Nonprofit blogs: tips and tricks for success

Why blog?

If you work at a nonprofit, chances are that your organization has a blog. But are you using that blog to its full potential? By developing engaging and useful content on an ongoing basis, your blog can help raise the profile of your nonprofit, which can lead to more patients reached, for example, or more donors engaged. Here are just a few of the reasons we recommend becoming expert at nonprofit blogging:

Showcase your nonprofit’s accomplishments. No doubt your organization is doing some great work, but does everyone know about it? Sure, sharing on social media is great, but space on social media platforms is limited, as is reader attention. A blog allows you a bit more space to take a deep dive into accomplishments you’d like to share. As Wayne Eskridge from the Fatty Liver Foundation told us, he blogs “because it’s flexible space to share your message.” If your blog feels too long (the average American attention span is a shocking 8 seconds), you can always break your post into installments.

Build trust with your community. Certain types of content can help you establish trust with your community. Sharing patient stories, for example, tells your patient community that you understand what they’re going through. Offering advice shows that you are trying to help. Posting thought leadership pieces on the latest news shows that you are the experts. Taken together, all of these elements build solid trust with your community.

Build a relationship with your community. The beauty of blogs is that they don’t have to be a one-way communication tool. If you update your website, it can be hard for a community member to weigh in on what you’ve done — but if you post to your blog, the comments section is a whole new space for community engagement. And, if you’re concerned about unmoderated comments, you can always build in an approval feature using your blogging platform.

Drive traffic to your website. It should come as no surprise that more content drives more traffic. In fact, one marketing firm notes that growth in unique site traffic is 7.8x higher for organizations who are strong in content marketing versus those who are not. We know that traffic means exposure — which can lead to interest and engagement.

Build habits/familiarity. Are there a few websites that you check every morning? Chances are, unless your nonprofit blog is already a content marketing behemoth, it’s not on a lot of people’s lists to check daily. But regularly producing useful, compelling content, can help make checking your website can become a habit for people.

Rank higher in search engines. Using keyword optimization with your regular content can help you rank higher when someone uses a search engine. Search engines like updated content, so your blog is likely to rank higher than a static website. Pick your keywords carefully — based on difficulty and relevance — and then start working towards being that first listing on Google.

Create more shareable content. You’ll find that as you create more content for your blog, you’ll want to share it everywhere you can. This means you’ll have content for tactics like social media and email outreach, without having to create anything new.

Gain free publicity. When asked why he blogs, Wayne Eskridge told us, “we decided on blogging because it’s the most economical tool that we have available to us.” Getting the word out can be expensive, but blogging doesn’t have to be. At Antidote, we’ve even had luck using a blog post to reach out to reporters, rather than a press release.

Vanessa Chase Lockshin, President of The Storytelling Nonprofit, shared her perspective on the benefits of blogging and content creation for nonprofits:

 

 

What should I blog about?

Consider your audiences

To develop a content strategy for your blog, start by thinking about your audience and the different kinds of content they would be interested in. Create a few different “personas” and consider their needs, interests, and goals. For example, your blog may speak to:

  • Patients
  • Caregivers
  • Volunteers
  • Donors

You can then tailor your content to these audiences. For example, a patient’s goal may be to learn more about living well with their condition and find out about research updates around their condition. A volunteer may be interested in learning about the impact of their donation, as well as fundraising ideas or stories about other successful fundraisers. When you’re writing a new blog post, it can be helpful to write your target audience at the top to help your writing stay focused on their needs and perceptions.

Brainstorming ideas

Once you’ve identified the different audience segments for your blog, you can start generating ideas around the specific topics they’ll be interested in. Try these topic categories to create a mix of content on your blog that appeals to a variety of audiences:

Research updates: Especially if your organization funds research, keep your audience updated on the latest breakthroughs as well as smaller studies that may be of interest. If your organization was involved in funding a particular project, that makes it an even better topic for blogging.

Event coverage: Share pictures and highlights from events and conferences your team attends, particularly if research updates or other helpful information was shared.

Volunteer profiles: Short profiles about some of your most involved volunteers can be a great thank you for volunteers, as well as an inspiring piece of content for your audience. Chances are, the subject of your profile will share the piece with friends and family, so you have built-in site traffic, too.

Advice on living well: In addition to research content and stories about your organization, another great way to connect with your audience is to share advice on everyday living with their condition. Interview doctors, physical therapists and other professionals for tips. You can also crowdsource your social media audience for their advice.

We put together a list of 25 nonprofit blog ideas that you can also check out for more inspiration.

