How to come up with content ideas that your nonprofit’s audiences truly value

How to come up with content ideas for your nonprofit’s audiences

Apr 5, 2016

In the last few weeks, I’ve received some pretty awesome emails and notes in response to my blog posts. Like these:

“Incredible timing Marlene… You magically answered my concern…”

“Another fabulous post, Marlene – not sure how you do it, but your emails come into my mailbox just when I need them.”

I love these comments because they represent content creation “wins”. They tell me that I am creating relevant blog posts that are helpful and that resonate with my blog readers and email subscribers. That I have a handle on how to come up with content ideas – the right ideas.

You’re aiming for the same wins, right? You want to write and create content that will attract your priority audiences and keep them coming back – to your nonprofit’s blog, newsletter, website, social networks, etc.

Here are my tips for nonprofits struggling with how to come up with content ideas:

Review your corporate priorities and communications goals

This is a pre-step. Before you start generating content ideas, remember that they have to align with your nonprofit’s strategic priorities and big picture communications goals.

  • Review your strategic plan and identify the broader, organization-wide strategic objectives that you must support through your content.
  • Review your communications plan, which should support and align with your strategic plan.

This review frames the rest of your research and content idea generation in a way that ensures strategic value for your organization.

Any new content ideas must align with your nonprofit’s strategic priorities & communications goals Click To Tweet

Create a marketing persona

Do you know how many emails and questions I receive from people who are struggling with knowing what to write? Many.

Do you how few of those people have invested the relatively modest amount of time required to prioritize audiences and create marketing personas for them? Few. Very few.

Spending time developing marketing personas helps you to understand your audiences’ motivations and priorities. Which means a better chance of creating content they’ll actually read, content that resonates and content that will inspire them to act.

To give readers what they want you have to understand who they are (and get to know them). I’ve already busted your excuse for skipping this step by rounding up all of the marketing persona help you could possibly need.

Take action: create a marketing persona for your audience. Do it. Now.

Review existing evaluations and reports

Think about the audience you’re trying to reach and the documents you already have that can provide insights about their content needs and preferences. For example:

  • Evaluations (programs, campaigns, events)
  • Past reader surveys
  • Feedback from volunteers or donors

Don’t miss out on all of the inspiration and ideas that you might already have at your fingertips. Get more mileage out of work that has already been done – by you or your peers.

Take action: gather any existing reports, evaluations or notes that you can mine for content ideas. Set aside one or two hours to review them and make a list of potential topics.

Gather commonly asked questions

One way to move away from communicating what your organization wants to say and to start offering information that your audiences are seeking is to answer their questions.

Identify the people inside of your organization who can provide information about your readers and potential readers. Talk to team members in other departments and find out:

From fund development:

  • What questions do potential donors ask?
  • What do they want to know about the work of your organization and how their dollars are being used?

From programs and services:

  • What do participants ask in order to find, attend, and participate in your programs?
  • What practical and logistical questions do they ask?
  • What do they want to know about what happens within your programs and services?

From reception/customer service

  • What inquiries do these front line folks receive about your organization and your cause?

These are just a few examples – who do you need to speak with to find out what your priority audience is asking? Once you’ve done the research, review the questions and make a plan to answer them through the content you create.

Take action: talk to a team member who works directly with your priority audience and find out what questions they are asking. Make a list of the questions you can answer through your content.

Ask your readers

Reach out directly to your readers and ask questions like:

  • What would you like to learn more about?
  • What can we help you with?
  • What are you struggling with?

Here are two ways to ask your readers about their content wishes:

1. Conduct a reader survey

If you have an existing email newsletter, create and send a simple, one- or two-question reader survey. Don’t overcomplicate this. I recommend including an open-ended question about their content needs. You can use a variation of one of the questions above: tailor it to your organization and issue.

2. Include a question in your email auto-responder

Build a question into the email auto-responder sequence your subscribers receive when they first sign up for updates from your organization.

This blog post is actually my response to a need identified using this technique. Here’s the question I include in my own email subscriber welcome message:

“When it comes to copywriting or creating content for your nonprofit, what are you struggling with right now?”

Take action: set up and send a quick reader survey or add a question into your nonprofit’s existing email auto responder sequence.

Review your website analytics

Use your website analytics for more than visitor counts. Tap into the content insights that come from reviewing the following:

  • What are your top landing pages?
  • What are your most popular pages?
  • On which pages do visitors spend the most time? What content gets them to stick around?
  • From which pages do visitors move on to important “engagement” pages such as your donation or volunteer pages?

Use the answers to these questions to determine popular topics, engaging content and content gaps.

Take action: make sure that you have set up and have access to your nonprofit’s website analytics. If you already have access, start looking for content insights from visitor behaviour.

Listen on social media

Watch your organization’s social media analytics. For example, what are your most popular Facebook and Instagram posts, Tweets and LinkedIn updates? What topics get the most likes, shares and generate the most conversation?

Also, pay attention to conversations in communities and groups. For example, join Facebook groups related to your cause and monitor what group members are asking about and struggling with. Of course, do the same within the groups you manage for your organization.

In my case, one place I listen is my own #NPMC Twitter chat. I created the chat to connect nonprofit communicators and help you to share knowledge and tips. But this chat is also a great place for me to stay connected, understand and listen to my core audience.

Take action: review your social media analytics, such as Facebook Page Insights or Twitter Analytics for popular content. Select one group or community where you’ll “listen” to your audience.

Where will you look for content ideas?

These are just a few tips, but any one of them will go a long way toward understanding how to deliver content that your audience truly values. So challenge yourself:

  • If you’re not currently implementing any of the techniques above, what’s one action you’ll implement right now?
  • If you’re already using some of these techniques, what can you add?

As you start to generate content ideas, create a idea bank. It can simply be a list in a Word, Google or Evernote document, for example. As you come up with ideas, capture them in this list until you are ready to move them onto your editorial calendar.

There are many ways to discover content ideas that resonate with your #nonprofit's audience. Use them. Click To Tweet

What have I missed? Do you have a stellar technique for unearthing content ideas? Please share in the comments!

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