The First Stage: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Nonprofit Blogging

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This is part two in a 5-part series of articles examining the stages of blogging development within the nonprofit arena, describing the various challenges, solutions and innovations I have witnessed in the actual content marketing work of my clients. See if it doesn’t get you thinking about the power of the blog for your own organization.  Access the previous entry here.

 Stage One: Weighing the Pros and Cons

If you are thinking along these lines, your organization is already at Stage One of Content Marketing, in that you are weighing the ROI against the potential benefits.

Of the organizations I have worked with at this stage, here is what I have seen. They already publish some kind of email newsletter. They maintain a website, and are active on several social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Their content is generally broken down into three categories:

Promoting Events
General Information

While all of this is useful and important, in the organization’s development they seem to have leveled off, and are feeling a sense of stagnation in their social media expansion. It’s an actual feeling of “being stuck” that people in such organizations have expressed to me – because they are essentially publishing nothing but information and requests for donations, yet they feel a strong aspiration to go beyond that, to express ideas, share experiences and communicate perspectives.

That is when I suggest they consider producing a blog. Start with one monthly blog, published in the newsletter, replicated on the website, and featured on all the social media channels. Experiment. Test the reaction. Go from there.

We begin to discuss feasibility. The organization is small, the staff overworked, the budget for social media is nil. A blog seems impossible.

Each organization has a unique method for handling its social media: some utilize volunteers or interns to do a lot of the day-to-day posts, while others might have an office manager in charge of the tasks. Still others might employ a dedicated social media staffer or consultant to do this work. The nonprofit that is the most successful at social media is the one where virtually everyone within the organization is engaged in social media to some degree.

So how can your organization begin to produce a blog without increasing its social media man-hours and labor expenses? I have seen different nonprofits accomplish this in different ways. One organization had been publishing a monthly newsletter with a list of events in the area that might of interest to their audience. This information provided content for the newsletter, but was very time consuming for the staff to produce, and – even worse – took the focus away from their organization, by literally directing people (via hyperlinks in the text) to other organizations’ websites for more information. By scaling back on this section of their newsletter, they were able to devote time to the production and publication of a monthly blog that became one of the feature pieces of their newsletter. And, needless to say, the blog is much more effective it directing the reader’s attention to the organization.

One church in Manhattan was producing a weekly newsletter that was mostly a listing of upcoming events. The senior pastor began producing his own blog, and they simply published it separately, on a random schedule, whenever the pastor had new content. They initially sent the blog out to the same email group that received the newsletter, but when analytics showed that the blog was more popular than their newsletter, and appealing to people outside their congregation, they created a second group for the blog subscribers. In the end, they found that the production of the blog did not draw upon additional staff time and money, but that it did help reach a new audience, even creating what the Pastor calls a “virtual congregation.”

Who will author your blog posts, and what will they write about? This is the next big question to address. I have found that even in the smallest organizations, it can be quite manageable. In an office with only six employees, for example, a monthly blog could be produced if each person wrote only two articles per year. In staff discussion, most of them agree they can easily produce that without much inconvenience. An added incentive is that they get their names and their work out in the world more, and can even claim the publication of the blogs in their career profiles.

And each of them, when we talk it over, has a lot of ideas they are able to write about. For Program Directors, a blog can be very useful in giving the outside world an idea of what goes on inside the programs. This can be very helpful for programs that deal with sensitive issues where privacy needs to be maintained – for example in areas such as substance abuse, immigration, or prisoner re-entry. You may not be able to show photos or videos of the people who benefit from the service, but someone involved with the program can write about their experiences in the program, and the life transformations they have witnessed.

Development Directors are also willing to produce a blog or two per year. Sometimes they like to write a blog that relates to the organization’s annual dinner or other fundraising event. For example, one organization’s development director writes a blog every May that announces and profiles the recipients of awards they plan to bestow at their annual gala.

Executive Directors can join their staff in educating the public through blogs. In the Content Marketing arena, this is called “Thought Leadership,” and nonprofits are always thought leaders, because they are filling a unique role that is not filled by anyone else – they have a unique perspective and depth of experience in a particular area, and hence they have valuable insights to share. What’s more, they understand their work in ways that outsiders may have difficulty comprehending. In this regard, the blog can be a forum for education. One nonprofit I work with has written blogs about various terminologies they have coined for their work, so that they can begin to use these terms publicly and be understood.