Should you use content themes in your nonprofit’s editorial calendar?

Jul 26, 2016

Content themes: should you use them for your nonprofit's blog?

Do you plan your nonprofit’s blog or newsletter using monthly content themes? Do you plan out the topics you’ll feature each month based on a specific editorial focus?

I recently received this note and question about content themes from nonprofit communicator, Matthew Couto, Communications Coordinator at TechSoup Canada:

I’m playing with the idea of a monthly content theme. The benefits are that it guides the kind of content we solicit and write, and it helps market our blog by creating buzz – especially when we present themed content in our monthly newsletters!
On the other hand, themes restrict the topics that can be addressed, especially when guest writers are offering to write on unrelated topics.
What are your thoughts on this kind of strategy?

Here are some of my thoughts about blog content themes:

Benefits of working with monthly content themes

Themes provide focus

This is the most obvious benefit: a theme gives your publication focus. As stated above, it guides the kind of content you’ll solicit and write. As a nonprofit communicator, you probably have a long list of competing messages to deliver; content themes can help you to give each one a turn.

Themes help you to make judgement calls

A theme will help you to make decisions about what topics and posts fit and when you need to say “no, thank you”  – or “not right now”. This might include pitches from guest bloggers, but could also include internal players competing for “exposure” on your nonprofit’s blog or in your newsletter.

Topic ideas will come more easily

In many circumstances, narrowing the scope or creating a starting point can actually increase your room/capacity to be creative (annual report writing for example: see the benefits of using an annual report theme). Content themes really help with generating blog post topic ideas.

Your publication will have balance

Related to my point about making decisions, themes can help you to maintain balance on the blog. Specifically, balancing out the “asks” and other calls-to-action with information/educational content.

You can plan your content more strategically

Speaking of calls-to-action you want and need to feature in your publication (for example, support a campaign, register for an event, volunteer), themes can help you to progressively build toward them (say, over a month) in a way that adds value for your readers.

#Blog content themes will help you to make decisions about what's truly a good fit. #NPMC Click To Tweet

With those benefits in mind…

Should you use monthly content themes? How can you determine which themes make the most sense?

When evaluating potential themes, consider the following:

Your nonprofit’s blogging or newsletter goals:  What goals have you established for your blog and newsletter? How can themes help you to achieve them?

Strategic goals or “corporate” goals: What big-picture goals, taken from your organization’s strategic plan, are you trying to support through your publication? Do they inspire any themes?

Key organization events and announcements: You probably have a number of events and announcements that are non-negotiable and will need to be featured on the blog. Do they inspire any themes? Conflict with any?

External events and awareness months/days: What events or external awareness months or days (or weeks) are of interest to your publication’s audience? Can you use these events as inspiration for themes? Or, do they conflict or compete with any themes you have in mind for that time period?

Look for #blog #contenttheme inspiration in external events and awareness months or days. #nonprofit Click To Tweet

A few more things to consider about content themes:

Content themes provide focus, but don’t need to be restrictive. You can take advantage of the benefits without painting yourself into a corner. It’s up to you and your organization how you’ll use themes!

For example, timing: your theme period doesn’t have to be a month. It could be a season, a quarter, a month, a week or an arbitrary time period set by you (for example, 1.5 months). You can use themes continuously or occasionally, leaving theme-free periods in your editorial calendar.

Also, your focus on a theme doesn’t have to be exclusive. You can establish your themes as areas of content emphasis, while still being open to or leaving room on the schedule for other topics and pitches from guest bloggers.

A finally, your themed content calendar doesn’t need to be treated as an iron-clad, public commitment. You can share your themes publicly alongside your blog editorial guidelines (see how the Nonprofit Technology Network posts their themes with their guidelines), or use them only for internal planning purposes. If you just use themes to help your own planning, no one even needs to know that an individual post is “on theme” or a departure.

Content themes provides focus, but don't need to be restrictive. #blogging #newsletters #NPMC Click To Tweet

What have you decided? Will you use content themes in your nonprofit’s editorial calendar?

Content themes can benefit your publication and really help you in your role as managing editor. I’d encourage you to give content themes a try, without letting them restrict you unnecessarily.

If you have experience with content themes and insights to add, will you share them in the comments?

Did you find this post useful? Know a nonprofit communicator who would? Then please share it!

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