Featured

Better Marketing with The Goat Content Strategy for Nonprofits

Can goats give us a content strategy? OK, goats can’t tell you what to write, but dairy goats and their farmers can give us a model for how to churn out content.

Female dairy goats are natural content strategists. They don’t even have to think about it. They just produce content that makes other content, about 300 days a year.

So when you need a content strategy for your nonprofit, goats are worth taking a look at.

Working your own web presence is like having a goat farm. If you feed the goats and care for them, they will give you so much in return. Each goat can give up to three quarts of milk per day. And you can make a pound of cheese for every five quarts of milk.

Four cashmere goats can provide enough hair to make a sweater. Goats can also do yard work, munching up all your weeds.

One key to running your own content farm is to have a strategy so that some content feeds other kinds of content. So let’s say your site’s blog is going to be your new goat. By feeding it well and converting its raw output into other forms, you will create high levels of engagement and grow your audience.

So how do your different types of content, the web pages, blogs, email, and social media, all fit together? Let’s start with the idea that what you get out of your internet efforts begins with what you put in.

Feeding the Goat

Goat Content Strategy: Four Pillars

It’s not just what you do, but how you do it. So if you’re starting a blog, what will you feed it?

Always try to create content that reflects the values of your organization. But beyond your unique values, here are four pillars you can use to guide you in building meaningful content.

  • Empathy 
  • Impact 
  • Sharing
  • Community

Empathy

An excellent place to start is with empathy, trying to understand your audience and what they need. 

An Empathy Map is a tool you can use to guide your content. By answering simple questions, you can gain focus on the needs of your audience. 

Goat Content Strategy: Empathy Map

Download this empathy map template at: gamestorming.com/empathy-map/

Start with:

  • Who is the person?
  • What do they need to do?

Then dig deeper by asking: What do they …

  • See?
  • Hear?
  • Do?
  • Say?
  • Think?
  • Feel?

You may also want to develop Personas, informed representations of composite donors or volunteers, to guide your content. Developing a persona is similar to creating an Empathy Map but can involve more research.

Personas typically include information about professional and personal traits, as well as motivation.

Goat Content Strategy: Personas

While Empathy Maps and Personas are often done as thought exercises, they can be improved with more research, including interviewing your audience members. 

Empathy Maps and Personas are usually at the beginning of the process. Once you have built your content out more, a primary way to learn what your audience is thinking is short surveys in your email newsletters, even just asking a single question.

We’ll get into more detail about newsletters later because they are more valuable than you may realize.

Learn more about Empathy Maps at:

Learn more about Personas at: 

Impact

We know that donors and partners want to know about impact, and one way to show it is to share quantitative data about outputs, outcomes, and influence in the larger community.

Goat Content Strategy: Impact

Of course, anecdotes are another way to show impact and help your audience “see” the value in what you’re doing. 

Example: Once homeless, Binnie now has a subsidized apartment and works for the city as a neighborhood ambassador.

Other methods to show impact are testimonials, storytelling, and case studies.

Sharing 

Nonprofit work means having to make a lot of asks. But we can’t always be asking. In our content, we should be sharing valuable information more often than just lobbying for donations. 

A 3-to-1 ratio of sharing to asking is a guideline used by some content experts. This approach is all about building your relationship with your audience. They need to see you as a positive contributor instead of a nagging voice always asking for money.

How can you share value? Simply sharing your success stories has value. You can also give free webinars or lunch-and-learns, reports or guides, or group discounts from a sponsor. 

Example

This First Aid Kit Guide from the American Red Cross is a one-pager, but the information is essential.

Only sharing good quality content is another aspect of the Sharing Value pillar. Make sure your blog and social media posts focus on your goals and offer real informational value.

Building Community

To expand our circle, we need to provide value to the larger community outside of our village of donors, sponsors, and volunteers. While your individual donors are likely to be local, funding and new opportunities can also come from regional and national organizations. 

Of course, learning to harness the power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and social media hashtags can expand your reach far beyond your local supporters.

Beyond your existing mailing list, there is a larger local and regional community to reach. Developing lesson plans around relevant topics for local teachers is a great way to reach out. Engaging, creative, helpful, or authoritative content can elevate your organization’s profile on the national or global level.

