Blogging as an Art or Science? Why Nonprofits need to focus on content

I have a morbid curiosity about products with wildly successful advertising which lack any actual substance: Nick Unsworth and all those ‘social media strategists’, that annoying guy who wrote The Four Hour Workweek, the Shakeweight (which I own thanks to an especially thoughtful company office pool) and the concept that Cheerios are good for you.

In my recent attempts to crack this writer’s block, I’ve been doing research on good blogging practices. Personally, I’m torn between the impulse to spew out buckets of junk (i.e. focus on the marketing, but not the content) or invest an absurd amount of time creating beautiful prose(prioritizing content over advertising). One method drives traffic, the other drives change. For most nonprofits, simply getting lots of traffic on a site will not increase revenue or change people’s mind about that controversial housing project. Don’t get me wrong, traffic is good, but selling an idea is much more difficult than a pair of shoes.

What I seem to have discovered is that blogging advice tends to fall in two categories:

DRIVE TRAFFIC = Blogging is a science

  1. There are 1000’s of articles about your topic ; there’s competition out there and you will beat it by following these easy steps.
  2. BLOGGING HAS BEST PRACTICES, when, how often, keywords, blah, blah.
  3. Blogging has a purpose. It gets people to your site and they do the thing you want them to do there.
  4. A blog is a tool and you use it.

    INFORM OR CONVINCE = Blogging as an art

  1. People will find you if your content and writing is relevant and developed
  2. Good blogs have depth, human interest and well edited writing
  3. Quality trumps quantity
  4. A blog is a piece of creative work, and the content is key

The Science Camp sees a good blog as a giant SpaceBalls like vacuum, indiscriminately sucking in all potential readers. The focus of these blogs are the underlying techniques driving you to the site. They care deeply about ROI, link-building, social media integration and tricky techniques. The Art Camp may also utilize these techniques, but makes you want to come willingly. Once you get there, you find it was worth the trip.

Why is a nonprofit blog special?

A mission driven blog is two-fold. It talks about your activity and it gives people opportunities to create their own action. A nonprofit cares about creating change or raising awareness. Raising money is just one step towards reaching the mission. In fact, a blog could be one way an organization reaches a goal. Say your mission is to install solar panels on community buildings. One way you reach your goal is by raising money so you can install panels. One way you reach your goal is by blogging about how solar panels can be installed. Bob decides to buy and install some panels on his son’s school. Just because your organization didn’t install the panels, does not mean you weren’t successful in the mission to get them installed!

Why does a non-profit need a blog again?

Whether your focus is quality or quantity, why bother? Do you have a pressing need to provide free information to the masses? Save the elephants? Be the popular kid? Sell your product? The point of a blog depends on your audience. In mission-driven work, the point of your blog must be provide information and attract people to support your cause, NOT to just increase traffic. People rarely click on a donation button without already being convinced in other ways.

What kind of information do you mean Dana?

If you have an agency that does cat adoptions, write about CATS!

Obviously Dana, are you seriously giving us this crap?

Your website is your canvas. Nonprofits by definition care about some issue more than just making a profit. So in the case of the Animal Care League Second Chance Shop my pet-(haha)-project in Oakpark, IL, I provided them several training sessions and a few strategic scoping sessions about how to communicate with their audience. They don’t have time for a full blog, so they use Facebook. Different medium, same concept. They want to keep their community engaged, interested and educated. Their mission is to find cats homes, but also to keep them there once they are placed. This means it’s part of their mission to blog not only about the cats waiting to be adopted, but cats that have been adopted, and funny stories about cats, and healthy eating tips for cats and employee’s cats and cat memories and on and on. Because they also run a resale store for revenue generating purposes, it makes sense for them to talk about collectables and antiques sometimes too. Empty content can subversively force people to your site, but the fire hose approach just doesn’t make sense for non-profits. If I am a dog-lover with a penchant for IKEA I might end up at the ACL site if they used the ‘Science Technique’, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give them any time or money.

What kind of blogger does a non-profit need?

Bloggers are writers. Some are paid spokespeople, some are technical or industry whizzes and some are social media rock stars. Remember, while this may sound obvious – a blogger is a person. Especially in the non-profit world, a personal voice is essential. This does not mean that articles shouldn’t be posted with the agency as the author, but a blogger has an opinion, and writes editorials. This means your organization’s blogger needs to be trustworthy, and interesting to your audience. Otherwise, don’t have one, for now just speak from an organizational voice.

Yeah right, we don’t have a blogger, no money, no time, wah, wah….

One agency I have been working with is the Alameda County Foster Youth Alliance. In planning their website, I recognized that they also required new business process design. Their Communications Manager was spending hours each week compiling an amazing amount of foster youth related information for a weekly bulletin, which was emailed but then immediately lost in a digital file. What I quickly realized was that all that work needed to be transformed into a blog. Now, instead of compiling the articles for the bulletin, the Communications Manager posts each article as a blog post, and the bulletin is compiled afterwards for those who prefer to receive the information in their inbox. Now each article is easily searchable on their site, in Google and is infinitely curatable, linkable and can be organized differently according to audience and purpose throughout the years. Also, this provides space for her voice and opinion to shine through. Yes, it took a while to make the change, but now the CM is a blogger, simply by changing the method for how she distributes information.

Non-profits can use tips, tools, techniques and science to drive traffic to their site. In fact, we should. More eyes on your site DOES mean more awareness of your issue. BUT, that does not mean more donations or more supporters. Because there is a competition for your money or time, think about what is important for your cause: making lots of bored people aware of your issue or educating people to help you make the change you strive for.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, check out my inspiration for this post: http://thinktraffic.net/write-epic-shit and http://evbogue.com/

About Dana

Dana Mandolesi is one cool chick who lives in San Francisco and knows lots about sociology and how people interact with technology. This has led her in all sorts of directions, especially helping companies harness the glory of the web through research, product development and strategy. She has a great love for technology and tries to integrate it into all sorts of things she does.
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