Original Content is Crucial For Fundraising Success

Engaging with donors (just like I engage with my clients) takes thought, skill, and care. Your content — the materials you use to interact with your constituents en masse — carries great weight with them.

If you’re an avid reader of the Fundraising Report Card® blog, you’ve most likely noticed over the past year or two that I don’t like to write about the same stuff each and every week. Fortunately, many of our readers have noticed this and appreciate it. Thank you.

Most blogs take a different approach and follow a familiar pattern: create one original piece of content then re-purpose it about eighteen different times. Add a new picture here, or a slideshow gallery there, and voilà — all done! Well, I think that’s boring. And, it’s lazy.

Content — especially written materials — needs to be fresh, it needs to be interesting, and the act of writing it needs to be taken seriously.

When you write something and press “publish,” that carries some sort of weight regardless of where it’s being shared.

When I recently received an email from the Senior Director of Philanthropy at an organization which contained the following line, “Thank you for consistently posting some of the most cogent and relevant writing about fundraising that I have read in a long time – not just the same stuff re-hashed or re-branded,” I was giddy. Someone out there was like me — they appreciated and understood the value behind original content.

What does this have to do with you? A lot actually, because if you’re in fundraising (or as we discussed a few weeks back “development,”) you’re in the business of creating original content. Engaging with donors (just like I engage with my clients) takes thought, skill, and care. Your content — the materials you use to interact with your constituents en masse — carries great weight with them.

With the end of the year among us, and #GivingTuesday in the rearview mirror, let’s discuss the importance of original content in your fundraising. Are there opportunities to break away from the pack and differentiate your messaging? Let’s find out.

What is original content?

Although on the surface “original content” may seem simple, it is, as with most things in life, not. The textbook definition for original content, “something that was never said before,” is ludicrous, and the commonly accepted definition, “your opinion or perspective on a certain topic,” is too ambiguous.

Using the above understandings of “original content”, it stands to reason that talk shows on TV are original content. A talking head sharing their opinion for sixty minute segments is the cornerstone of “original content.” Look at ESPN, that seems to be working well for them…

Obviously our dictionary.com definition is a bit limiting. Although we’ve only explored 5% of the ocean when it comes to saying something original, in today’s mass media world, it seems we have shared every shred of original content in existence. Good luck saying something that has never been said before. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum (talking heads sharing an opinion), we find ourselves at the crossroads of originality and quality (Does this person’s opinion really hold weight? Does what they say really matter?).

Let’s take a step back and reassess where original content fits within fundraising. How can we redefine original content, especially in the context of the myriad direct mail pieces your supporters receive? Let’s agree that original content is unique (it stands out), genuine and meaningful.

Unique, genuine and meaningful content portrays a sense of originality, and for your organization this is unbelievably important. Of course when you engage with your constituents there will be a specific “call to action,” and that may be the “goal” for a specific campaign, but keep in mind that your supporters receive dozens of appeals each year – and not just from your organization. Because of this, one of your overarching objectives with any engagement should be originality (i.e. uniqueness, genuineness, and meaningfulness).

Thoughtful engagements with donors build more meaningful relationships. We discussed the importance of that on the blog recently. Combine original content with the tactics described in our meaningful relationship post, and you’ll be lightyears ahead of your peers in terms of generating major gifts. Developing meaningful relationships, plus sharing unique and genuine content — that’s a highly effective combo.

But you may be asking yourself, “Sure, unique, genuine and meaningful content…that all sounds swell, but how the heck do you do it?” The good news is, it’s not as hard as it seems. There’s a great technique to help you and your team churn out original content all the time…

Push vs. pull content

Somewhere deep in a textbook for an “Inbound Marketing 101” course, there is the phrase “push and pull content,” written about at length. Yes, this may sound gimmicky, but the reality is, pull content can be and should be your go-to resource for creating genuine and unique materials.

To understand pull content, let’s highlight the contrasting push content. Push content stems from a desire to push a message out to your audience. You have something you want to share and you tell it to someone. A great example would be your year-end fundraising appeal. You’re pushing out a message to your supporters and you hope it resonates with them enough to get a donation.

Pull content is the opposite, it is less forceful (this is the message I want to convey) and more reactionary (something happened recently, how can I add my spin to it?). Take for example the current headline on nytimes.com at the time of writing this, “Adverse Report Threatened Tax Bill, So G.O.P. Went on Attack.”

If you work for the Tax Foundation you could easily use this headline (and associated article) from the New York Times and craft your own unique, genuine and meaningful spin on it. That’s pull content. You take something that exists in the media landscape which is relevant to you and your audience, and you make it your own.

This very blog post is another example of pull content. The email screenshot from the top of the page? That’s me pulling out a message (literally all the content in this blog post) from some other existing content. Pull vs. push, it’s beautiful really.

Sure, the Tax Foundation example is a little too good to be true, but the concept, the idea that you can find relevant stories and pull out your own original content isn’t. Your donors, your supporters, even your family and friends, they’ll appreciate your original content when it stems from something else that is relevant. This is essentially what talk shows (which I mocked before) do.

The roots of pull content (talk shows) have plenty of inherent value. After that, it comes down to execution.

Applying this at your shop

Pull content is more challenging to create than push content. As you embark on creating pull content, keep this in mind. You cannot simply say, “I want to tell this story,” and then tell it. You have to find something else to latch onto first.

At your shop there may be a few obvious “pull content” opportunities. For example, are there any upcoming events or programs that you can tap into? On a personal level, has someone shared something with you that you could springboard your content from?

Lung Cancer Foundation of America, an organization I work closely with in a volunteer capacity, recently did a great job developing pull content. They worked directly with me to share the story of my mom who I recently lost to lung cancer. They latched on to my story and used that to spread their message.

By using my mother’s story, they’re going out to their audience with relevant, personal content – which will resonate with many of their supporters – and best of all, it’s original. It’s unique, genuine and meaningful.

Look to your events, your programs, your donors… original content isn’t hiding from you, you just need to look in the right places.

Author: Zach Shefska

I oversee the Fundraising Report Card, a division of MarketSmart. The Report Card is a free tool that empowers fundraisers to make data-driven fundraising decisions. It’s pretty neat.

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