Goat Content Strategy

What Your Content Farm Should Have

Now that we’ve learned about our audience and embraced impact, sharing, and building community, we’re ready to get farming. Let’s create the pieces we need for our content system:

  • A few Cornerstone Content pieces that focus on your core issues
  • A “two-way” newsletter
  • A blog that feeds your social media and newsletter (social media needs to point to something)
  • Some video content
  • Donation, About, What We Do, Contact, and Blog pages
  • A content calendar

How Can the Website, Newsletter, and Social Media Work Together?

Goat Content Strategy

Building out a web presence is a lot like creating a garden or a landscaping project. At first, the site is sparse. But over time, with a plan and consistent effort, your site can grow into a verdant garden.

Here are five steps to build a great foundation:

  1. Define Website Menus
  2. Create Content Calendar
  3. Write Quality Blog Content
  4. Post Engaging Social Media linking to your blog posts
  5. Create Newsletter using blog posts

Start with a simple site with a handful of menu options, like 

  • About
  • What We Do
  • Donate
  • Contact
  • Blog

These pages will be your site’s skeleton. But the real content growth will come from the blog and the newsletter.

Create a content calendar. Keep it simple at first. Write one good blog post each week, and schedule social media content to link back to your blog post. 

Then take a few blog posts and make your newsletter from them. Put this on the schedule for once a month.

After a few months, you’ll have several blog entries, a couple of newsletters, and a bunch of social media posts.

Goat Content Strategy: Goat v. Blog

Examples

The Tilt repurposed this substantial post about using quizzes to engage users, creating a shorter newsletter item (which linked to the longer piece).

There was a Twitter post, too:

This example relates to our pillars of Sharing and Building Community. They share useful information with their newsletter subscribers, but with the blog and social posts, they are also reaching out to people outside of that circle.

Why Do I Need a Content Calendar?

Goat Content Strategy: Content Calendar

Dairy goats are usually ready to provide milk content. But your bloggers and social posters might need a push. Building a content schedule provides many benefits:

  • Direction
  • Structure
  • Accountability
  • Motivation
  • Consistency
  • Allows for Team Work

Content calendars are also useful for evaluating your efforts.

You can easily create your own using Excel or Google Sheets, and there are many free templates available. Choose from several at this roundup:

https://buffer.com/library/all-about-content-calendar/#content-calendar-templates

What is Cornerstone Content?

Cornerstone Content posts (aka Pillar Posts) are lengthy, comprehensive articles meant to be authoritative. What is your organization’s primary focus? Make that your topic and go into depth. Use

  • Short paragraphs and sentences
  • Subheadings
  • Internal and External Links
  • Integrated graphics and video
  • Downloadable guides 

You want this to be the first place anyone would look for information on your topic. So be prepared to write 2000-3500 words.

We talked in the pillars section about reaching out beyond your circle. This is content that is relevant and attractive to the community beyond your donors and clients. 

Eventually, search engine users can find your content, but be patient. In the meantime, this type of content is ideal for linking from social media and newsletters. A few other things you can do with cornerstone content:

  • Make it into a PDF which you can give away in exchange for people joining your email list.
  • Link to it from your What We Do page with a Learn More button

What about SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a vast topic, but let’s keep it simple for now. You don’t have to be a data scientist to do good SEO. To help people find your content, use these best practices:

  • Use 1 or 2 relevant keywords multiple times in your blog posts
  • Use relevant hashtags and keywords in your social media posts
  • Research keywords and hashtags before you write
  • Use a tool like Yoast for WordPress to help max out your SEO for each piece
  • Don’t forget to use keywords in image names and alt image text
  • Make sure to use keywords in your titles and first paragraphs
  • Complete the SEO title metadata for each blog post

But the most important thing is to write substantial, quality content.

Learn more about SEO practices

Social Media

Focus your initial social media efforts on promoting your content. So the social media part of your Content Calendar should flow from your planned blog posts.

This doesn’t mean you can’t do other things with social media. But it will make sure that you are most often offering your audience some real content, which helps build your authority and your audience.

How to select the right social media platform for nonprofits:

https://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/email-marketing/2019/09/finding-the-best-social-media-sites-for-nonprofits/

Why Newsletters are So Important

It turns out that email, the thing everyone says they hate, is the thing people engage with on a deeper level than websites and social media.

