5 Ways Nonprofits Can Improve Their Content Marketing

While many brands use content marketing to drive conversions, nonprofits have different goals in mind.Nonprofits use content marketing to educate and inspire their audiences with the hopes of fundraising and gathering donations. Although the end game is a different result, content marketing can be just as effective for this purpose, if done properly.

Classy.org is a fundraising platform for nonprofits that also happens to do an excellent job of content marketing. As I was researching their site, I came across an interesting guide on the psychology of fundraising. Using the psychology of giving to improve your content marketing is not the same as tricking your audience into donating. It’s about putting your best foot forward and presenting your cause in a way that will resonate and have an impact on your audience. Below are five theories behind the psychology of donating and how nonprofits can apply them to their content marketing efforts.

1. Ask for time first, money second

While volunteers donating time is important for many nonprofits, ultimately money usually is what keeps these organizations afloat, allowing them to work for their cause. This is tricky, however, because when people are prompted to give time or money, they are typically more generous with time. This is because when people think of the value of time and money, they use two different mindsets.

People measure time in terms of the experiences they have and those experience provoke emotions. Asking people for time puts them in a more emotional mindset. When people measure money, they tend to think more analytically.

In a recent study, researchers set out to prove the impact of these different mindsets in giving donations. Group A was first asked to donate their time and then second to donate money, where as Group B was asked to first donate money and then second to donate time.

The study found that those who were first asked about volunteering their time first actually ended up donating more money. This is because asking for people’s time first put them in a more emotional mindset, which resulted in them giving more generously.

How to apply this to content marketing: Even if the end goal of your content marketing is to gather donations, your site’s calls-to-action should first be to ask for time and then second to ask for monetary donations.

2. Ask donors to imagine the victim’s feelings

Storytelling is a key component of content marketing, especially for nonprofits. Oftentimes, the stories nonprofits are able to tell are highly emotional and tug at our heartstrings. We’re often told “imagine yourself in the victim’s shoes.” But is that really the most impactful?

People can take perspectives in two ways: Imagining the feelings of the victim or imaging their own feelings if they were in the victim’s place.

When someone is prompted to imagine the feelings of the victim, the donor’s focus is on the welfare of the other and they are motivated to lessen his or her suffering. When someone is prompted to imagine their own feelings as if they were in the victim’s place, it creates personal distress for the donor, which motivates them to alleviate their own discomfort.

So which is better? When donors are imagining themselves in the victim’s situation, the donor is thinking egoistically and may be less willing to give away their own resources.

How to apply this to content marketing: When creating or curating content, try to draw the reader into a scene you are describing. Pull them into the story, but don’t make them the main character.

3. Focus on an individual, not the bigger problem

Below is a screenshot of the homepage of Action Against Hunger, a nonprofit that feeds millions of people every year. So why do they show just one person? Wouldn’t it be more impactful to show the scope of their mission to show how many people they are helping?

It’s called the identifiable victim effect. People are more generous to individuals than to groups. Why? It all has to do with empathy and emotional impact. We can feel empathy for an individual, but we aren’t able to feel that same empathy for large groups.

Seeing a single victim provokes a stronger emotional response than encountering a group of victims. Focusing on the plight of an individual has a greater emotional impact, and that emotional impact is the key part of motivating donors.

How to apply this to content marketing: Instead of featuring stories that focus on the big problems your organization is trying to solve, focus on articles that tell individual stories. A Victim is more compelling when his or her identify is revealed. Can be as simple as providing a picture, name and brief story.

4. Help donors find similarities with those in need

Kiva is a great organization that allows you to donate loans to people all over the world who need money to start businesses or entrepreneurial endeavors. Once your loan donation is paid back in full, you’re then able to re-donate to another person. However in the database of hundreds and hundreds of people in need, how do you choose who to donate to? Well, you’re more likely to donate to someone you find similar to you.

It’s called The Minimal Group Paradigm. This is a method in social psychology that has demonstrates just how little differentiation it takes for people to show favoritism to their own “in-group.” There are all sorts of groups that people identify with. People can feel connected by nationality, gender, religion or even age group. People are more generous to others they consider to be in their in-group, so details can help donors forge a connection to people in need.

How to apply this to content marketing: Donors will identify and sympathize more with constituents they perceive to be similar to themselves. Providing a few details that show common ground may increase someone’s motivation to help. Create specific appeals for each donor persona featuring a victim that the group can easily relate to.

5. Communicate your advocacy with a personal connection

Which of these appeals would be more likely to result in a “yes” response?


You hear a knock at your door and open it to find a young woman with a clipboard. She says, “Good afternoon, I’m volunteering with The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. I’d like to tell you about the work we are doing to find a cure. Do you have a few minute to talk?


You hear a knock at your door and open it to find a young woman with a clipboard. She says, “Good afternoon, I’m volunteering with The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. My mom was diagnosed with MS five years ago. I’d like to tell you about the work we are doing to find a cure. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

Most likely, Appeal B. This is because B explains the advocate’s personal connection to the cause, while A does not.

Explaining the advocate’s or organizations’ personal connection makes the appeal for donations more personal. Psychologists have theorized that people find it much harder to say “no” to an advocate with a personal connection because they don’t want to come across as disrespectful or uncaring to this person’s experience.

How to apply this to content marketing: Your content marketing mission statement is a simple way to clearly explain to your audience why your organization does what it does. Including a personal experience of a founder or advocate may increase the number of people willing to engage and donate to your organization.

This article originally appeared on LizBedor.com.

Liz Bedor is a content marketing strategist at NewsCred, based in New York City. With NewsCred, she’s helped enterprise brands including AXA, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Estée Lauder, IBM, Verizon, ADP and Office Depot conceptualize, implement and optimize their content marketing strategies. Prior to joining NewsCred, she worked in brand marketing and sales enablement for Salesforce.

1 thought on “5 Ways Nonprofits Can Improve Their Content Marketing

  1. A better spin on #2: make the donor FEEL the victim’s feelings. Those sappy commercials work so well for a reason… they make you feel.

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