But then one of our employees approached me with an idea for a post on how to be a great client. It was smart and included her expert advice based on five years working with a wide range of challenging clients. Best of all, it addressed a conversation that we’ve had often internally, when we’ve said “man, I wish I had a resource I could just hand people to help them work with us more effectively!”

Then a partner approached us for a technical review of their Salesforce solution, and because of our new blog program I was able to handily reach out to the specific employee who has the most experience with this application and quickly convince him to write this post. Having a solid process in place made this a much easier ask.

Here is a review of some lessons we have learned in setting up a blog incentive program:


  • Over-engineer the process. It can be tempting to set goals and map out all possible content channels right off the bat. Don’t. Your time will be much better spent getting some early success and then fine-tuning the process in a few months.
  • Assume everyone can write. Not everyone can (or should). If you have a subject matter expert (SME) in a particular topic, your time might be better spent having a skilled writer interview him rather than making the SME write the post himself.
  • Force people to write about something they don’t know about. It is much easier to write about something you’re comfortable with – don’t force it.


  • Set clear expectations. Think of how you want your blog (or social media, newsletter, etc.) to be populated and then set guidelines so submissions will fit into this as much as possible.
  • Give an incentive. If it’s valuable to you to have diverse content creators, you need to make it worth the writer’s time too. Even just $15 per post could make a difference in motivating new submissions.
  • Show what’s in it for them. Beyond a monetary incentive, blog posts will enhance the writer’s credibility as an industry thought leader and enhance their “personal brand”.
  • Set up a clear tracking system. We set up a custom object in Salesforce to track submissions and payments. Make sure you have a system in place.
  • Give public recognition. Every time one of our employees has a post published, we share it internally. Peer recognition is powerful stuff.
  • Be agile and willing to adjust. One month in, it’s clear that this program will need some ongoing love to keep it going. We’re considering setting up a Basecamp calendar to plan out future posts and other changes will undoubtedly be needed as well.

In summary, while it can take some work to set up an internal content creation machine to generate blog posts or other content, the benefit of having a fleet of content creators at your fingertips is likely worth the trouble and will help any growing organization scale their communications.

Have you set up an internal content creation system where staff or volunteers from various departments contribute content? Do you contract out for other technical writers rather than using internal resources? What has worked or not worked for your organization? Please let us know in comments.

Kirsten is the marketing coordinator at Idealist Consulting, a Portland-based firm that provides forward-thinking, approachable support to advanced technical solutions. Kirsten began her career in the nonprofit sector with AFS Intercultural Programs where she managed the national scholarship program for students to study abroad. She then pursued project management for several years in the private sector before returning to her passion of helping nonprofits work more effectively through technology. Find Kirsten on Twitter at @IdealistCons.

Teaser for 13NTC Sketchnotes: Secrets of the Content Marketing Sorcerers
Teaser for 13NTC Sketchnotes: Secrets of the Content Marketing Sorcerers

Here are my notes from Friday morning’s terrific session led by Kivi Leroux Miller and featuring Robert Rosenthal and Brett Meyer (who’s with ThinkShout; I incorrectly tagged him as an NTENner in these notes – I’ll correct them when I have a free moment).

michaela_hackner_0.gifleah_stern_ready.gifBy Michaela Hackner and Leah Stern, Forum One Communications

During a recent presentation, NPR shared that their number one competitor was Pandora. Huh. NPR is a well-established news organization; Pandora, on the other hand, is a community of music lovers that share their data to shape online “radio stations.”

Content is now multi-directional. It’s hard to pinpoint where it’s initially generated, and more importantly, how to identify the best information out there. With information overload all the time, and fewer than 24 hours in a day to consume it, users have turned to online communities to play the role of content curation. And they’re winning out over traditional media sources. With features like faceted search, topical groups, and the ability to rate, share, and subscribe, users are now relying on their peers more than ever to help them discover the best content.

What is content curation?

Content curation is the process of gathering, organizing, and highlighting the best content for a particular theme or audience, regardless of where it was originally created or posted online. Curation has generally been used to describe the work of those who create collections for libraries or museums, but it increasingly applies to those working online too. Many thousands of people –in both formal and informal roles, in organizations or as individuals—are creating collections of relevant materials from a sea of available information.

Understanding your audience

Content curators use their knowledge of the space to guide their audience toward a set of content that tells a particular story.

With any communication, you need to identify and understand your audiences first. Content curators use their knowledge of the space to guide their audience toward a set of content that tells a particular story. Curators must be super familiar with what their audience is looking for, so they can serve that content up to users without the users needing to go in search of the right materials. In particular, curators of online communities have to know their members, the community’s brand and purpose, and the content available in the community at any given time. We recommend doing some thoughtful user research before digging into content curation. That effort will help ensure you’re reaching the right people and engaging them on the content they care most about.