Marketing experts know that email can be a better tool than your website or paid internet ads when it comes to getting to yes.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, email newsletters rank high for securing, nurturing, and converting leads. In addition, they rank higher than social media for securing and nurturing leads and rival in-person events for lead conversion.

Graphic from Content Marketing Institute

While the marketing language of securing, nurturing, and converting leads may sound strange to nonprofits, your donor leads work the same way. The people on your email list are already in what we’ll call the fundraising funnel. They know your work and are inclined to support it.

Make It a Two-Way Newsletter

Your newsletter offers you a rare opportunity to find out what your audience is thinking. Don’t pass up this chance in each issue. 

A simple survey method is to add a one-question survey at the end of each newsletter: thumbs up or thumbs down. You can dig deeper with surveys or ask the open question: What do you want to see in this newsletter? 

Email marketing tools like Mailchimp can help you get quantitative data such as open rates on your newsletters. You can also segment your audience and try different approaches and A/B test headlines, formats, and fundraising appeals.

Learn more about getting newsletter reader feedback.

Build More Value 

Add value to your newsletter by doing more than just repurposing your four weekly blog posts at the end of the month. Instead, include some short regular features written in a conversational style.

Curation is another way to add value. When you find articles that will interest your audience, write a brief introduction for each and then link to them. If the article is of importance to your audience, they will appreciate you for sharing it.

Learn more about curation: https://buffer.com/resources/guide-to-content-curation/

Your Next-Steps Checklist

Now that you’ve got your Four Pillars and all the pieces you’ll need, you’re ready to start content farming.

Next Goat Steps

☑️ Complete your Empathy Map

☑️ Consider your organization’s goals and mission

☑️ Consider the pillars of Empathy, Impact, Sharing, and Building Community

☑️ Create Cornerstone Content and shorter blog posts

☑️ Schedule social media to promote your blog posts

☑️ Use your blog posts to create your monthly newsletter

Questions or comments? Reach out to me at michaeljcontent.com/contact or in the comments below.

About Me

ESG: What is It?

With climate and social change concerns heating up, stakeholders expect more accountability from corporations and institutions. So you hear this acronym more often. ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance.

You can view each element as a pillar containing five relevant issues.

The Environmental pillar contains these issues:

  • Climate Change
  • Resource Depletion
  • Waste
  • Pollution
  • Deforestation

The Social pillar addresses:

  • Human Rights
  • Modern Slavery
  • Child Labor
  • Working Conditions
  • Employee Relations

The Governance pillar focuses on these issues:

  • Bribery and Corruption
  • Executive Pay
  • Board Diversity and Structure
  • Political Lobbying and Donations
  • Tax Strategy

Origins

The term originated in 2005, with the UN’s Who Cares Who Wins conference. Decades earlier, social and environmental issues like apartheid and the massive 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill created waves of activism and policy changes.  

As ad-hoc responses grew, people looked for more comprehensive policies for positive environmental and social outcomes. As a result, movements around Responsible Investing and Corporate Social Responsibility took shape. In 2006, The UN Principles of Responsible Investing emphasized the use of the ESG model.

An Emerging Standard

Ultimately, ESG became the standard framework for organizations and individuals interested in sustainability.

ESG-related assets under management increased from $22.8 trillion in 2016 to $30.6 trillion in 2018. Bloomberg forecasts these investments to reach $53 trillion in 2025, representing one out of every three of all investments.

Yeah, But Does It Work?

McKinsey lists five links between an organization’s ESG strategy and value creation:

  1. Top-line growth
  2. Cost reductions
  3. Regulatory and legal interventions
  4. Productivity uplift
  5. Investment and asset optimization

So, for example, a B2C company with a sound environmental strategy could:

  • Attract new customers who share environmental concerns
  • Reduce energy costs
  • Have fewer regulatory or legal actions over issues like pollution
  • Increase productivity as employees feel more engaged
  • Improve ROI through energy efficiency and environmental stewardship

McKinsey found that companies that take serious sustainability actions outperform those that don’t. They created a metric of energy, water, and waste use compared to revenue. The top sustainability performers across several industries had the best financial results.