Lockshin also shared a few tips for bloggers who are struggling with writer’s block:

 

Analyze your results

As you start to create different kinds of content, it’s also important to keep track of how your audience responds to each piece. If you’re using Google Analytics, you can track how many visitors are reading your blogs, how long they stay on each page, and where visitors are coming from (social media posts, Google searches, newsletters, etc.)

Depending on the kind of content management system you’re using (more on that topic later), you may also be able to track blog metrics from within your system as well.

Besides just tracking how many visitors each blog post gets, there are a few different metrics that can help you get a deeper look at how your audience is responding to your content, including:

Time on the page: How long did a visitor spend reading your content? Long enough to get through your whole post, or are readers losing interest? Breaking up your text into shorter paragraphs can help make your posts more readable and increase time on site.

Bounce rate: Did the viewer look at any additional pages on your website after reading your blog post? Including more internal links to other content can help encourage visitors to read additional content.

Contact creation: Set up your blog so that visitors can easily sign up to receive newsletters and other communications from your organization. Then you can track your blog to see which posts bring in the most email contacts. Growing your email list can be a useful strategy for ultimately raising more dollars online through email campaigns.

Multimedia content on your blog

In addition to creating written content for your blog, you can also incorporate videos into posts. If you’ve already been creating videos and sharing them on YouTube or Vimeo, you can also create a blog post around the video to extend the life of the piece of content.

You can do the same around graphics your team creates, photos from an event, or a podcast your team creates. Most nonprofits are short staffed, so it’s important to make the most of every piece of content whenever possible.

graphic designer for nonprofit blogs

Maintaining a content calendar

Stepping up your blog content production can feel overwhelming. How will I coordinate all of my posts, and distribution strategies for each? The answer is simple: create a content calendar.

Organize your content calendar. A content calendar is simply a document with which you plan out your blog posts, tracking what posts will be written, who will be writing them, when they will be posted, and how you will share them. At Antidote, we use a simple spreadsheet calendar to track our content, and we know that other organizations do this as well. At the College Diabetes Network, Stacey Cunnington reports, “At the beginning of the year, we write a wish list of blog posts and we slot them out throughout the year. Then, we reach out to students and ask them if they’d like to blog for us on those topics. We keep track of due dates, blogs posted, etc. in a running Excel document.” You can download free templates online (Hubspot has some good ones).

Include the aspects that are most important to you. Remember that your content calendar is an internal tool for your organization. It should reflect the information that you want and need to know about your future blogging plans. At Antidote, we include blog topics and who will write each post, and we’ve also layered in our social media posts, as well as keywords being highlighted and top-line distribution tactics. It’s always evolving, so don’t feel like you need to get it just right at first — as you use it more, you’ll discover exactly what would be most helpful for your organization.

Ask for help. Creating content can be time-consuming, and sometimes, someone else may be more expert at a certain topic than you are. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other staff members, partner organizations, or even experts in the field to ask them to contribute guest blog posts. Typically, people are glad to contribute and happy to share the post once it’s written. At Antidote, we sometimes feature guest blogs, and we certainly love guest blogging for our partner organizations. We work with many advocacy and patient organizations, and we’re more than happy to share our clinical trial expertise with these communities.

Blog distribution strategies

After you create great content for your blog, the next step is to share it. If you’re working on blog posts that target keywords your audience is searching for, you’ll hopefully start getting organic traffic from search engines. Site traffic from social media and email newsletters can give a strong boost too, so it’s important to incorporate a distribution strategy in your blog content calendar.

Social media best practices

Facebook: Though the Facebook newsfeed algorithm changes regularly and lately has de-emphasized posts from brand pages, Facebook can still be a strong source of traffic to your blog. Feel free to tag anyone associated with the blog, including experts you interviewed, other organizations who provided input, etc. When sharing blog posts on Facebook, consider including a question in the status update part of the post to inspire conversation and engagement with your post – and remember to reply to comments to boost engagement (more on that later)!

Frequency: 1-2 times a day

Twitter: You’ll definitely want to share your blog post on Twitter, tagging anyone who you think would be particularly interested in the post. Remember that Twitter is a fast-paced social media platform, so keep your posts short and frequent so that they appear regularly in your followers’ newsfeeds. Like Facebook, the goal here is traffic to your blog and engagement around your post, so be sure to reply when people comment on your posts.

Frequency: 5x a day or more

LinkedIn: This is a great forum for sharing blog posts appropriate for a business-oriented audience. Post updates on your organization, and any other blog posts that you think might interest people in your field (including potential donors). Maintain a very professional tone on LinkedIn, and again — be sure to reply to comments.

