Editor’s Note: This series explores ways to apply content marketing strategies to help lead a successful nonprofit volunteer program. Using the wealth of information in Kivi Leroux Miller’s book “Content Marketing for Nonprofits” as a jumping-off point, this four-part installment discusses how a solid content marketing strategy will pay dividends in drawing volunteers and supporters, bridging the gap between volunteers and donors, and engaging your community.
What is content marketing in the first place? Here is Kivi’s definition: “Content marketing for nonprofits is creating and sharing relevant and valuable content that attracts, motivates, engages, and inspires your participants, supporters, and influencers to help you achieve your mission.” Your content marketing strategy, then, is your blueprint to success.
It might be cliché to say “there is always room for improvement,” but it is well-used for a reason – and it is more relevant than ever when designing a content marketing strategy. The most important thing that will allow a nonprofit to benefit from Kivi’s book is keeping an open mind to new ideas and methods of engagement, because her book is full of them.
Journeying through Content Marketing for Nonprofits is similar to the backpacking analogy Kivi uses throughout her book: there are so many concepts and strategies that will cross your path, that making sense of them requires you to be well-prepared. And the best way to be prepared for this long trek is to welcome change. It’s rarely easy, but it’s necessary.
Here are a few ways you can begin to think about new methods of engaging your volunteers and community:
Have Two-Way Conversations
The phrase “target audience” might come to mind when you are thinking about your content marketing strategy. Yet it is one of the first terms Kivi asks us to rethink in her book. In communicating with your volunteers and community, start seeing your engagement as a dialogue: you aren’t talking to them, you are talking WITH them.
This concept is especially important to keep in mind when using social media platforms. As Kivi notes, one of the biggest opportunities that social media presents to nonprofits is that anyone can be a spokesperson for your organization. This means that as people speak out publicly about your organization, any opinion about you can be floating around on the internet, outside of your control.
However, what you can control is how you prepare for those comments and speak to those people. By inviting feedback that applauds or constructively criticizes, by having a conversation, you will begin to adapt to the needs of your volunteers and community. Your content will become relevant to them as you gain a reputation for keeping an open ear to your community’s needs, and you will ultimately win people over to your cause.
Let’s take an example: Suppose you are an environmental organization, and you are seeking volunteers to spend a day educating elementary school students on water conservancy. Your Facebook page can be a great way to convert community members into volunteers, and a simple post can often do the trick.
The post might include things like: a statistic on how much water is wasted in the United States annually; a question that invites conversation and hints at the post’s main goal, such as, “Why do YOU think it’s important that kids are educated on water conservation?”; an invitation for community members to volunteer their time and share their knowledge; a photo of someone presenting to a elementary school classroom; and a link to a page on your website where people can sign up to volunteer.
Notice how most of these elements invite interaction from and with the community. (These are also great things to include in a listing on VolunteerMatch, too!)
Engage Different Types of Volunteers
While you are removing “target audience” from your vocabulary, focusing on specific groups or types of volunteers is still a useful tool. The with whom people you engage come in all different shapes and sizes: they vary in age, are of different backgrounds, and bring unique skill sets. Your job is to sift through your pool of volunteers and individually assign them tasks that they find relevant and can flourish in.
This is one strategy we apply on VolunteerMatch.org, where volunteer opportunities are placed into unique categories. For example, a family interested in volunteering at an animal hospital with their children can refine their search by clicking the cause “Animals,” then finding an opportunity listed as “Good for kids.” By engaging different types of volunteers and placing them into specific roles that best fit them, you will find that your volunteers’ outputs will be greater because they are truly interested in their work.
Another great way to get the most out of what your volunteers have to offer is to give them greater responsibility, namely through titles or positions of leadership. A younger volunteer who is particularly skilled in social media will be more encouraged if you give her the unique title of “Social Media Specialist.” A volunteer with lots of experience with your organization might be promoted to a “Team Leader” position, guiding and showing the ropes to newer volunteers.
Letting your volunteers know that you appreciate them for who they are will foster a relationship built on giving, and will get people in your community and potential volunteers excited about supporting your cause.
Communicate Across Multiple Channels
It is likely that digital technology is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of recent changes in nonprofit communications. And it can certainly seem daunting, even scary with the instantaneous flow of information and the rapid shifts in our modes of communicating.
Rather than look at these changes with fear, see them as expanding the ways in which you can connect with your volunteers and community. More outlets might mean more work, but it also means more people who see your accomplishments, hear about your cause, and recognize your organization’s name.
We want to hear your stories: How has welcoming change allowed your organization to better engage volunteers?