Dick’s Sportings Goods’ decision to stop selling guns may be an example of a successful sustainability policy. While the move cost millions in sales, the company’s stock price has improved.

Looking forward, IKEA’s shift from recyclable to modular products may create a strategic advantage.

ESG Ratings

Many firms rank companies and funds in terms of ESG. But ratings aren’t just about policies and practices. They are also driven by whether concerns are financially material within industries and by levels of risk exposure. 

Want to check up on a particular company? You can look up ESG Ratings from investment research firm MCSI here:

mcsi.com/our-solutions/esg-investing/esg-ratings/esg-ratings-corporate-search-tool

Where ESG Ratings Fall Short

While the focus on sustainable policies is welcome, there are a few problems with reporting and ratings. 

There is no standard ESG reporting system. Instead, GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) and SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board) have produced their own sustainability standards used by many companies.

Of course, companies self-report, which goes into the ESG ratings created by financial companies and analysts. 

So …

  • Companies provide ESG data to multiple rating organizations
  • The companies use different reporting systems
  • The ratings people ask for ESG information in different ways
  • Then each ratings group creates its ESG scores for companies and industries

Does all this activity produce an accurate picture? Then SEC Chairman Jay Clayton complained in 2020 that combining E, S, and G data into a single score may create “over-inclusive and imprecise” analysis

Another reason for imprecision is that some sustainability concepts are hard to quantify. For instance, how can you score ethical behavior? 

Perhaps more unified standards will emerge. For example, GRI and SASB have recently collaborated, showing how companies can use hybrid approaches. They are also working together with the EU on a potentially unifying system for European Union members.

The Longer View

Financial analysts have been keenly aware of the growing importance of ESG policy.

But the election of two environmental advocates to the Exxon board in 2021 is a breakthrough moment, with extensive media coverage building ESG awareness. 

Large and influential public employee retirement systems support the move to ESG. For example, CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) backed the Exxon changes. In 2022, 6.3 million federal workers will be able to choose an ESG investment option in their Thrift Savings Plan retirement accounts.

Next Time: Making a Better Target

While the ESG framework has become a standard, it lacks specificity. As a result, some companies are turning to a related set of goals to show how their policies create impact. Next time: What is SDG?

Thanks for reading. Please sign up for my Alphabet Soup newsletter, which demystifies those WTF acronyms.

Why Your Business Needs a Customer Persona

Why an insightful Customer Persona unlocks customers

What is a Customer Persona?

The Customer Persona is a document establishing who are you selling to and why they want to buy. Although people often think of demographic information as most important, often the why part of the persona provides more value. But the reality is they work together.

One way to think of it is the Who part of the persona is the User ID and the Why is the Password. Together, they help you “unlock” the customer.

Unlocking Your Customer

The Who Part – the User ID

In the Who part of a Customer Persona, we capture Demographic, Professional and Personal characteristics.

Demographics like age, income, location and education are important to know. But they are only part of the picture. Marketers have learned that stopping at demographic research won’t provide solutions to the customer’s problems.

Professional characteristics such as a person’s industry, company or tools they like to use are very important for B2B marketing.

We’ll also look at personal traits like

  • Interests
  • Brands
  • Values

For personal interests, free-time activities are recorded. These can often be related to existing brands, giving insight into potential buying patterns.

For example, hobbies or interests can lead us to what brands appeal to a person. What are the best-selling brands of wet suits for cold water surfers? How are they marketed?

Many brands are marketed by values, like a reliable tire company, or a pharmaceutical company that says it’s products help people live with dignity. So we have an opportunity to hike down a path from a person’s interest, to brands, to values.

Another area to explore is where customers get their information. Do they read books, listen to podcasts, watch TV or internet influencers, belong to associations?

The information in the Who part of the persona will help identify the customer. But you also need the other half, the Why part, to unlock the customer.

The Why Part – The Password That Gets You Inside

The Why Part of the Customer Persona helps us dig in and find the right way to engage with our audience.

In fact, the most valuable part is next. We’re going to find your customers’ Pain Points, the reasons why they are motivated to buy a product or service.

