Commentary: Why every nonprofit, large or small, needs to make online content

Joe Waters. Nonprofit Quarterly, 4/23/12

Nonprofit employees have always had to wear a lot of hats: fundraiser, marketer, grant writer, etc. Here's one more you need to get used to wearing: publisher. Fortunately, this additional job has a real benefit, as it engages current and potential supporters with useful, interesting and credible information that directly drives donor support. Don't confuse publishing with advertising. I'm not talking about one-way communication that people view as a "salesy." Publishing is about producing blog posts, video, e-mail newsletters, e-books, white papers, free reports and other types of content. Large nonprofits understand the key role published content has in their success. Smaller nonprofits are beginning to see the importance of publishing, but many still see this hat as an optional one. It's not. Here are the three main reasons why every nonprofit needs to be generating useful content that informs, educates and inspires.

1. It's part of being a top nonprofit brand. While you may not see yourself in the same league as these organizations, you share their need to build community around your cause and to be a credible resource for those interested in your subject area.

2. You need to stand out. More than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. With more and more nonprofits coming online each year, content is a key tool in separating your nonprofit from the pack. This is especially important as people search for your nonprofit on Google, Bing and Yahoo. Several factors are important in how search engines rank and deliver search results, but one thing is clear: if you don't produce high quality content and links, online searchers won't find you. Period.

3. You can't just do good work anymore. It's not enough. It's like the days when there were only five or six television stations to watch. It was easier for these early networks to stand out and get viewers. These days, there are hundreds of stations to choose from and the competition is brutal. It's the same with nonprofits. Charities that have quickly gained ground over the last decade have been largely celebrity-driven. Unless you have a star in your pocket, start learning to publish online and how to tell your nonprofit's story with text, pictures and video. Focus on being compelling, useful and credible. Publishing is your path to stardom.


Commentary: Don't just make great content, use it to reach outside comfort zone

Jasper Visser, The Museum of the Future, 4/9/12

A problem lots of people are having when it comes to their digital strategy: We're great (or at least getting better) at designing engaging online content, yet terrible at reaching people with it. Earlier this year a theatre company in the Netherlands made a production about making news. For months they researched how to manipulate the news and how to get topics trending. The accompanying website was nicely made. The only problem: nobody knew about the production. They had studied making news, but forgotten to be news themselves. There's a subtle but important [difference] between providing good engaging online content and actually reaching people with it. [It's] the difference between engagement and outreach. Engagement is about designing projects that turn occasional passers-by into enthusiasts willing to go that extra mile for you. Engagement upgrades your existing audience and if you're very good at it, might even increase your reach via the enthusiasts. Engagement is done, usually, within the safety of your institution's building, website or social media presence. Outreach is about designing strategies that reach people wholly unknown to you and connect them with your institution. Advertising is all about outreach, as is the community manager proactively responding to Google Alerts and mingling in discussions on external blogs. Outreach increases the number of people you can later engage. Outreach is done, usually, outside of the comfort zone of your institution's building, website or social media presence. Spend more time inviting people, connecting with new target groups, leaving the safety and comfort of your own online environment to build a presence in others.


In UK, a touring theatre uses online content to position itself to new audiences

Dalya Alberge, The Observer [UK], 4/22/12

One of British theatre's foremost directors is pioneering the use of Facebook to reach out to new, younger audiences with a video trailer that is a work of art in its own right. Rupert Goold is widely tipped as a future artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the National Theatre. In an attempt to exploit the power of social media, Goold has devised a "mini-film" - a kind of trailer for his forthcoming productions - which he premiered on Facebook and other social media sites. The 4-minute trailer targets followers of social media sites - "people who might naturally think that theatre isn't for them." Titled Falling Headlong, a reference to the name of Goold's theatre company, Headlong, the film hints at stories, moods or characters in a season of premieres. Goold hopes that such an approach will reach new audiences of all ages, although social websites are particularly used by the young. Figures produced by comScore show that 48.5% of the UK's Facebook audience is aged under 35 and 28% is under 25. In contrast, only 21% of the audience for the West End playhouses is under 34 and only 16% is under 24. There is clearly a need for new audiences. Although [West End] figures for 2011 showed record sales of 528m, Arts Council England's portfolio of 204 regularly funded organisations had 13.6m available tickets, of which only 9.7m were sold. As a touring company, playing in venues of varying capacity, Headlong is at the mercy of the venue in which it is putting on performances, but he believes that a new marketing approach is needed. "What people in a social media age want is not to be told about something but to discover it," he said. "My parents will get a brochure from the National Theatre and book for [something] ... But there's been such a development of incessant marketing and advertising that people have become more sceptical towards that."


In Chicago, a theater uses online content to re-invent itself

Chicago Artists Resource, Spring 2012 interview

Founded by Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani as a response to 9/11, the Silk Road Theatre Project quickly established itself as one of Chicago's most exciting new theatre companies. Having won multiple awards, SRTP reinvented itself under the name Silk Road Rising in 2011. In addition to presenting perspectives of Silk Road cultures in live theatre performances, the new organization's mission includes the production of "video dramas" that are exclusively available online. CAR Theater Researcher John Carnwath recently spoke with Jamil Khoury, Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising:
What led you to expand your mission as a theatre company to include online video content?
There's always been a very strong activist, civic engagement component to our work. It's been a very comfortable coexistence between artistic content, storytelling, and an activist/social change agenda. We had started noticing early on that people were contacting us from outside of Chicago and oftentimes outside of the United States who had somehow stumbled upon our website and were intrigued by our mission. So we started thinking that there had to be a way of connecting with this potentially global audience. Geographic location could not forever be a restraint on our ability to effect change.
How did funders respond to the proposal to add video and online content to your mission?

The funding community, which is very supportive, has taken a sort of wait-and-see approach. Not everyone is thrilled that we're doing video work. There tends to be a generational divide. But many are intrigued, and some are really excited and see it as highly innovative. You have this thing in the funding community, a sort of fear that video is going to replace live theatre. I mean, people have been writing obituaries for live theatre for decades now. But there's still this fear, and there's also this whole generational thing about who's online and who's not and who would access art online. There are some theatre purists who really look with great suspicion at anything that smacks of film, but by and large we've gotten a lot of benefit of the doubt, which is testimony to the respect they have for us as an organization. And people want to see if it works and we're sort of setting ourselves up as guinea pigs in that respect. 

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