Building a Smart, Comprehensive Content Marketing Strategy

READERS NOTE – This blog’s author, Justin Ware, has launched Groundwork Digital – a full service nonprofit fundraising consultancy with digital at the forefront. Check out Groundwork’s new blog by clicking here.

An eye-catching, donor-grabbing content strategy is about more than memes. (But don’t get us a wrong, memes with cute babies, Willy Wonka, and Ned Stark are all great)

Driven by those memes, along with video, social media engagement, targeted digital advertising, online ambassadors and more, content marketing has established itself as a mainstay tactic for organizations and companies from the for profit to nonprofit verticals.
As it should – content marketing drives real results at a fraction of the cost: while content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing, it generates more than three times as many leads.

Of course, like most things worth doing, effective content marketing requires time, resources, and talent. If you’re going to invest in content marketing, you should be sure you are dedicating those resources to a sophisticated, smart, and comprehensive content marketing strategy.

This should be a plan that goes beyond simply creating and sharing good content. It should also include data-backed parameters for the types and formats of content you’re sharing; digital advertising to ensure your content finds its mark; hiring the right talent to continuously produce both proactive and reactive content; and timing your posts so they hit home at just the right time.

For a few tips to help your organization or institution get started on effective content marketing, check out the following…


With the mountains of available data about our constituents, this question is becoming less and less necessary. Every day, more than half your audience is actively engaging in content on Facebook alone. When they do that, they are displaying preferences for the themes of content that matter most to them. The same is true across almost countless other web properties. And many platforms, Facebook included, are tracking and organizing this information.

As an organization, you have a few options – use technology that quantifies and organizes this data for you (a must for large institutions and organizations) or track and quantify the data on your own. However you’re gathering and tracking this user behavior around content, the end goal is the same – using that data to know what your audience wants and producing more of that content to attract their interest on a regular basis. If you are effectively monitoring your audience’s wants and desires related to content, “what should we post?” should never again be a question you need to ask. Your audience is telling you what to post through their behavior. Tap into that behavior, analyze it, and allow it dictate your content marketing strategy. Then watch as engagement metrics skyrocket.


UCSBGiveDay_CoverPhoto2Similar is true of timing your posts. During the University of California Santa Barbara’s first giving day in April 2016, a day-of debate arose around exactly when an unexpected content opportunity should be siezed. It was a Friday and the thought was to post the content and distribute it as soon as possible. Afterall, by dinner time on Friday, the UCSB audience would be off line and on to weekend activities, correct? To confirm, we consulted UCSB’s Facebook page Insights. The data told us Friday evenings were actually highly active times online for UCSB’s fans and followers. The post was delayed until that evening. Not only did the post perform well, but some of the highest online fundraising activity during the 24-hour giving day event occurred during those Friday evening hours.

Dump your assumptions and follow the data – that’s rule #1 for smart content marketing.


Nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions are just beginning to understand the power of digital advertising. And it appears nothing is more powerful than Facebook advertising. Banner blindness and ad blocking software all diminish standard online advertising. Facebook Ads, however, are quite a bit different. With Facebook Ads (depending upon the campaign parameters) it’s a matter of finding receptive Facebook users for your content and using the Facebook Ads platform to ensure that content appears in the Newsfeeds of those users. And that natural, more subtle, highly personal, and targeted approach is one reason why Facebook Ads can drive 6x the clicks of all other forms of digital advertising.

To get started with Facebook Ads, consider the following:

  • Who is your audience? The Facebook Ads platform allows you to create an audience of Facebook users based on demographics and interests or upload an email list of your donors. Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks while a combination of those tactics works well for many. The key is having an experienced Facebook Ads administrator running your campaign who knows how to build custom audiences that deliver your message to exactly the type of Facebook users you’re looking to attract (major donors with an affinity for your mission, for example).
  • Produce great content. To do this, study what your audience is telling you. In other words, produce Facebook content based on the findings in your data-driven content marketing strategy (see above).
  • Use online ambassadors. The more people like, share, or comment on a Facebook Ads promoted post, the more that post will be seen. (Facebook’s algorithm rewards engagement, even when you’re paying for a post to be seen) Deploying ambassadors to drive up a Facebook Ads post will further expand the impact of that post and increase the value of your ad spend.


Content marketing is a full-time endeavor. It’s unlikely you can shift responsibilities and build a comprehensive content marketing strategy with existing staff. Especially if you’re starting from scratch.

But here is the good news – given the return on a smart, comprehensive content marketing strategy, this is one investment you can feel confident in making.

Whether you hire new, full-time staff or work with an outside vendor, great content marketing will boost all key metrics including acquisition, retention, and major donor engagement. The key, as with many efforts, is not short-changing this tactic through inadequate staffing.

And as you consider staffing, don’t forget about your volunteers. Online ambassadors can do more than boost a giving day – applying ambassadors to your year ’round content marketing strategy can boost stewardship and retention across all channels. Ambassadors are a gateway to new, unknown segments of supporters, provide authenticity to your marketing efforts, and are proven to increase new donor acquisition. Work with them to realize the full potential of your content marketing strategy.

What do you think? Are you doing everything you could be to acquire, retain, and engage your donors through a smart, comprehensive content marketing strategy? Email me at to find out.


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