Identifying Pain Points and Other Motivators

Let’s say we want to sell light beer to jocks who are in their 30s. We can’t just say, hey you’re 30, so buy this light beer. We have only identified this group as likely buyers.

But with some study, we can find what motivates them to buy light beer. We can use different types of research:

  • Competitive: What do your competitors do?
  • Internet: People like to share, right?
  • Customer: We can always ask your customers.

After the research phase is done, we can take what we learned and turn into action by listing Pain Points and solutions. Here’s an example from the light beer industry.

Light Beer Pain Points and Marketing Themes
Pain PointTheme
I want to drink light beer so I don’t gain weight.Our light beer has the lowest calories.
I want to drink light beer so I don’t gain weight, but I want it to taste good.Our beer tastes better than the other brand and only has one more calorie.

Creating Value From Insight

To capture these kind of insights, I will ask your customers what they think. I will also ask you to tell me everything about your business. You may be surprised with the answers we come up with when you have to verbalize what your customers need.

Once I’ve done the research, I use some proven formulas to state what the Pain Points really are.

The Value of the Persona

These personas are valuable because:

  1. The Who, or the “User ID”, gives you a clearer picture of who you are selling to.
  2. By unearthing the Why, we find the “Password” to unlock the customer.
  3. All your marketing efforts will map back to the discoveries made in the Persona.

Book Your Free Customer Persona

I offer a free Customer Persona to all my potential clients, not just because it can help you. It will also help me do the best Content Marketing I can for you. Every piece in an entire strategy has its origins in the power of the persona.

Content Marketing Works

Content Marketing is how people prefer to learn about your produce or service. 88% of consumers search for information before buying1. 70% consumers prefer to learn about new products through content, like blogs or podcasts, rather than advertising2.

And these eager consumer-slash-researchers are more likely to buy. For 60%, good content is the inspiration for them to check out a product3.

Content isn’t magic, and it doesn’t work in hit-and-run spurts. Not every content piece is about buy now or donate now. Content is about providing valuable information, building your authority, and creating affinity between you and your audience.

If your audience finds your content useful, they will be more likely to buy — or donate if you’re a nonprofit.

Learn how I can help you reach your audience with better content.

Sources:

  1. eCommerce Foundation, https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2018/omichannel-ecommerce-consumer-habits/

2. Content Marketing Institute, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/NEOMG_Whitepaper_final_11-10-15_lk.pdf

3. Zoominfo, https://blog.zoominfo.com/content-marketing-statistics/

Unlock Your Email List with A Value-Add Newsletter

Marketing experts know that when it comes to getting to yes, email can a better tool than your website or paid internet ads.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the Content Marketing Institute, email newsletters rank high for securing, nurturing, and converting leads.

It turns out that email, the thing everyone says they hate, is the thing people engage with on a deeper level than websites and social media.

While the marketing language of securing, nurturing, and converting leads may sound strange to nonprofits, your donor leads work the same way. The people on your email list are already in what we’ll call the fundraising funnel. They know your work and are inclined to support it. So they need to be part of any fundraising strategy.

Want to learn more about how email newsletters can help your nonprofit?

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your GuideStar Profile

Completed GuideStar profiles are essential for improved nonprofit fundraising.

You hear it all the time in the nonprofit world. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. 

“I really need to get that GuideStar profile done.” 

Yes, you do — if you would like access to millions of potential donors on the Amazon, Salesforce, and Facebook giving platforms. And the 10 million viewers GuideStar itself gets each year.

Even though obtaining a Seal of Transparency improves your access to potential funding, time and staffing limits often sidetrack the project. And when you finally get there, then comes the hard part: you have to explain your organization to potential funders in writing. 

When I first started researching GuideStar profiles, I noticed right away that some of them were really hard to read. Great big gobs of impenetrable text had been typed or pasted in response to the standard questions. No one looks forward to reading that, let alone to giving money to the authoring agency. 

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to make your GuideStar profile read easier for your potential donors.

People often scan before they read. Some people don’t ever read; they just scan. The research-supported Information Mapping system suggests breaking your information down into small chunks and labeling them, and writing shorter sentences and paragraphs.

Here are five simple ways to write better answers in your profile.

