June 12, 2020 How to write for non-profits

By Tom Halpin

black and white 'Together We Create' graffiti wall

According to Philanthropy Australia, Australians donate more than $12 billion a year to charities and not-for-profit organisations. It’s no secret that donors want to feel their contributions are making a difference. With organisational pressures, competition and public perception to juggle, non-profits must communicate effectively to their stakeholders, donors and customers.

At Avion Communications, we get a real thrill writing for not-for-profits; we have a wealth of experience in the non-profit industry. We’d like to share a few tips and insights on how to boost your content marketing efforts and grow your organisation online.

Know your audience

From writing grant applications to posting on social media, the golden rule is to know your audience. The more you know about your audience, the more effective your communication will be. So, how do you get a strong idea of who your customer is?

Let’s break it down with these three questions:

  1. What’s the main problem you’re trying to solve?
  2. Who’s your ideal customer?
  3. How are your competitors interacting with your audience?

The main problem you’re trying to solve

Always focus on the problem your organisation wants to solve, rather than your operations. 

For example, your non-profit might offer services to assist people living with cardiovascular disease. Flipping that around, you could say your non-profit removes barriers for people with cardiovascular disease by informing and educating health professionals and the public about this disease.

From this angle, it’s easier to see who’s struggling with the problem. That’s a good first step in defining your problem, and then finding a solution.

Your ideal customer

From here, you can start looking at your current customers and work out where the majority sit.

You could build a playbook of your customer, defined by characteristics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Life stage
  • Job status
  • Interests
  • Location.

It can be useful to create personas of your ideal customer. This can give you a clear picture of the audience you’re trying to reach and educate. Plus, it can provide insight into who’s most likely to financially contribute to your cause.

Your competitors and your audience

Conducting research can help give you an understanding of the organisations that are complementing your work, and which organisations may be competing with you for resources such as funding, your audience, and your network.

One important piece of research is doing a competitor analysis. This can help you understand more about other organisations that run similar programs or have similar goals.

A good way to start a competitor analysis may be to choose aspects of your communications, such as social media, blogs, website, annual reports, etc. You could gather as much information from your sources as possible and break down this information into categories, such as:

  • Basic information
  • Target audiences
  • Core messaging and any taglines
  • Unique value proposition
  • Marketing and communications content.

You can use this data to compare your non-profit with similar organisations. Use this to create a competitor analysis document that can be regularly updated to stay on top of the changing landscape around you. 

Research can easily set you apart from competitors in the same space. Not only that, but it makes your work unique and allows you to focus on your niche. It’s by asking yourself mission-critical questions like “How do you fit in the market?” or “How to you know if your organisation is truly need?”, from which you’ll achieve your goals.

Utilise our writing tips for non-profit communications

All not-for-profits have one thing in common: The desire to connect the messaging of the organisation directly to the community. Tailoring your message to donors, volunteers, staff, community partners, fundraisers, and more becomes crucial. So, what makes a winning non-profit message? Here are some tips that’ll impress your audience.

Keep it conversational

This means that you’re writing in a way that your reader will readily understand and even enjoy. They’ll feel the personal touch in the voice you’ve created. Tone of voice reflects personality, which could be genuine, driven, and optimistic.

Avoid jargon and formal language

Jargon causes a huge disconnect between the content and your reader. For example, in the mental health space, unpacking clinical terms and writing in plain English is important. Using terms such as ‘risk factors’ can often be confusing to the public. Rather, simplify it (in context), such as ‘having a higher chance of developing mental ill health’.  

This can help make your message clear, readable, and less likely to cause upset or anxiety in the reader. Also, pay attention to any formal language you use. It can take the fun, surprise or even joy away, and turn it into something dry and boring.

Other writing tips

  • Read your writing out loud: If it doesn’t sound natural, edit and try again.
  • Write as if you’re talking to someone you know: Explain things like you’re telling a story.
  • Address the reader directly: You’re speaking to someone specifically, so use ‘you’ and ‘your’ when writing.
  • Use contractions: Make it easier for the reader. This will reduce the formality of the content as well. Replace ‘it is’ with ‘it’s’ and so on.
  • If something isn’t necessary, don’t include it: In the Elements of Style (PDF), Strunk and White call upon the writer to “omit needles words!” You’ve probably heard this advice take different forms. The lesson holds true.

Serve your content using the right mediums

Now is the time to buckle down on what content you can serve your audience. Let’s say your audience is Gen Y and Z. How would they interact with your content? What platforms are they best served on? Think about the devices your audience uses, and what channels they’re best served on.

Some examples are:

  • Devices: Content should always be designed for specific devices in mind. Everybody expects great user experiences, so content should be optimised for mobile, page speed and other website best practices.
  • Multichannel: Social media and web channels are deeply connected, and so content should be shared across various platforms. Twitter behaves differently to Facebook, so it’s important to leverage your research or ideas across different channels in unique ways to reach broader audiences. Remember, your content should have multiple entry points. All roads should lead to Rome.
  • Multimedia: Content today needs more visuals then text alone to reach a broad audience. Relevant video and audio, such as podcasts, images, gifs, and even memes could all be used to share ideas in rich, new ways.
  • Sharable: Posts that are shared more frequently are entertaining, useful, moving and/or aesthetically pleasing.

Refresh your social media accounts

Your most important communication tools may just be email and your website. However, social media sites such as Facebook may also drive your marketing efforts, too.   

So, how can you ensure your social media marketing efforts are successful?

  • Tell your story: Storytelling works with a beginning, middle and end. It’s memorable, builds connection, and often gets the heart of the ‘why’.
  • Choose your platform: Each platform should be used for a different purpose. This depends on your priorities e.g. fundraising, brand recognition, sharing news, etc. Twitter may be a good platform to run polls; Facebook to conduct a survey;  Instagram Stories to host a Q&A session, and so on.
  • Create meaningful interactions: All successful social media posts create conversions. Usually it’s the most genuine of posts that convert customers. So, stick to what’s working well and ditch what’s not working – a tough lesson for all content creators.

Avion case study: Working with non-profits

Avion has worked with a range of not-for-profits. From brochure copy and design for Texas not-for-profit (Capital City Innovation) to redeveloping the Working with Children Check (Victoria website), we’ve had plenty of experience.

Working with the friendly people at headspace, we helped produce support content to young people seeking help online. This was through workshops to discover headspace’s goals, audience and brand voice.

From there, we created blogs for headspace providing accessible content for niche audiences and conducted a content refresh to strengthen headspace’s ongoing content activities.

Need help with your digital content?

At Avion Communications, we’ve worked with a wide range of not-for-profits. If you need a team of communication experts by your side to help you create meaningful content for your digital channels, reach out to us today. We’ll take the time to get to know your brand and online audience. Check out our services to see if we’re the right fit for your non-profit organisation.