Charity and Content Marketing: A marriage made in heaven?

There’s a perception that a charities’ money is wasted on administration and overheads. Debate after debate on what is the right % to be spending and what to spend it on.

So it’s not surprising that when the word ‘marketing’ comes up that many charities shy away from getting involved. Many are yet to get involved in the debate and truly understand how marketing can play a role in achieving their goals.

In this guest blog, Caroline McKenna not only sets out a compelling case for charities to stop ignoring marketing, but also shares some quick and zero cost tips to help charities become an organisation that people trust to do the right thing.


I’ve been asked many times about why I get involved in ‘marketing’…

Why do I bother being part of the Content Marketing Academy (CMA)? After all, marketing doesn’t help charities, does it?

Isn’t marketing just for those people like ‘Betty Business Big Balls’ who loves to talk about herself and what her organisation has achieved, and how you need to buy more ‘stuff’ from Betty to allow her to juggle her big balls a bit more?!

I joined the CMA because I believe that charities and social enterprises need to market themselves to achieve their goals, and understand the importance of why creating content that does not do the hard sell of ‘Donate, Donate, Donate’ is the right way to do ‘marketing’.

First let me tell you the honest truth – creating content consistently, which is at the heart of content marketing, is not easy. Seriously! It’s really hard, and some days you realise that you and content creation are not a marriage made in heaven. You’ll make excuses about why you’re not creating content, and if things get really tough or you don’t see results quickly enough then you might just give up and head home.

Don’t let that be you.

Why is trust a problem with charities?

Content creation and the sharing of content is a brilliant way to reach your audience. It enables people to get to know, like and trust you and your organisation enough to take action.

So, let’s get to the facts.

The recent UK Giving report by the Charities Aid Foundation noted that £9.7 billion was donated to charities by generous Brits in 2016. Wow!

They also shared that fewer than 50% of those surveyed ‘trusted’ charities (p16) to do the right thing. That makes me sad and excited with equal measure: sad that the public feel this way, and excited at the opportunity to make it right.

If we dig a little deeper, we find that it is very rare for members of the public to ask deeper questions of charities to ascertain their suitability for donation. Generally speaking, someone will have an emotional connection with a cause and decide to donate on that basis.

What if charities worked really hard to do it differently? To share as much information as possible with people – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Answering questions to create transparency

Imagine a world where charitable organisations were 100% trusted by people to do the right thing. OK, I know there will always be some scepticism, so perhaps 100% is a stretch, but surely we can work hard to get the trust factor much, much higher than 50%.

So, what does this have to do with content? Well, some of the trust issues are that charities are just not transparent enough, and they don’t share enough information about the impact or effectiveness of their work. Many don’t even share their accounts on their website! Accounts are available to view at the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator or Charity Commission (England & Wales) at any time so why make it difficult? Why not just share the information on your website where everyone can see it easily?

GiveWell, an organisation based in San Francisco, started their nonprofit with a simple question: Where should I donate? The founders wanted to give. They had the money and they wanted to give donations to reduce suffering in the world.

They researched charitable organisations online to try to find the answers to two key questions:

  1.            What do you do with the donor’s money?
  2.            What evidence exists that your activities help others?

Now, you would think that these questions would be answered easily and would be readily available. However, they couldn’t find the answers through the charities’ websites or through the foundations that funded them. It became clear that answering these two questions would be a lot of work. GiveWell was born as a formal commitment to doing this research and putting everything they found on a public website so other donors wouldn’t have to repeat what they did.

I recently interviewed Catherine Hollander from GiveWell to find out more about their organisation and what it means to be transparent. You can watch the full interview here.

Gaining a donor’s trust

These are the two key questions that will drive people to trust an organisation – and we know from all we are taught about the buyer’s, or in this case the donor’s, journey that the steps of someone looking to donate will have four stages:

  1.            Awareness
  2.            Consideration
  3.            Decision
  4.            Delight

Let’s look at how this works when ‘Susan’ decides to make a donation:

  • Susan knows that she wants to make a difference to young people, and she knows that giving a donation to a charity will help a young person, however, at this stage, she isn’t sure who to give to (Awareness).
  • Then Susan picks up her trusty laptop (because of course, that‘s how we all research now –Yellow Pages is dead, don’t you know!), and she wants to find out which charities are out there to help young people. She heads straight to Google, the fountain of all knowledge, and types into the search box ‘ Young people charities in Scotland’, which brings up 10 or 12 organisations. As Susan searches through each of the websites she has in her mind the two questions she wants answers to – What will you spend my money on? and, How do I know it’s making a difference? (Consideration)
  •  If Susan finds one organisation’s website with content that answers these questions and one organisation that doesn’t, which one do you think she will decide to donate to? (Decision).