#1. The Shortest Path Between Two Points Is … Fewer Words

Despite the best efforts of Information Mappers, the temptation to “data dump” as many facts as possible compels many profile writers to cram text fields with gigantic paragraphs. Do you like reading 500-word paragraphs? Well, neither do your potential funders.

Keep the paragraphs — and the sentences — short. Think of it like this: each sentence you make easier to read makes it easier for your donors to consider funding your project.

How? Try one idea per paragraph.

Each clean, short, simple paragraph made of clear, simple sentences scores points for you. 

Paragraphs are chains of sentences. So every sentence you clean up makes for a better paragraph — and easier reading.

Your paragraphs are also chains of reasons — reasons why donors should back you.

Example: A/B Test. Which reads easier, the single paragraph or the two short paragraphs?

A.

Since 2014, Mayberry Housing Collective has worked with San Madeo County to get people off the streets and into housing. We have found homes for over 700 citizens. In 2020, 90% of Mayberry Housing Collective clients received housing vouchers. We placed 98 residents in apartments and group homes in 5 cities. 73% of our 2019 clients remained in their new homes in 2020

B.

Since 2014, Mayberry Housing Collective has worked with San Madeo County to get people off the streets and into housing. We have found homes for over 700 citizens. 

In 2020, 90% of Mayberry Housing Collective clients received housing vouchers. We placed 98 residents in apartments and group homes in 5 cities. 73% of our 2019 clients remained in their new homes in 2020

#2. Use Subheadings

If an application gives us formatting functions, we use them. But a lot of web-form-based sites like GuideStar give you no formatting capabilities.

Just because there’s no way to make large and bolded headings in the GuideStar interface doesn’t mean you can’t make headings to label important information clearly. 

A set of paragraphs with no heading requires so much more effort from the reader. The headings help to “chunk” your information into easily digested bits.

So headings create labels for your chunks. That equals easier to comprehend reasons why donors should give you money.

Example:

A Standard of Housing Success

Since 2014, Mayberry Housing Collective has worked with San Mateo County to get people off the streets and into housing. We have found homes for over 700 citizens. 

In 2020, 90% of Mayberry Housing Collective clients received housing vouchers. We placed 98 residents in apartments and group homes in 5 cities. 73% of our 2019 clients remained in their new homes in 2020. 

#3: Use A Grammar Checker

Yes, correct spelling and good grammar can definitely build your authority. But grammar checking apps and plug-ins aren’t just about strict rules; they also help with clarity. 

Grammarly and similar programs can help you write shorter, more precise sentences by checking for things like

  • run-on sentences
  • wordy phrases
  • redundancy
  • overused words

#4: Use Numbers

You use them on your website and annual report to help people understand the scale of your organization’s impact. Yet, some nonprofits don’t include numbers in their GuideStar answers. Why not use some here to improve your case?

When outlining accomplishments, be sure to use both quantitative data like the number of recipients and qualitative data like the percentage of participants who rated your services as excellent.

Instead of just saying, “we added a mentorship program,” why not say:

“Our new mentorship program served 54 aspiring journalists.”

Example: 

Which one of these says more?

  • Since 1994, we have been battling hunger.
  • Since 1994, we have battled hunger by serving over 200 meals per day.

#5. Use Lists

Bullet lists are a simple way to provide quickly scannable information. But since there’s no text editing feature within GuideStar, few profiles use them.

But you can easily create lists in GuideStar. You just have to do it manually.

For a bullet-style list, try manually adding a dash before each item:

Individual donors

-Corporate sponsors

-Foundations

Wrap Up

These are simple methods, yet they are effective. Remember, your goal is to get funders to read your profile — so they will give you the money you need.

There is much more to know about GuideStar profiles. Did you know that Gold and Platinum profiles get 2x the views? 

Have questions or need help? Reach me at michaeljcontent.com/contact

Writing

Long ago, a colleague introduced me to a thing called Information Mapping, a research-backed business writing style. Some of the tenets are 

  • Write short sentences and paragraphs
  • Use labels
  • Use bullet lists and tables instead of lengthy paragraphs
  • Integrate graphics
  • Use an appropriate level of detail
  • People often don’t read; they scan

These guidelines instantly resonated with me and have served me well. Now that I am a content writer, it turns out that these are also foundations of digital marketing writing.