Content Marketing for Global NGOs in 2021: Know Yourself, Communicate Authentically

Content marketing should be part of every global NGO’s marketing mix.

It broadens reach, publicizes your cause, and it can be done on a tight budget. It also requires relatively low human resources and overhead to get going.

Many smart global NGOs are using content marketing effectively. But for small NGOs and those with 20th-century mindsets, content marketing is commonly misunderstood and therefore ignored.

Effective content marketing from a global NGO perspective must emphasize clear messaging, have a flexible but committed plan, and continually reflect your mission and vision. It must be careful about not drifting into B2C-style trendiness and attention-seeking. Doing so can also lead you away from the weight of your mission.

Instead, it should rely on what it does best – promote a cause that is underserved but essential. In content marketing, it does this through words, foremost, but also through images, video, and multimedia.

To make sure we’re on the same page:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (source: Content Marketing Institute)

For you, content marketing is a path to defining your NGO as credible, effective, and worthy of funding. It builds essential trust and respect in society, academia, and among decision-makers.

Trace back to the reasons your organization exists

NGO work can seem thankless and underpaid, and the time and resource constraints you face in the NGO world make things even harder. It’s easy to lose sight of the ideals that drew you in in the first place.

Start by separating your organization’s mission and vision. The former is what you do in the grand sense. The latter is what you aspire to. You may also have purpose and values related to these. These will all underpin your marketing, and thereby your content marketing.

CARE’s mission is working around the world to save lives, defeat poverty, and achieve social justice.

Its vision is; “We seek a world of hope, inclusion, and social justice, where poverty has been overcome and all people live with dignity and security.”

With those clear, you already have the themes of your content marketing. Now, in words and multimedia (if possible), you’re tasked with communicating them. Doing so in a genuine and person-to-person tone is what will make your content marketing effective.

The challenges facing NGOs attempting content marketing

A study found 92% of nonprofit professionals use content marketing, but only 26% say they are effective at it.

This was, however, US-based, and we also need to factor in the various (mis)understandings of what content marketing is. Some may get the full picture integrated organization-wide, while others may think it’s posting to Facebook. As noted above, it’s a “strategic marketing approach. We assure you, from an MBA and corporate perspective, it’s not just posting to Facebook.

Factoring in the multiple hats people wear within an NGO, it makes sense that the idea of content marketing is dabbled in, but not with great (or any) results.

There’s probably no content marketing manager in an NGO. Heck, there may not even be a marketing manager. Don’t let that stop you. Content marketing can be scaled and to the right consultant, it can be outsourced.

Cost is a major factor. But an even bigger challenge can be reaching across borders in a meaningful way. Creating and planning content takes time and resources. NGOs have an advantage over for-profit companies in an important way:

They have a clear mission that often comes with powerful stories.

With your mission in mind, have a plan.

Make a content marketing plan

In the long run, a plan will save you money and a lot of hassle. As a global NGO, you likely already have more tactical and wide-reaching plans in place than grassroots NGOs and local-level nonprofits. That prepares you for taking on this plan in a manageable way.

Start by boiling your plan down to 1 page (or building it out, depending on how far along you are). This includes your objectives, goals, strategies, and metrics.

What applies for for-profit companies here applies to global NGOs. By looking at what your NGO wants to accomplish in the next year and listing out your goals, strategies, and how you’re going to measure all of it. Engage your organization’s executives to get a handle on the logistics, like cost and targeted return on investment (ROI).

The planning stage is particularly important for NGOs because may have to work it into their budgets and justify the use of funding toward it. This is why metrics and ROI are so important. In the same way, a development project must work on a schedule and show tangible outputs and effects, a content marketing plan must make its case.

In working globally, you also need to grasp the regions you’re working with. These include partners in development, potential donors, and may include policy-makers and academia.

Take Oxfam as an example. Oxfam’s 17 organizations operate across 90+ countries. For an NGO with that wide of a reach, it must communicate in many languages. But if the content marketing is more aimed at certain countries and less at the countries where activities are being implemented, then the language of the target countries needs greater attention.

For its international site, it chooses the basic English, Spanish, and French. With that trio, it’ll cover much of the world, though Asian languages are conspicuously absent.

Oxfam International’s page at https://www.oxfam.org/en

Oxfam contracts with vendors for some of its translation needs. Doing this ensures the tone and voice of the NGO’s campaigns resonates at a local level. But translation alone isn’t enough, That’s because translators only replicate the source language in the target language.

