Cosmic

How to use Crowdsourcing to Fuel Your Nonprofit's Digital Content Strategy

Learn how to establish a content strategy, identify contributors, and devise an attainable editorial calendar for your organization. Crowdsourcing is key.

Eric Ressler
September 1, 2020
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As a forward-thinking social impact leader, you know your nonprofit needs to take a digital-first approach in order to raise awareness and scale your impact. But your ability to create a resource-rich digital hub that drives transformational change depends on one thing: content. Fresh, compelling, scroll stopping content.

A quick look at your content distribution plan reveals that content creation is no longer an optional sidebar. It’s a top priority, month in and month out. Which means that creating enough content to stay relevant (let alone lead the conversation) is a lot of work.

We know what you’re thinking: How on earth are you going to pull this rabbit out of your hat? Don’t fret. Social impact organizations like yours have more content creation resources at your disposal than you might see at first glance. The key? Selective crowdsourcing.

Use this step-by-step guide to look beyond your organization’s internal marketing team and build an ambitious, achievable editorial calendar — a calendar that results in all the quality content you need to fuel your engagement and outreach.

The Role of Content in Your Nonprofit’s Digital Strategy

In an increasingly noisy digital-first world, your nonprofit must now compete with the likes of Netflix, Facebook, viral memes, and The New York Times for your supporters’ limited attention. And that means playing by your competitors’ rules, in which the freshest, most engaging content wins.

No longer can you afford to design a website and sit back and wait for your supporters to engage. You have to capture their attention time and again with scroll-stopping content. In effect, you must embrace your new role as a digital media outlet.

In this approach, your digital media channels — your website, action center, and social channels — form the engine that pushes your organization’s theory of change forward, deepens your supporters’ engagement, and builds a sustainable revenue stream. And it all runs on content.

Of course, the profit-driven corporations you must now compete with for attention are armed with internal content creators, external agency partners, and everything in between. Your nonprofit likely doesn’t have it so easy. You may look around at your existing resources and quickly conclude that you have an insurmountable capacity problem.

The good news? The digital media approach isn’t out of reach — not for you or for any other nonprofit. With a little creative crowdsourcing, you can assemble a deep bench of talent. And you can produce a diverse range of content to support a robust digital content strategy.

How to Crowdsource Your Nonprofit’s Digital Content

Use the following step-by-step guide to establish a content strategy, identify a wide circle of contributors, and devise an attainable editorial calendar for your organization.

1. Craft a Content Strategy

Before you set out recruiting content contributors, you need to have a solid content strategy in place. Start by looking at your organization’s theory of change. Now ask yourself:

  • Where does your organization sit in the larger conversation about systemic change?
  • What is your unique take on what needs to happen within your niche of the social impact ecosystem?
  • Who do you serve?
  • Who are your main audiences, and what do they care about? (If you haven’t already conducted target audience interviews, now is the time to make it happen.)
  • What actions do you want supporters to take once they engage with your content and brand?

The answers to these questions should guide you as you consider which subject areas to include in your content strategy.

Next, determine the types of content you can commit to producing. This could include written articles, videos, impact stories, case studies, white papers, social media posts, podcasts, interactive experiences, and more. Think about each content type almost as its own tv show or column in a newspaper. Determine the parameters of what the show or column will focus on and how it will support your larger goals.

Finally, consider how you will distribute and promote your content. Spell it out in an engagement strategy complete with a set distribution cadence.

2. Crowdsource Your Content

With your digital content strategy in place, it’s time to start lining up content contributors. To do that, take a 360-degree look at everyone who is involved in your organization’s work. Naturally, you’ll start with your own team. But don’t stop there. Broaden your idea of who can generate the ongoing content for your digital media platform. Not everything needs to be generated in house.

For example, you could tap the following groups for content creation:

  • Board members. Your board members have a strong connection to your organization, a deep interest in your mission, and a commitment to help you move the needle on our objectives. Many of your board members may have skills (from writing to video editing) that can be put in service of producing your organization’s content. Bonus: When your board members produce content, it positions them as experts related to your program work, which is a nice segue into major donation “asks.” It also gives them a reason to reach out to their network and share your content.
  • Individual supporters. Reach out to your most invested supporters, especially those who happen to have unique skills or expertise.
  • Recipients or beneficiaries of your good work. Asking your program recipients to contribute to your content allows the conversation to go in both directions. In addition, this approach to content generation is ripe for powerful insights and emotional stories.
  • Partners. Whether local businesses or major corporations, your partners may be able to offer interesting stories or perspectives from a new angle.
  • Funders. Funders, especially those who are focusing on your area of the social impact ecosystem, have a bird’s-eye-view that gives them a unique perspective to share.
  • Other social impact organizations. Ask your peers at other nonprofits up and down the system to provide their thoughts on what needs to happen to create change. Create synergy and raise awareness by contributing to one another’s digital content plans.
  • Experts or professionals in related fields. For example, if you work on climate change, you might seek insights from climate scientists, geographers, city planners, sociologists, and social workers.

You’ll need to appoint at least one point person to manage your editorial calendar, keep individual assignments on track, and run your editing and publication processes. But other than that, your goal should be to spread the responsibility of content creation as widely as possible while remaining true to your brand and philosophy.

3. Build a content creation process and content guidelines

Once a board member, expert, or supporter agrees to create content for your organization, you’ll need to provide clear instructions for what to do next. Use the following checklist to get your contributors on the same page and make it as easy as possible for them to produce compelling, strategically sound content.

  • Offer clear expectations about a production timeline and what your contributors can expect as far as your review process. Also, be sure to let them know if they need to supply their own supporting assets, such as photos or graphics.
  • Create and share guidelines for each type of content you produce delineating the basic structure of each, from articles to podcasts. For example, for written articles you might include an expected word count range as well as your brand’s style guide and lexicon.
  • Explain what constitutes “excellent” content in your organization’s eyes. Provide examples of your best content so there are no misaligned expectations or a need to go back to the drawing board.
  • Provide your content producers with a clear goal of what the content is meant to do in the larger context of your theory of change.
  • Be clear about how you will attribute your contributors’ work. Will you include an author bio, photo, byline, and link to their organization or personal website?
  • Respect the work people put into producing content by making sure their pieces are seen via your organization's promotional efforts. Ask your content producers to share their work via their own networks, too.
  • Determine beforehand whether you want crowdsourced content to be exclusive to your website or if you are amenable to your producers publishing the content on their own websites and digital channels.
  • Consider putting together an activist toolkit with all of your collected resources for producing your content.

Your bench of possible content contributors is ultimately only limited by the size of your organization’s overall network. Which is to say, the possibilities are endless. With a little planning and the right structure in place, you can produce a wide range of binge-worthy content that keeps your audience engaged and your mission top of mind.

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