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Nonprofit employees have always had to wear a lot of hats: fundraiser, marketer, grant writer, etc. Here’s one more you need to get used to wearing: publisher. Fortunately, this additional job has a real benefit, as it engages current and potential supporters with useful, interesting and credible information that directly drives donor support.
Don’t confuse publishing with advertising. I’m not talking about one-way communication that people view as a “salesy.” Publishing is about producing blog posts, video, e-mail newsletters, e-books, white papers, free reports and other types of content. For example, the American Cancer Society (ACS) created a blog site called MoreBirthdays.com meant to educate and inspire cancer patients, survivors and caretakers—a resource that connects the cancer community with the cause and ultimately strengthens giving.
ACS and many other large nonprofits understand the key role published content has in their success. Smaller nonprofits are beginning to see the importance of publishing, but many still see this hat as an optional one. It’s not. Here are the three main reasons why every nonprofit needs to be generating useful content that informs, educates and inspires.
1. It’s part of being a top nonprofit brand. Charity: Water, Share Our Strength, March of Dimes and Make-A-Wish are all publishers. They actively create content that engages supporters, and I’m talking about a lot more than a quarterly print newsletter. While you may not see yourself in the same league as these organizations, you share their need to build community around your cause and to be a credible resource for those interested in your subject area.
Mark Horvarth at Invisiblepeople.tv has gotten national attention by filming the stories of the largely “invisible” homeless from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Horvarth’s nonprofit is small, but his videos have spread the news of his work and caught the attention of many large companies, including GMC and Hanes. You might not be big, but you can be a top brand, even if it’s just in your community.
2. You need to stand out. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. According to one study, 7,306 nonprofits were registered in just tiny Rhode Island last year. With more and more nonprofits coming online each year, content is a key tool in separating your nonprofit from the pack. This is especially important as people search for your nonprofit on Google, Bing and Yahoo. Several factors are important in how search engines rank and deliver search results, but one thing is clear: if you don’t produce high quality content and links, online searchers won’t find you. Period.
3. You can’t just do good work anymore. Nearly every day, I meet nonprofits that are making the world a better place. But it’s not enough. It’s like the days when there were only five or six television stations to watch. It was easier for these early networks to stand out and get viewers. These days, there are hundreds of stations to choose from and the competition is brutal. It’s the same with nonprofits. The Salvation Army, American Red Cross and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital were all lucky to build their brands during simpler times. Charities that have quickly gained ground over the last decade have been largely celebrity-driven (e.g., U2’s Bono for Product Red and Lance Armstrong for Livestrong).
Unless you have a star in your pocket, start learning to publish online and how to tell your nonprofit’s story with text, pictures and video. Focus on being compelling, useful and credible. Publishing is your path to stardom.
Joe Waters blogs on cause marketing and social media at Selfishgiving.com. He's the co-author of Cause Marketing for Dummies.