We could take this story a stage further and say that because Susan couldn’t find the answers to her questions, she emails her shortlist of five charities to ask the two key questions because she couldn’t find the information she wanted on their websites.

That would have given those five organisations an opportunity to answer –  they will have the answers for her, but they’re just not visible as content on their websites.

If you are someone who wants to improve their work, share their work, and be more open and transparent then you will immediately see how valuable the principle of answering these potential donors’ questions on your website is.

What we know about buying behaviour in 2017 is that the vast majority of us will research online, make decisions based on information we find online, and only contact a company or organisation when we are ready to donate or purchase.

Once Susan decides on her charity and donates, then we move to Delight – the stage where she wants to be kept up to date with the work of the charity and how her money is helping young people. And you’ll want to continue to delight Susan with updates and articles on the work of the organisation.

Now, if you are someone who is working in a charity as a member of staff or a trustee then you might be thinking “Shit! we don’t do any of that. We don’t answer any questions with the content on our website”. Never fear. You can change it now; you don’t need to wait. You can start today.

Where do I start with my content plan?

Here are some options for you to get started answering those questions:

  • Written content/blogging: Blogs are easy and low cost to start, but they can be time-consuming to maintain. However, they are a key contributor to search engine ranking success.
  • Audio content/podcast: Anyone can start their own audio/radio show.
  • Video: Excellent for entertaining, demonstrating and teaching. Video is very popular

Choose one method to start with and get going.

6 top content ideas for charities to create right now

Let me help you get started…

  1. Choose a beneficiary from your organisation (don’t forget to get permission) and write an article about that person: a case study. What was their situation? How did they find your organisation? What services did they use? What difference did your services make? Where are they now? What was the wider impact? Perhaps their family benefited? You get the picture.
  2. Make a video or write an article on where someone’s donation goes. Show how much it costs to provide the service, e.g. if you provide blankets for the homeless then how much do the blankets cost? If someone donates £10 how much of that goes to the homeless person directly?
  3. Put your accounts on your website. This will take 10 minutes.
  4. Create and share an online version of your annual report. Again, this will only take 10 minutes!
  5. Create an article on what happens when someone donates. Show people the actual process and start right at the beginning – when someone hands in a donation, what do you do with the money? How do you track the money? How can you show the difference it has made?
  6. If you want to be really open, why not share your mistakes, your failures, what you have learned and what you will do differently? Check out GiveWell’s mistakes page. This is a truly brilliant example of what being transparent really means; this honesty makes you more human and builds trust.

Are you ready to change the way you communicate?

Well, there you have it. What will you do next? Will you be the charity that creates the content that answers the questions? Will you put that content on your website?

If you answered yes, then you are on the right path for great things, and you will start to see and feel the difference in your income, your loyal supporters and in the higher cause to increase the public’s trust in charities.

Let’s do it! #publictrust

Your turn

If you have any questions or would like some help, please do just drop Caroline a line (contact details below). We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic too.

  1. Do you believe there is a role for marketing within a charity?
  2. Do you feel your charity is transparent re: funding and how donated money impacts beneficiaries?
  3. Do you know any charities that are dong this well? We’d love to hear about more great examples of those who are creating trust with their supporters.

Please share your experiences below and feel free to ask if you have any questions.

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About Caroline McKenna

Caroline McKenna Guest Blog

Award winning charity and social enterprise educator Caroline McKenna believes the charitable sector is one we should all be proud of and look to support as much as possible.

Her mission is to ‘create charitable organisations that people trust to do the right thing’

Caroline is the Founder and driving force behind Social Good HQ one of the UK’s only nonprofit membership organisations offering courses, live training, community, perks and masterclasses all in the one place.

She is raising the bar within the charitable sector, specifically in how to lead organisations that build trust, how sharing and being transparent about the impact of the organisations work create loyal supporters. Her pioneering work has changed the long term sustainability of many organisations,  all through the power of transparency.

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