The new online communities

So what is the newest generation of online community? They’re everywhere: some of the most popular websites are communities. Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, Etsy, and Reddit are all essentially communities that curate content for users—or allow users to curate content—in different ways. If you have a group of users who log in to see a set of content that’s not available to the public, you’ve got a community.

There are three great models for curating the best content for your community.

Organizations curating content for users

Some organizations curate the information in the community for their audiences. Rent the Runway creates collections like “Girls Night Out” or “Cocktail Attire”, which feature items that might serve a particular purpose for their customers. Those collections are tailored (pun intended!) to help women find dresses that fit their personal look and style.

News blogs like Gawker and Upworthy rely primarily on content curation by editors and curators who comb through online pieces and submissions and highlight a collection of items focused on a particular interest (Gawker’s io9 site, for example, focuses on entertainment, science, and sci fi). Both sites are also focused on strengthening their communities. People identify themselves as part of the community by commenting, re-sharing, and engaging with other members. Meetup.com uses algorithms and content curators to suggest other meetup groups that their members might be interested in joining, based on their current interests and groups. Each of these sites is highlighting the most valuable content so that people come back to the community over and over again.

Users curating for themselves

Many sites also allow users to curate content for themselves. Anyone can create a list of favorites on Rent the Runway, a wishlist on Amazon.com, or a playlist on Spotify, or follow favorite news sources on Twitter. You can also subscribe to meetups and curate your own calendar on Meetup.com based on your interests.

In all of these cases, the platform provides a tool for people to sort and gather the best content for their needs. The content providers assume that there will be some set of content that is important and useful to each user, but they recognize that their offerings are so broad (and users’ interests so specific) that users need a way to sort and identify content for themselves. In vibrant communities with a diverse user base, any given user is likely to be interested only in a small set of activity within the community. In that case, the ability to curate a personal “reading list” is a great way to keep users coming back.

Users curating for each other

By harnessing the creative work of your community, you can make the community even more valuable to your members and start to understand what they care about and how they want to interact.

More and more sites are recognizing that their biggest strength comes from leveraging the curation talents within their communities. There is significant overlap between users curating for themselves and users curating for each other; many people start by creating their own collections and then realize that they’re happy to share their work with others.

Mixtapes are the original user-curated content. For many people, they were simply a way to make a great playlist for a long car ride; they could also be expressions of friendship (or more!) to be shared with other individuals or groups. Today, smart organizations are leveraging this creative instinct toward curation to help users explore content within communities. Etsy highlights user-created collections of items each week. Pinterest allows people to create collections of images, and then share them with their followers. On Amazon, an item’s page will often point the user toward user-created lists that include that item, to help customers explore similar or related items. On Spotify or Pandora, users can create playlists and share them publicly or with a list of friends.

Enabling users to curate for each other takes the pressure off the community manager and helps the community thrive. By harnessing the creative work of your community, you can make the community even more valuable to your members and start to understand the ways your users organically sort, categorize, and understand your content.

Tactics for communities

Now that you’re a believer in the power of curation, how can you leverage the benefits of curated content in your online communities? Below, we provide several tactics that you can use together or independently to draw out the most valuable information, encourage your users to curate content, and keep the momentum going.

  • Publish early and often. Create an editorial calendar that has dates and types of material to help the community stay fresh and active – and then make sure the community manager is responsible for meeting that schedule.
  • Sort and classify content. Develop topic pages (e.g. human rights) and function pages (e.g. fact sheets) to help the community find the most relevant information for them. Give them tools to sort and classify content themselves, and you’ll soon see that organic classifications rise to the surface – provided you’re using analytics to understand your users.
  • Give great examples. Provide templates, like a list of questions to answer in a blog post, to help users understand how to contribute to the community. A clear call to action supported by an example can help push constituents to add their voices.
  • Ask your community what they want. Make sure you’re tapping the pulse of your community at least quarterly, if not more often. Encourage users to share feedback via email and participate in brief interviews or surveys, and use that input to shape the kinds of content you’re generating and soliciting.
  • It’s all about your people! Cultivate great contributors by seeking out the experts and innovators in your field, the “researchers” with an eye towards learning and sharing information. We all can name a few folks who are always eager to share links and connect people. Provide positive feedback, recognize them publicly and privately, and find ways to include them in your strategic planning.
  • Promote new content. Enable content notifications in your community. Let people subscribe to updates and be notified when new information is posted in their topic areas of interest. Embed social media icons to allow users to share content across their other communities.
  • Calls to action. Create a good user experience by making information design intuitive (so people can find what they’re looking for quickly) and by placing clear calls to action around content (so people know what they’re supposed to do). For example, “Share this!” or “Let others know what you think.”
  • Identify and empower a great community manager who is super familiar with all of the content and can recognize trends and leverage them in blog posts, e-newsletters, and community announcements. A good community manager can make strategic connections with users, invite specialized contributions from power users, and politely encourage posts from community members. These tactics can promote an up-to-date and content-rich community.