Brand guidelines, a consistent tone, and a comprehensive marketing plan can keep that aligned.

And for Pete’s sake, do not rely on auto-translate!

We recommend starting in at least the home country language and English. English really is imperative for any NGO. For some countries, it can be a challenge just to communicate the bare essentials. For European countries, however, the challenge may be producing completely native-level English. And for English-speaking countries, the challenge may be escaping the myopic view that English is all you need.

Few NGOs will have the funds of Oxfam, but that can also be a blessing, as there are fewer audiences to worry about.

If your resources don’t allow paid contracting of the work, you might have to rely on local staff and/or interns for basic translation. Understanding your audience and what resonates with it. Then adjust the language to fit your brand.

Treat your content as any other business process

Rather than doing it piecemeal, set a specific budget, a specific dollar, euro, etc.

Then budget this as with any other expense – how does it equate to person-hours, amount of work, and so on. Far too many small businesses and NGOs look to their social media, blog, and other content assignments as a “nice to have” or as something to do “if you’ve got nothing else to do.”

Situate it centrally with the rest of your quarterly or yearly OKRs. Set benchmarks and goals. Assign staff and project managers. This allows you to work toward specific targets (e.g., number of articles, frequency of posts on Facebook), track their ROI, and celebrate their achievement.

If your NGO is just launching its first regional or international campaign, set reasonable stages and don’t take on more than is necessary. Growth is gradual, but it should be deliberate. Oxfam started out by focusing on helping people in Greece, then Europe, and now is a pivotal global organization.

There are different problems NGOs face when they try to put together piecemeal plans, like when a board member takes on an inexperienced intern to run the Instagram account. Or insists on certain types of marketing strategies (e-newsletter, blog posts, etc.) because they’re free.

Content marketing is no longer something to pass off on the interns and volunteers unless they have a proven track record of using content and social media for business purposes.

Look at whos doing content marketing well among NGOs and NPOs

NGOs, like businesses, have competitors. They may all be doing good work in their own way, but there’s a finite amount of funding out there. And you have to compete for grants and loans. Informative and attractive content gets you in front of many eyes. Look to see who’s doing it well and consider at least partially emulating what they’re doing.

Take cues from other global NGOs that are doing something right. Not sure who’s doing it right? Well, you can simply look at the approaches of similar organizations, look at their numbers of social followers, the amount of interaction they’re receiving. You can also see who’s ranking highest on Google for the terms you are most related to.

And you can hire a content marketing consultant. Just be sure they’re skilled in global marketing because many “SEOs” and agencies work locally and use techniques that work better for local businesses. Real-life experience on the ground in different countries and with NGOs is also, naturally, a plus.

Here’s a list of 10 NGOs that are getting it right. New York-based Charity: Water, a newer NGO (founded in 2006), has drawn attention for its digital presence. The NGO has applied creativity in its PR and its content (which ideally go hand in hand). Its digital director lugged around 40 pounds of water to raise money for the organization.

Charity: Water’s focus on content and partnerships has contributed to its success. That content has no doubt also benefited from the reach of social media.

Kenya’s R.E.S.C.U.E, the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants, reaches across borders via social media. It has 363,000 followers on Instagram thanks to its charming and ultimately very human pictures. All it takes is a simple camera phone.

Charming elephants at https://www.instagram.com/r.e.s.c.u.e/

The photos from the sanctuary become a daily dose of joy in people’s social media feeds. With a simple GoFundMe link in the Instagram account’s bio, anyone can also donate to their cause.

Even if you’re not working with adorable animals, there is likely a visual element to your work. Look for how you can show that in your content.

Looking at what other NGOs are doing can also save you a lot of trial and error.

Take Amnesty International for example. The organization changed course in messaging focusing on the negative to human-focused messaging. The change addressed the issue of political leaders who won’t respond to public shaming but also sends a positive message to possible supporters.

Depending on the size of your NGO, the nonprofit marketing strategy can vary widely in how it looks and operates. No matter what, it comes down to research and planning. Only then will you be able to see the success — and measure it — that a great content marketing plan can give you.

If you’re a busy and/or growing NGO, you may need a simple website to tell the world about you. Or you might want to dive into content marketing by adding a blog. At Scize, we’re skilled with this and we’d love to know your global NGO, your mission, and your vision.

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