From launching a compelling fundraising campaign, to posting engaging social media, effective messaging is key to the success of your nonprofit’s member & donor engagement, and fundraising efforts. 

What is messaging? Messaging is the content your organization uses to explain what you offer to various demographic groups or target markets, and what differentiates your offering from other nonprofits in your industry and region. Without effective messaging that’s clear, concise, engaging and inspires action, an organization’s marketing and fundraising efforts probably won’t hit the mark. Follow these simple steps for developing compelling messaging that works.

#1. Survey your members, donors, constituents and staff. 

An underutilized resource for developing effective messaging is right within your organization: your members, donors, constituents and staff. An excellent way to begin a messaging audit is to develop a simple survey canvassing ‘ambassadors’ of your organization for their feedback about what makes your offering different and compelling, and why they’re involved with your organization. Ask the group you’re soliciting to define in one or two sentences how they’d describe your offering to others, and why they’re passionate about their involvement with your organization. MailChimp www.mailchimp.com has a simple, widely-used survey tool that will help.

#2: Make a bulleted list of your organization’s core offering. 

Make a bulleted list of what your organization offers to your target market(s). As a service oriented nonprofit, for example, you might offer social services to lower income families, including direct financial assistance through loans and grants, mentoring and job coaching, and access to other social services resources. Be as specific as possible, listing the services in order of those you provide most to various types of constituents by category (members, donors, other constituent groups) to those you provide least.

#3: Make a bulleted list of all those qualities about your nonprofit that are unique, differentiating and compelling–based on results of the survey. 

This is one of the most important elements of developing effective messaging. Here, zero in on what makes your organization’s offering stand out from the competition. It might be your desirable location, or your dedicated membership committee that actively helps members connect in with other members. One area nonprofit differentiates itself as an ‘historic’ nonprofit through its affiliation with a local state park. This provides the organization with a large ‘campus’ of venues for their theatre productions that’s not visible from the street–a definite differentiator they should highlight in their messaging.

#4: Make a bulleted list of your target market(s). 

This is who your organization primarily markets your services to.  It might be other businesses, individual consumers, the elderly, families with children, or Millenials. List target audiences in order of priority, beginning with those your organization serves most frequently to those you serve least frequently.

#5: Review the lists above, and highlight those items that best describe what your organization offers, and what your survey identified as unique and differentiating about your nonprofit.

The next step is to highlight those items in each of the lists you feel best describe your organization’s core offering and differentiate your nonprofit from the competition. You’ll begin to see common themes and attributes emerge as you build your core messaging.

#6: Draft clear, concise copy and content from the summary descriptions you’ve identified as common themes and attributes about your organization and offering.

Draft copy that weaves together items from the highlighted summary list as clearly, concisely and engagingly as possible. Less is more when it comes to copy. Review and make edits to ensure the content is as brief as possible, includes images, bullets, bold faced words and phrases, and overall reads well. This is your core messaging.

#7: Use  your core messaging throughout all your organization’s marketing and fundraising communications, and social media and public relations channels. 

After you develop your core messaging, the next essential component of your organization’s messaging audit is to then review your website, all of your existing marketing and fundraising communications, and social media and public relations channels to be sure that your core message is consistent throughout. It’s this consistency that will create a clear and indelible description of your organization and what it offers that will equip and inspire your current members, donors and other constituents to be better ambassadors for your nonprofit. This approach will also engage and inspire new target audiences to take some kind of desired action: become a member or volunteer, work here and most importantly, donate.

Creating great content is the first step toward getting your organization or brand recognized. The next step is making sure that you’re leveraging this content through as many marketing channels as possible. Here are the best, most cost-effective ways to get your content out there for maximum marketing impact.

  • Update your website’s blog at least quarterly. According to web and digital marketing expert, Dale Shadbegian of 118Group, it’s important to update your website blog at least quarterly. According to Shadbegian, updating your business or nonprofit’s blog quarterly, or even monthly will help to increase your search engine (SEO) ratings when included as a part of a larger SEO campaign.
  • Post on a variety of social media channels regularly. Once you’ve developed good core content that reinforces what your organization offers, post this regularly on a variety of social media outlets that are appropriate for your type of business or nonprofit. These may include: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and others. It’s okay to use the same content in a variety of places, concurrently. Repetition of your organization’s messaging is how to build awareness for your offering.
  • Reach your target audience bi-monthly through email marketing. Email marketing is still an effective and affordable tool for reaching your current and prospective customers/constituents if done correctly. That means sending emails with relevant content that’s of interest to your target audience, using as few words as possible to convey your message, and adding photos, graphs, charts and other engaging visuals. It also means not bombarding your readers with too many emails. How many is too many? Email marketing experts say that no less than monthly, no more than bi-monthly is preferred. It’s also okay to send an additional email ‘alert’ once in a while if you have something that’s time sensitive and needs to reach your readers now.
  • Guest author articles for local organizations that reach your target audience. There are a number of ways to leverage local organizations’ publications to get the word out about your business or nonprofit–free of charge. One way to do this is to guest author articles for your local Chamber of Commerce or SCORE chapter. Other organizations that offer business services such as office incubators, regional or local membership organizations such as the Smaller Business Association of New England (SBANE), American Womens Business Association (ABWA), and others, will often encourage members to submit content for their periodic emails, E-newsletters or social media posts.
  • Write for the business section of your local media. The local media is always looking for online content that’s of interest to the business community. Pitch a regular column idea to your local newspapers or regional business magazine publications for their periodic publications or social media to gain visibility as an expert in your field. Organizations such as SCORE may also write regularly for the local media and welcome guest authors who have subject matter expertise.

