Anyone passionate about your nonprofit’s core issue is reading articles and searching for information relevant to that issue. Will your website show up as a source?
If not, your SEO isn’t helping Google consider you a topic authority because your site is light on relevant content. Fortunately, the solution is simple:
To become a topic authority, turn what’s already on your website into regularly posted blogs.
Whether your issue is hunger, adoption, abandoned dogs, domestic abuse or whatever, your website should establish you as a topic authority to drive site visits and subsequent interest: media, newsletter subscriptions, volunteers, advocates and, ultimately, donors.
“But we don’t know what to write about every week or month or twice a month!” I hear you saying. “Thinking about topics and getting them approved is a huge hurdle.”
This particular form of writer’s block occurs when we think about our topic only from our own perspective. Not everyone talks and thinks about our issue like we do, and we can contribute plenty of insights to the public discussion.
When people search the web for information, we want Google to find us because we are a source of accurate, reliable, consistent, authoritative content about an issue they care about. Keywords, anchor text, links to your site and other elements of SEO (search engine optimization) play a role. However, “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here,” advises Google’s very own Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.”
– Google SEO Starter Guide
So, how do we go about turning existing web content into authoritative blog posts?
A real-life example
Let’s walk through a real example. Children’s Home Society of North Carolina doesn’t have a blog. They are not my client and don’t know I’m doing this. I just like their website. Here is how, in 15 minutes, I found 5 things they could blog about right now:
1. News tab
After clicking on their News tab, a sentence in an article called “Adoptions Continue to be Finalized” caught my eye: “In celebration of the adoption of 4- and 5-year-old Elias and Drayden in late April, the Evans family hosted a drive-by adoption parade outside their home since they were not able to have a party.”
- Why it got my attention: Involves people doing something out of the ordinary.
- What we could blog about: Talk about going through stages of the adoption process during the pandemic. Highlight families if possible.
- Topic authority reinforcement: Educates about the adoption process, offers insights into adoption during a crisis and relates adoption to current events.
2. Meet Our Children tab
Part of the page copy is, “[These children] are future teachers and therapists and budding scientists.”
- Why it got my attention: Made me look at teachers, therapists, etc., in a new light.
- What we could blog about: Interview a teacher, therapist, scientist, etc., who is an adoptee.
- Topic authority reinforcement: Puts a face on the long-term benefits of adoption for society and allows for use of statistics and data.
3. Educational Programs & Training tab
The page says, “Individual Parent Education [program] provides one-on-one sessions with parents, utilizing evidence-based approaches to address specific needs for the family. Curricula used include Triple P, Promoting First Relationships, Active Parenting, and Nurturing Parenting.”
- Why it got my attention: Refers to devoting a lot of time with individual sets of parents and to unfamiliar curricula.
- What we could blog about: Explain each of these approaches and how they help adoptive parents in 1-4 blogs. Another approach: Talk about how we’ve been doing this during the pandemic.
- Topic authority reinforcement: Educates about approaches to parenting for adoptive and non-adoptive families, allows for use of statistics and data, and brings in outside credible resources.
4. Educational Programs & Training tab / Wise Guys® link
Page copy: “As teen males begin to have honest conversations with their peers …, they see that not all males conform to stereotyped expectations, and they gain valuable support from each other.”
- Why it got my attention: As I write this, the news is filled with stories about the kinds of conversations African American parents must have with their children that white parents never have to consider. Then there’s the ongoing issue of appropriate teen role models.
- What we could blog about: Interview a teen and mentor in the program, share data about how such intervention influences a teen’s future. Another idea: Dive into why teens and tweens are the least likely to be adopted (stereotypes?).
- Topic authority reinforcement: Puts faces on an age group that needs more adoptive parents, allows use of facts and figures, educates about how adoption process differs for age groups, taps into need for and efficacy of good role models.
5. Educational Programs & Training tab / Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) link
Page copy: “Rigorous research is documenting [TAC’s] effectiveness in providing clinicians with the critical competencies they need to provide quality mental health services to those whose lives have been touched by adoption.”
- Why it got my attention: Nonprofits that train medical professionals are interesting and impressive (credibility).
- What we could blog about: Why adoptees often develop mental health challenges, what can be done; share stories.
- Topic authority reinforcement: Reinforces credibility with clinical and teaching audiences, brings in outside resources, illustrates depth of knowledge (ability to train), relates to highly relevant social issue (mental health).
Topic authority blog posts are important tools in your outreach – just imagine a fundraiser being able to point an interested donor to a particular blog post that addresses their questions about your issue!
Take a look at your organization’s website through this lens. I guarantee you’ll find at least 5 ideas. If you don’t, let me know.
P.S. If you need free, professional images to go with your posts, check out these sources (and please credit the artist where possible):
Your nonprofit is only as strong as the people who support you. Does your copywriting reflect this understanding?
As my friend and fundraising expert Derrick Feldmann says, people support you when they believe in a cause: Eliminating homelessness. Climate change. Animal rescue. Saving children. They believe in improving society, not in funding your organization.
Why, then, does your “About Us” web page talk almost exclusively about you?
Here’s my argument: Your copywriting has to evoke an emotional response – and About Us doesn’t mean what you think it does.
It’s Not About You
Your website gives you a chance to show potential supporters who they’ll be and what they can achieve when they join you. This will require language that creates a vivid picture in their minds of a place where “us” includes them making a difference.
Consider the following real example from a nonprofit that offers services to and advocates for adults and children with disabilities:
As America’s largest nonprofit health care organization, [Organization] is committed to the comprehensive health and wellness of the more than 1.4 million people it serves each year and is prepared to respond to the needs of the one in four Americans living with disability today with outcomes-based services for all disabilities throughout the lifespan.
