Nonprofit content marketing: storytelling vs. messaging

To connect to donors of today, your nonprofit must provide value. Before you can expect recurring, ever-growing generosity from your donor base, you must be generous with information, opportunity and connection. The easiest and most effective way to accomplish all of that is to use content marketing for your nonprofit. 

A robust content marketing program includes a strategy for a variety of channels, including everything from email marketing, direct mail, video and much more. Each channel needs a story and each story needs to be driven by the right messaging. It’s a complex puzzle, but if you’re following best practices and providing relevant content to your donors, you will see a steady increase in loyalty, generosity and advocacy. 

What Is Messaging in Marketing? 

Messaging, in terms of content marketing for nonprofits, is how you communicate the value of the work your organization is doing and how individuals can get involved. Effective messaging comes from a deep understanding of how and when to speak to people who are interested in your nonprofit. Messaging must be responsive to the motivations of each person at the time they interact with the content. 

Messaging is different from the content of your communications, but they are closely related. The content of your communications is what you say. Messaging is why you’re saying that exact thing. 

For example, imagine someone who hasn’t given yet, but has heard about you from their best friend who is an active donor. This person looks to your content marketing to learn the specific details of the work you’re doing and how their participation would make an impact —whether through giving or activism.  

The messaging you provide to this person should highlight the community full of interesting, engaged, generous people who already support your cause. A newly interested person will value being associated with such a great group of people. They will be excited by the opportunity to make a difference while also meeting more people like their best friend. 

On the other hand, perhaps you want to engage someone who gave in the past, but didn’t see the get the experience they were expecting from your nonprofit. They may have a list of objections they want answers for before they consider giving again. No matter where you connect with them, the engagement is going to be most effective if the messaging anticipates those objections and explains how you’ve changed your approach to respond to their feedback. 

In both examples, the objective is to pull people into your network and encourage them to participate. But each person requires a specific type of messaging. They are motivated by different factors, so you have to respond with different value propositions.

How Is Nonprofit Storytelling Different? 

If messaging is how you communicate the value of your nonprofit, storytelling is how you deepen donors’ connection to your organization. Once you determine the type of messaging an engagement needs, you can start to plan the right way to tell your story. Effective nonprofit storytelling evolves your content marketing efforts from noise to an experience. 

Think about the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. The point of the movie is to highlight the impact that Mr. Rogers made on a generation of children. The way his philosophy created a new kind of children’s television and changed people’s lives. The directors could have made that point by talking about the number of episodes he made, awards he won or average viewership of each new episode. Those statistics are impressive, but they don’t inspire a reaction. They’re just noise that would have been ignored by most. 

The story of who the man was and why he cared is what made audiences care. It’s what made the documentary one of the most popular of 2018. The story provided an experience that people who loved Mr. Rogers (and those who didn’t) wanted to be part of. That’s what your nonprofit needs to do with your story. 

After you decide the value you need to highlight, think about a compelling way you can talk to it. Can you use the joyful first-hand account from one of your beneficiaries? Can two people have a conversation in the field to communicate your direct impact? How can you leverage your current donors to tell their personal reasons for why they continue to donate?

In the era of high donor expectations, leveraging a variety of stories that talk about the different aspects of your nonprofit is essential. Each new potential donor wants to hear something different about your nonprofit before they give. With strong storytelling and smart messaging strategies, you will convert them into regular donors much faster. 

Combine Nonprofit Storytelling with Your Messaging

With a clear understanding of the differences between messaging and storytelling for your nonprofits, you can start to create the kind of content that not only provides value and unique experiences to your donors, but also increases conversions and improves engagement. 

First, start with identifying the messaging you want to include at each step of the donor journey. Use past donor behavior to identify what someone might be thinking and feeling before each content marketing touchpoint. If you don’t have data to mine for insights, start testing different messaging. Collect data now so your December fundraising efforts can be as strategic as possible. 

Next, assign stories from your nonprofit based on the messaging you identified and the value your audience is looking for during each touchpoint. Vary your storytelling and messaging so that no donor hears the same story the same way in two consecutive communications. 

Finally, brainstorm the best way to tell each story based on the urgency of the messaging. For example, let’s say a donor visits the donation page, but leaves your website before making a donation. You can assume this person wants to give, but something stopped them. This isn’t the time for a lengthy email that appeals to the logic of possible tax deductions. This is the time to send a quick selfie video on social media from one of your team members in the field. Show your donor the direct impact your organization is making in the lives of others. Appeal to their desire to do something worth sharing with their network and use a story that conveys urgency. 

As always, different donors will require different messaging and stories at different times. But, once you start creating a variety of content, you’ll start to recognize opportunities to repurpose content. You can identify valuable stories during internal meetings and communicate the results a strategic content marketing program has had on your organization. 

Plan Your Nonprofit Content Marketing

Start mapping out content marketing for your nonprofit using our free content marketing spreadsheet. Plan content through the rest of the year, plus identify your major messaging holes in the donor journey.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

Take a self-guided tour of Virtuous, where you can explore the platform at your own pace and see if Virtuous is right for you. 

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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