There are few ways that are as effective and affordable to get the word out about your business or nonprofit than email marketing. If done right, email marketing provides a regular system of ‘touch points’ with your target audience that will engage them in our organization, and keep them coming back for more. Here are the latest in best practices for creating a winning email marketing campaign.

Make sure the information you’re providing is really useful. The best emails and other social media posts provide useful information to readers. It might not be about your organization, directly; however, it should be somewhat related, useful and of interest. As an example, a post was shared on LinkedIn about the best states for women entrepreneurs. As the author of the post was a female entrepreneur, the thought was that this would be relevant and useful to other women entrepreneurs. Using statistics and providing useful data about your target audience’s field is another way to add value through your email marketing that has a higher chance of being read.

Keep your content brief. People are busy today, very busy, and they don’t have time to digest anything that isn’t interesting to them personally, or essential for their professional success. If you’re providing short bits of interesting, useful content, along with info graphics, engaging charts, graphs, photos and other visuals your audience can read at a glance, they will be more likely to take a look. Email marketing gurus today advise somewhere in the range of 50 to 125 words maximum for each email—resulting in a 50% higher response rate than longer emails.

Have a specific or personalized subject line. Your email marketing campaign all begins with your subject line. You can have the most interesting information and graphics in your email, but if your readers aren’t opening your emails, your message becomes a moot point. Having a specific or personalized subject line gives readers a clearer idea of what to expect when they read your email. As an example, you might have a catchy title for a fundraiser like: Mingle With the Stars. However, according to email marketing experts, you’ll get higher click-throughs if your subject line reads instead: Mingle With Tom Brady!

Design your emails for mobile devices. Email open rates on mobile devices are on the rise. Today, approximately 55% of mobile users opening emails on their Smart phones and other mobile devices, per data driven email experts, WhatCounts. Because of this, it’s important to design and code your emails with mobile users in mind. Statistics show that 80% of mobile users will delete your emails that aren’t mobile optimized.

Integrate with social media. Sending an email that offers a promotion is a popular trend in email marketing that’s somewhat effective. However, it’s not as effective as social sharing. Just one subscriber sharing your email with their network can get your content out there to a lot more people—exponentially. Think about creating emails that are interesting enough for readers to share on their social networks. Think about emails you share yourself. It’s also important to plan and coordinate your organization’s social media campaign around your email marketing campaign. It’s a fine line between keeping a good flow of information going, and bombarding your target audience with too much content. That’s why coordinating your social and email marketing campaigns ensures a consistent, yet not overwhelming flow of useful information aimed at your target audience that will inspire them to take action.

Build a great email list. Having useful and engaging email content is the first step. Your organization also needs a great email distribution list so you know your emails are going to an audience that has largely expressed interest in what you offer. A qualified email list, i.e., built over time from emails voluntarily provided to your organization by prospective clients, members, donors and constituents is worth its weight in gold. 

Analyze Your Results. Finally, it’s important to analyze the effectiveness of your email marketing campaign so you can continue to improve your approach and conversion rate of interested readers to engaged participants at all levels of the organization. Sending emails over and over without knowing the effectiveness of your effort is like shooting arrows into the dark hoping to hit something.  As you try different email marketing techniques, be sure to track at the minimum these key metrics:

  • Delivery rates
  • Open rates
  • Click-to-delivery rates
  • Subscriber retention rates
  • Bounce rates
  • Longevity and depth of visit
  • Actions completed
  • Macro & micro conversions, and
  • Average value per email sent.

 

Here are the marketing essentials every nonprofit organization or business needs in 2017 to be a real player at the table.

Conduct a marketing audit. A lot can happen in a year, so it’s important to review your marketing approach at least annually to be sure that it’s still working to attract your target customers, and meet your organizational and revenue goals. Items in the audit should include: your messaging–how well you’re defining and communicating your offering and how this differs from your competitors, your website–is your message easily accessible to viewers quickly on their mobile devices, and does it inspire them to take some kind of action; your marketing materials–it might make sense to convert hardcopy marketing materials into digital ones that are less costly to produce and easier to share; your online profile–it’s essential to have your organization listed on at multiple directories online, such as Google Verify and Yelp. Not doing this can make your organization nearly invisible during searches; your social media approach–this includes a lot more today than just Facebook.