This 54-word sentence reads like an encyclopedia entry, not authentic copywriting meant to move us to action. We can’t visualize what it’s like to be part of this group, and we won’t feel an emotional connection to the people who need help. The language feels clinical and cold, keeping us from feeling the strength of their belief.
It’s About Them
Now, contrast it with a page called “Who We Are” from a nonprofit that serves the families of hospitalized children:
They’ve created have a picture in my head: a sick child who needs Mom or Dad around to feel safe. I’m in that room, and “What can I do to help?” is my gut reaction. The only way this could be better is if the story was told through one family’s experience.
Raise Your Hand Texas also did a pretty good job touching my emotions:
I like the clear language and focus on the students. How could the writing be more appealing? Would you feel the need more viscerally if this story was shared through the impact on one student?
In reality, research has shown that people respond more positively when they hear about one person in a situation than when they hear about a hundred. A large number feels overwhelming – “That’s too big a problem” – while an individual makes it easy to think, “I could help one child.”
Speak to Your Audience’s Heart
As with any communications piece, keep your audience in mind when writing your About Us page. They don’t need or want a recitation of your accomplishments, or the definition you put on grant proposals, or a formal business statement. They want to feel a sense of belonging, a desire to join with you in a cause they already have feelings about.
By the way, look at the language you use to tell your nonprofit’s history, too, since it’s often on the About Us page. Is it focused on buildings and organizational growth, or on an expanding ability to serve more individuals?
(This post has appeared on my LinkedIn and at Achieve’s website.)
In nonprofit fundraising, telling the story of someone who has directly benefited from an organization’s services is the most effective way to move a potential donor to action. Finding such a story can be difficult, of course, but that doesn’t mean you should take the easy route.
No matter what kind of time crunch you’re in, avoid these pitfalls in writing a nonprofit fundraising appeal:
1. Don’t use a board member’s story.
Maybe a member of your board of directors was once a beneficiary or an on-the-ground volunteer. But if they’re on the board during the fundraising campaign, find someone else to feature in your campaign. Telling a real person’s story gives your organization credibility, so don’t run the risk of negating your authenticity by using an insider.
2. Don’t select a subject by consensus.
Your internal team is not the audience. Each of you is too invested in your own viewpoint to be objective. You also may be biased because you know the candidate or for any number of other reasons. Given all that baggage, getting everyone to agree too often devolves into selecting the lowest common denominator. Seek advice from outside your inner circle.
3. Don’t use a story simply because a big donor suggests it.
Donors, staff and volunteers undoubtedly are your best sources for finding story subjects. However, that doesn’t mean you should select a particular subject simply to please them. Doubling your fundraising results from last year will please them much more than using a story that doesn’t move your audience to action.
4. Don’t let communications and development work in silos.
I could write an entire post about why communications and development departments that work together get the best results. In the 2017 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, only 34% of communications staff reported being consulted about fundraising decisions. These organizations are missing out – and giving yours a chance to get ahead. Be the nonprofit that keeps territorial fights out of the discussion, and you’ll see truly stunning results.
All this boils down to one thing: Don’t let too much of an internal focus derail your fundraising efforts. Keep your target audience and the behavior you want them to exhibit at the forefront when you’re selecting someone to feature in your fundraising materials.
Your communications and development teams are brainstorming approaches to your next fundraising campaign. Fueled by collaboration and the smell of multicolored markers, they’re excitedly filling big Post-It wall pads with phrases and sketches, reconfigured and brand-new ideas. Then a development staffer chimes in with, “Why don’t we ask one of our clients to write the appeal this year? I know the perfect person to do it!”
You feel the room almost physically divide as co-workers mentally retreat into their departmental territories.
To the development employees, the idea makes a lot of sense. People become donors to help solve a problem. What could be better than hearing directly from someone whose life they helped change?
Meanwhile, the communications side of the room is tense. They thought their development friends were finally getting it: credibility, consistent messaging, the principles of great storytelling. In a panic, they think it’s all headed out the window.
I couldn’t agree more with the development staff: Nothing’s better than hearing from someone whose life a donor helped change.
However, I couldn’t disagree more with the suggestion for executing the idea.
Storytelling is an art, and not everyone is an artist. So, here are my top three reasons why a copywriter, not a client or donor or board member, should craft a beneficiary’s story for your nonprofit’s appeal:
1. Most people are not strong writers.
By asking someone to write a coherent, cohesive, compelling story about a crucial event, you’re asking them to use a skill most won’t possess. What do you do when their story needs significant editing at best or, at worst, is unusable? Do you grit your teeth and go forward because you can’t afford to offend the writer or the person who suggested them?
2. They know their story, but not your message.
A woman who escaped years of abuse through the help of a nonprofit shared her story with me in a two-hour phone interview that was emotional, raw and all over the place. If she’d written the appeal, the point would have been lost in the details of her experience. My job as a copywriter was to share her story (her authentic, emotional story) in a way that showed how donors saved her and rescue women just like her every day.
3. You lose advantages inherent in an interview.
When actively listening to someone tell a story, you can guide them with your questions. You can gently move them along if they get off track, ask for details about a particular aspect to make it more vivid, or explore a comment they gloss over but you know could drive home a crucial point. As the writer, you can make sure you end up with the information you need.
One argument I hear often is, “But I’ve seen videos of clients talking about themselves, and people love them!”
Yes, videos can be powerful motivators. However, the most effective ones are planned, shot and re-shot over hours and hours, and carefully edited.
A talented copywriter can take the best of a client’s story and put it into context: This happy ending is possible because donors like you stepped in, and we can create more stories with your support. The result will be a much more powerfully persuasive appeal designed to elicit targeted audience behaviors that will move your organization toward its goals, without any loss of authenticity.
Read my 4 Steps to Great Nonprofit Storytelling, too.