What gets measured matters

Hopefully you’re already capturing data in your community using a tool like Google Analytics or Omniture. Drill down into the data. Explore what content is most popular, and how people are finding it. Discover the most popular downloads and search terms that people use within the community. Create more of what people want, and less of what people don’t want, and use curation to promote your most coveted content.

Why should I invest in content curation?

Creating and supporting a great community is costly and time-consuming, but it can provide a fantastic opportunity for people to learn from each other and get to know each other. There are many factors that go into the success of a community: the users, the goal of the project, and the technical platform all play a role. But the key to a great community is great content. When a community has new and useful content that’s specific to the needs of its user base, people will keep coming back because they will see its value for their work and their lives. Thoughtful and deliberate content curation is the best way to ensure that you can find, highlight, and share great content within your community, and help your community thrive.

From designing volunteer opportunities, to recruiting new volunteers, to creating risk management policies, to screening volunteers, to recognizing great supporters…there are a lot of elements to successfully engaging volunteers with your organization. And not all of them easily translate to the social media realm.

However, there are two key areas of volunteer engagement – recruitment and recognition – that are such great matches for social media that it’s worth a second look no matter how your organization is structured.

The big question is, why should you engage volunteers via social media? And another thing: How can you harness your content to work for you while doing so? Here’s my rationale for bringing together your social media and volunteer engagement strategies, and a few simple ideas for making it all work:

Why Volunteer Engagement and Social Media

A lot has been made about the estimated value of a Facebook like to an organization’s donor program, but what if I told you that our research shows that a volunteer you recruit today at VolunteerMatch.org will, on average, eventually provide more than $3,000 in equivalent social value for your organization?

On top of this, volunteers also donate…a lot!  Not only do two-thirds of volunteers also give money to organizations, they give an average of ten times as much money as non-volunteers.

Donations, which are transactional in nature, often lack the relational buy-in to your mission to which volunteers have already committed. Volunteers often work side by side with your team. And because they already donate their time… the most precious thing they have…there is no group of supporters more primed to help you in other ways than volunteers.

While not every volunteer will want to share their interests on social media, connect with your cause, inspire others to get involved, or follow your news, many volunteers will.

Here a few tips for using content to engage volunteers via social media:

  • Get the basics right first – Make sure your web pages support volunteer engagement… your website is still the heart of your digital strategy, so make sure volunteering is present in your navigation, on a page of its own, etc.
  • Listen – Be engaged in what supporters and prospective supporters care about.
  • Update your messaging – How do you talk to prospective volunteers? Do you have established calls to action, graphics and keywords? Make sure you extend your brand to accommodate volunteer engagement needs.
  • Leverage stories – The best way to engage anyone is by tapping their emotions, and storytelling is still the best way to do this. Gather stories of impact and craft them to fit on the social media platforms you choose. Speaking of which…
  • Optimize your presence – You don’t have to be on every social media platform under the sun. Choose social media platforms that have a large base of supporters for your organization, and that fit well with your content needs.
  • Think like a collector/curator – Don’t just broadcast your own messaging – by sharing other people’s and organizations’ content you’ll show your supporters that you play well with others, and will build a reputation for being a trusted go-to resource for knowledge in the space.
  • Create sharable content – People love videos and pictures. Create content that people will want to share with their friends and family members. Test what works well with your community and do more of that.

What Success Looks Like

Finally, how will you know it’s working? When measuring volunteer engagement via social media, try to answer these kinds of questions, which are readily available via analytics:

  • Am I effectively tapping the most vocal supporters of our volunteer program for other roles?
  • How many of our Facebook fans volunteered with us last month?
  • What are our most effective methods for promoting our volunteer opportunities via social media?
  • Which types of volunteer-related social media content are most likely to inspire followers to act?
  • Which social platforms are the best places to tell our volunteers’ stories?

If these questions look familiar, they should be! These are simply adaptations of common measurement-related questions that nonprofits often ask about their social media performance overall. Now that you can see how to apply them to volunteer engagement, you’re well on the road to making volunteering, and your volunteers, a bigger part of your social media activities.

What’s working for your organization? Share your social media and volunteer engagement success stories here.