Revise your messaging so your offering is clear and differentiating. Your target customers and constituents need to clearly understand what your organizations offers, how it applies to their needs, how it differs from competitors, and inspires some kind of next step. Often this means simply adding a tagline to your logo, business card, email signature and website to define what your business does, making your telephone number more visible with a live link and including a traveling Contact Us box that moves with the viewer during website visits.

Have a mobile-optimized website that viewers can grasp within 7 to 10 seconds. Today, more than 60% of the population is said to use their hand-held devices to make buying decisions and execute online transactions. This means it’s essential that your website be mobile-optimized across all types of mobile devices. It’s also important that your website home page convey what you offer and how to take advantage of your services within about 7 to 10 seconds. “That’s the average length of time most viewers take nowadays to look at a website and decide to take action, or not,” per Dale Shadbegian, Principal of 118Group, a Cape-based web development and social media firm. “You have less time than ever these days to capture the attention of your visitors, before they move on to the competition. This means your website should load quickly, have large readable fonts, allow adequate white space for digesting content, and should be ‘mobile-optimized’ to load and be easily viewed across all mobile devices.”

Have a digital marketing and social media strategy. Having a digital marketing and social media strategy to strengthen your organization’s profile and visibility, and being active on social media will help to position your organization well online. “Becoming Google Verified is the best step toward getting on the virtual map,” offers Shadbegin. “Gaining this first level of Internet credibility and getting better exposure on search engines is essential today. In addition to Google Verify, there are approximately a dozen or more directories such as YELP that an organization should be listed on to ensure a strong online profile.” Outreach to new clients through social media is the next step for your organization to let prospective clients, members, constituents and sponsors know you’re ‘open and ready’ for business. Facebook and Instagram continue to be the hottest B2C (business to consumer) channels, while LinkedIn continues to remain the top B2B (business to business) platform. “It’s not enough these days to just post an event or photo occasionally on Facebook or Instagram. For those in the industry, we know there’s a lot of back office strategy, measurement and monitoring tools and trial and error research needed to be visible and effective on social media,” concludes Shadbegian.

Get your content out there. These days, content truly is king. As part of your messaging audit, be sure that the content you’re posting on your website blog, social media, in e-newsletters and email marketing emphasizes your core offering and what differentiates your organization. Choose four or five topics that solidify your offering and showcase your expertise, and post these monthly and concurrently on all of your marketing channels. Repetition of this core content is key to getting the attention of search engines, and building a strong brand.

 

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of measuring the ROI from your content marketing strategy. If you aren’t getting the ROI you are looking for, then you will need to reflect on your strategy and find ways to improve on it.

The best place to start is by learning about the mistakes other content marketers make and see if you are making them yourself. About 88% of brands use content marketing, but only 30% do so effectively. Find out what the other 70% of brands are doing wrong and improve on your own strategy.

Content Marketing Pitfalls to Avoid At All Costs

Content marketing can be a very effective way to engage with existing customers and harvest new leads. Unfortunately, brands that make the following mistakes may have a hard time reaching their conversion goals.

Failing to Create a Strategy

The biggest mistake content marketers make is failing to create a strategy. As absurd as this sounds, less than 40% of B2C brands have a clearly outlined strategy. You need to really sit down and carefully define:

  • Your target customers
  • A long-term approach to engage with them
  • Clear metrics to measure effectiveness

You will need to invest a lot of time and effort creating a strategy, but it is much better than wasting time and resources without a clear vision.

Being Overly Promotional

The whole point of content marketing is to build your brand image. However, you can’t take the old school advertising approach. People are reading your content for useful information. It’s okay to integrate some promotional messages into your content, but make sure the content provides real value to your readers.

Working With Low Quality Publishers

There are two elements of your content marketing strategy: generating content and finding platforms to syndicate it on. Guest blogging used to be one of the most popular ways to syndicate content. It is still very effective, but you need to be careful with the sites that you collaborate with these days.

Austin Paley, marketing communications director of Blue Fountain Media, said that even creating pristine content won’t help you if you are publishing it on low quality sites.

“In the past, good content marketing dictated that you should write high-quality content as often as possible for sites that requested it, but in the modern age you have to be a little bit more careful,” he told Business News Daily. “Even valuable, well-written content can become problematic if it is posted on a website that houses low-quality content.”

Neglecting to Optimize for SEO Keywords

Many brands don’t use SEO at all in their content marketing strategy. They view SEO as a lost art and are confident that their content will generate plenty of traction on social media. Nothing could be further from the truth!

You need to thoroughly research relevant keywords and make sure your content is well optimized. You will get more steady traffic and many of those visitors will share your content on their social networks as well.

 

Content marketing has become a huge business in recent years. The Custom Content Council estimated that the market was worth $44 billion in 2013 and has continued to grow every year. While content marketing can be extraordinarily effective, many brands don’t adequately measure their ROI.
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