Frequency: 2x week (or more depending on your audience)

Lockshin shared her advice on how to make sure your blog posts get out into the world:

 

The importance of community management

One important part of engaging your community on social media is responding to comments in a timely manner. Timely responses show that you’re listening to your audience and their stories, questions, and concerns. On Facebook, responding to comments also help increase engagement on your post and show it in more news feeds.

On Twitter, regularly retweet mentions of your handle as well as hashtags related to your condition area that you follow. Twitter in particular is a conversational platform, so it’s important to engage with your followers throughout the day if you can.

If you have a small team, like many nonprofits do, you may not have a dedicated community manager. If that’s the case, set aside certain times throughout the day to check your social media accounts. Even if it’s just once or twice, you’ll learn a lot from the comments your community shares, and your content will get a boost when you engage in the online conversations.

Of course, not all of the comments you receive will be positive. It’s important to set guidelines for your community and keep them posted on your website in case you need to delete a common or even ban a user from your page. You may also want to prepare approved responses for comments on more sensitive topics.

Nonprofit newsletter best practices

Email newsletters are another great way to distribute your content. Whether you send emails regularly or just stick to a monthly or quarterly newsletter, including your best blog posts in an email can help bring visitors to your website without relying on social media.

Test your subject lines. Research the latest best practices on subject line performance on marketing websites like Hubspot and CoSchedule. You can also run A/B tests on subject lines to see what results in higher open rates.

Inspire your recipients to click through to your website. In the body of your newsletter, tease your blog content with an interesting blurb, but give readers a reason to click to your website. Don’t include so much text in your newsletter that you reveal the whole story without the user having to click through.

Welcome new email subscribers. Create a welcome series that introduces new subscribers to your list. You can include introductory content about your nonprofit, a chance to update their subscription preferences, and even an opportunity to make a donation.

Include social media buttons in your newsletter. Add links to your social media channels at the bottom of your emails to make it easy for supporters to connect with you on social media, too.

Technology 

Using a content management system

Content management systems provide an easy way to manage blog posts and other content on your website. There are many different content management platforms to choose from, so take the time to talk to a few different vendors when you start your search.

A study conducted by the website npEngage found that 90 different content management systems were used by 800 nonprofits. But many of those CMS platforms were used by just one nonprofit, suggesting that they were using systems custom-designed for them. While that might sound like an appealing option, custom-made CMSs tend to quickly become out-of-date. If you work with a company that provides blogging and website management software, you can keep up with the latest innovations in blogging.

Many nonprofits also use Wordpress, a free blogging tool. Wordpress can be a great option for nonprofits with a limited budget. If you’re interested in exploring a more robust option that’s also potentially easier to manage for nonprofits without on-staff web development teams, consider a “software-as-a-service” CMS vendor like Squarespace or Hubspot.

When you start conversations with potential vendors about working together, these questions can also help you narrow down your options:

What nonprofits has the company worked with before? If the vendor has other nonprofit clients, you can check out their websites to see what’s possible with their technology. Working with other nonprofits is a good sign — it suggests that they may be in tune with a nonprofit’s unique needs around donation tracking and other features.

What other features, like analytics, does the system include? It’s very important to measure the success of each blog post you publish, so you know you’re putting blogging effort into the right areas. Ask potential CMS vendors what kind of reports their system includes. Can you tell from their system whether a new contact was created after viewing the post, or if a donation was made? Does the system offer a calendar or other tools to help you organize your content strategy?

Does the company offer a nonprofit discount? It doesn’t hurt to ask!

How will the CMS integrate with my customer relationship management (CRM) and donation records platforms? It’s important to use a CMS that can easily connect with your current contact management system. That way, if anyone signs up for your email list or makes a donation after viewing your blog post, you can easily track it.

Looking for more support? 

If you’re looking for more ways to engage your audience with fresh content, consider joining Antidote’s Connect Network. Our partners use our clinical trial matching tool to connect their audiences with research opportunities. We also work with our partners to create communications plans and ongoing content around clinical research. Get in touch to learn more.

Get in touch

About the authors:

Nancy Ryerson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Antidote. Prior to joining, she spent three years on the marketing team at The Michael J. Fox Foundation, where she wrote top-performing blog posts and managed the Foundation’s social media community. Nancy holds a degree in Journalism from New York University.

Lisa Conroy is the Director of Communications at Antidote. Prior to joining Antidote, she worked at TEDMED managing the Great Challenges Program, an RWJF-funded initiative designed to drive awareness and innovation around the top public health challenges in the country. She also served as the organization’s community manager. Lisa holds a degree in English from Northwestern University and an MPH from Columbia University.

About Vanessa Chase Lockshin and The Storytelling Nonprofit:

 

'Aspirin' image by Annie Cavanagh